Money Balls-up: The Most Expensive XI

The Greatest XI

The football world has gone mad. Bonkers. We live in a world where John Stones and Kyle Walker’s combined transfer value is worth over £100 million pounds. I know that when it comes to football, I like to live in the past. I rate the old but gold generation above these money hungry kids that are being churned out these days. Neymar has a release clause of €222 million. And PSG are willing to pay that. That isn’t a fathomable number, it’s absolutely ludicrous. For years, Zinedine Zidane held the record for the highest ever transfer fee, but over the past few years, that total has been surpassed time and time again. It is understandable that records are there to be broken; inflation mixed with increased commercialisation have made this inevitable, but the totals are ridiculous. The aim of this is to look at both the most expensive world XI today and compare that to the most expensive world XI of this day one decade ago. As a precursor, there are some discrepancies, both due to the fact that pound-euro conversion rates are hard to factor in, as well as the fact that there are some questionably positioned players in this. By this, I mean that an attacking midfielder may be pushed to a wide midfield position, for ease of writing.

So, without further ado, let me introduce, the new kids on the block (ironically, a reference more befitting the older generation of players). The grand total of these eleven rich kids totals a figure nearing £692.2 million. Despite the parameters for this study being transfers from 2007 to the present day, only one transfer occurred in the 2000s. Six of the eleven have been signed in the last year, while three were post-World Cup transfers.

GK: Ederson. £35 million. Benfica to Manchester City. 2017.

Pep Guardiola is nothing if not a perfectionist, therefore the headache he must have suffered since taking over at the Etihad, tinkering with that makeshift defence, must have been unbearable. Pep had axed Joe Hart and created a season-long dogfight in the sticks between City stalwart Willy Caballero and new signing Claudio Bravo, before eventually deciding that they were both a bit shit unreliable. Guardiola sussed that Benfica had won the highly competitive Portuguese league by conceding only 18 goals, and smashed the long standing world record for a ‘keeper fee to bring in the young Brazilian goalkeeper. £35 million is certainly a hefty fee, but with Ederson in the City sticks, the Etihad may well witness clean sheets aplenty in the coming season.

RB: Kyle Walker. £54 million. Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester City. 2017.

It doesn’t matter how many times you write it, it still doesn’t make it okay. I do feel a bit sorry for Walker, he is a brilliant player. But £54 million. 54. Million. Pounds. I just don’t get it. He is a step up from an ageing Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta, but they have given Spurs an easy lump of money. That being said, Guardiola is wanting to rebuild his defence, and City unequivocally have the funds to pay, so it is understandable. People will justifiably question the price tag, but, I do believe that he will prove a steady option at the back, as well as a useful contributor in the final third.

CB: John Stones. £47.5 million. Everton to Manchester City. 2016.

Manchester City in spending over the odds for a player shocker. It sort of made sense; young, English ball playing centre half. He ticked a lot of boxes. While he won many plaudits for his silky football, he also got pelters for it in equal measure. His overconfidence leading to opposition pressure was well documented, but that didn’t stop Pep is splashing nearly £50 million on Stones. He enjoyed a decent first season, though took some serious stick from his manager throughout the season.

CB: David Luiz. £50 million. Chelsea to PSG. 2014.

We all watched the 2014 World Cup, right? We saw what Tommy Muller and co did to David Luiz. They just broke him. They turned him from a competent, if a little erratic, defender, and made him look like a Sunday league hack. And yet the bottomless pit of money in Paris decided to lure him away from Chelsea for £50 million (admittedly, before the World Cup started…) Jose Mourinho jumped at the chance to claim £50 million for the liability. Luiz won a couple of league titles in France before rejoining Chelsea for a slightly lower fee of £34 million. He has been a revelation at Chelsea upon his return, and would certainly justify that high fee today.

LB: Benjamin Mendy. £52 million. Monaco to Manchester City. 2017.

This is a lot of money, yet probably a worthwhile purchase. Manchester City were lacking in the left back department and in Mendy they have arguably the best LB in the world. He is quick, agile, strong and, while he may not possess a goal threat, he sure knows how to whip in a cross. With Benjamin Mendy at left back, City are essentially playing with two explosive wingers. He has potential to be as good as Roberto Carlos, so long as he can hit the same level of consistency that the Brazilian did for so many years.

RM: Angel Di Maria. £59.7 million. Real Madrid to Manchester United. 2014.

In hindsight, was the £60 (ish) million paid for the Argentinean winger justified? Hell no! At the time though, it was worth the gamble. Di Maria had enjoyed four good years in Madrid, and had been wonderful to watch at the World Cup. United fans were excited to see their new star in action. It was all a bit of a train wreck, truth be told. He enjoyed some good moments, and scored some wonderful goals, but he never quite fit in at Old Trafford and was subsequently shipped off to PSG after just one season. Money NOT well spent.

CM: James Rodriguez. £63 million. Monaco to Real Madrid. 2014.

James Rodriguez is a prime example of why you don’t purchase a player off a good World Cup performance. In fairness to Real Madrid, they had money to spare, and had seen the Colombian play for years in Portugal and France, but his astronomical performances in Brazil certainly added to his transfer value. He is an awesome player, but flattered to deceive under the weight of his transfer fee, finally being loaned to Bayern Munich on a two-year deal this year.

CM: Paul Pogba. £89.3 million. Juventus to Manchester United. 2016.

Pogba may be the king of the dab, but his performance on the field last season showed him up to be the king of drab. A world breaking transfer fee should have justified more than five goals and a string of sub-standard displays. He looked out of his depth, trying too hard and snatching at chances. He is only 24 and has a strong team around him. His first year was poor, but I do believe that in the next year or two, Pogba will justify his world record signing.

LM: Gareth Bale. £86 million. Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid. 2013.

Old Gareth Bale has done well for himself. After a rough start at Spurs in which they appeared to be trying to give the young Welshman away, he has flourished into one of the world’s best players. The strong, sharp shooting superstar is a world away from the awkward bomb-scare that Spurs fans used to boo. A true ugly duckling story. He has gone on to score 54 goals in 100 Real Madrid appearances, winning three Champions Leagues. Money well spent, Real Madrid. Money well spent.

CF: Gonzalo Higuain. £76 million. Napoli to Juventus. 2016.

GON-ZA-LO. HI-GUA-IN. The big man completed his move from Naples to Turin, angering many Napoli fans who had vague dreams of the title pinned on the Argentinean. Higuain is near enough the perfect striker, tall, fast, strong, good in the air, tricky with the ball at feet. He is clinical, but he can be just as deft with a pass to assist a goal. He may have had the worst game of all time in the 2014 World Cup Final, but his other 400ish career apps have shown that he is worth whatever teams are willing to pay. He is a striker of the highest quality who still has many years left at the top.

CF: Cristiano Ronaldo. £80 million. Manchester United to Real Madrid. 2009.

It’s crazy to think that Ronaldo’s world record breaking transfer fee happened eight years ago. During his career he has won pretty much everything he could, with the World Cup being the only major trophy to allude him. The naive, raw-talented Manchester United winger has been honed and fine tuned in Madrid and turned into a predator of a striker. Such is his versatility that he can play up top or on the wing. He is clinical wherever he is deployed. One of the first of the staggeringly large transfer fees in the world, and completely justified by Real Madrid. Ronaldo has repaid them tenfold with his output.

So that was the new generation. The kids. Cristiano Ronaldo being the earlier of the post-2007 transfers and Benjamin Mendy being the most recent. But how do they fair compared to the most expensive XI of the beginning of time through to the summer of 2007? Let’s take a look at the golden oldies…

GK: Gianluigi Buffon. £32.6 million. Parma to Juventus. 2001.

When Juventus come knocking, few can say no. Buffon enjoyed a magnificent early stint as Parma’s #1 in the late 90s, winning a couple of domestic trophies and the UEFA Cup, but eventually the Old Lady prised Gigi from Parma. £30+million for a ‘keeper was astounding in 2001, and was a record until Ederson moved to City in 2017. Sixteen years on and many, many trophies later, it is looking like good business from Juventus. At age 39, the era of Buffon is coming to a close. Not just was Buffon a tremendous player, but a loyal one, sticking with Juventus despite the clubs demotion to Serie B in 2006.

RB: Lilian Thuram. £22 million. Parma to Juventus. 2001.

Another member of Parma’s golden era, French defender Lilian Thuram was, at the time, the perfect defender. He could play right back or centre back and his strength, stamina and range of passing made him an invaluable asset for club and country for over a decade. £22 million for a defender was a lot, but two league titles (and a couple more later stripped due to match fixing by Juventus) saw the transfer fee justified. The Frenchman left the Delle Alpi in 2006 after Juventus’ demotion.

CB: Rio Ferdinand. £30 million. Leeds United to Manchester United. 2002.

Was £30 million for Rio Ferdinand paying over the odds at the time? Yes. Did it work out? Yes. Ferdinand was part of one of the greatest Manchester United teams of the Premier League era, his partnership was Nemanja Vidic was legendary. He won the League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League, Champions League and World Club Cup in his twelve
years in Manchester, winning the fans over despite a string of controversies in his early days. Sir Alex did make some poor pieces of business in his time in charge, but Rio was a transfer triumph.

CB: Alessandro Nesta. £25.9 million. Lazio to AC Milan. 2002.

This was a sad day in Italian football. On a positive note, Nesta joining Milan helped pave the way to creating one of the most enjoyable teams in living memory. The downside, Lazio’s title challenges were coming to an abrupt end due to financial problems. The centre back oozed class, making some inspirational tackles and reading the game like a pro. Nesta was invaluable not only as a player, helping Milan to many titles including a Champions League victory over Liverpool – at the second time of asking, but also as a role model to youngsters coming through.

LB: Francesco Coco. £19.13 million. AC Milan to Inter Milan. 2002.

It takes a big pair of balls to transfer from one city rival to another, but that’s just what Coco did in 2002. He was part of the deal that saw Clarence Seedorf go the other way. Coco was a stylish defender who was often used as an attacking wing back. The dominance of Paolo Maldini in his position meant that Coco’s Italian international career was a non-starter. Coco was a stable player for Inter when he played, but AC Milan certainly got the better end of the deal, with Coco playing the best football of his career for them, then receiving Seedorf.

RM: Juan Sebastian Veron. £28.1 million. Lazio to Manchester United. 2001.

This transfer should have worked. It really should have. Veron was outstanding at Parma, outstanding at Lazio and decidedly meh at Manchester United. He excelled in the Champions League, due to the slower tempo of the games, but the Premier League proved to be too fast paced for the Argentinean midfielder. Sir Alex Ferguson had faith in his man, claiming he was” f*****g great”, and that those criticising him were “f*****g idiots”, yet regardless, he was considered a transfer faux pas. Veron was sold to Chelsea just two years later for half of what United paid for him.

CM: Zinedine Zidane. £46.6 million. Juventus to Real Madrid. 2001.

One of the original Galactico’s, Zidane held the record for world’s most expensive transfer for eight years, before Kaka smashed it in 2009. Zizou was the midfield king, capable of scoring, creating, tackling and leading. He was magnificent for Monaco, a revelation for Juventus and had led France to win the World Cup in ’98 and the European Championship in 2000. This was a monumental transfer fee at the time, the £46.6 million equating to about €70+ million, but for the best player in the world, it was a fee that was justified. If he was worth £46.6 back in 2001 then he would surely be rated at over £150 million by today’s standards.

CM: Gaizka Mendieta. £31 million. Valencia to Lazio. 2001.

Mendieta was a truly superb midfielder back in the late 90s. He paid his dues at Valencia, eventually breaking into the first team under Claudio Ranieri. He starred in their run to the Champions League final in ’99 and in ’00, yet jumped ship too early, leaving the season before Valencia won the league. The midfielder was hot property and Lazio, looking to strengthen after winning their league, bought the Spaniard for £31 million. The deal backfired, however. The player was a disappointment, eventually getting sold to Middlesbrough. Lazio went into financial ruin a year later.

LM: Luis Figo. £37 million. Barcelona to Real Madrid. 2000.

Luis Figo became one of the most hated men in Barcelona for a period in the early 2000s. He had a buy-out clause, as is the way in Spanish football, and new Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met it. Figo joined, earning a massive pay rise and the promise of being the star of the Galacticos. The Portuguese winger enjoyed a good five years in Madrid, winning the league twice and the Champions League once. It was a world record transfer fee at the time, and one which paid off. Eventually, the winger moved to Inter on a free transfer, continuing his decorated career in style.

CF: Christian Vieri. £32.1 million. Lazio to Inter Milan. 1999.

Christian Vieri played for thirteen teams in his career, eleven of which were Italian. The striker is best known for his time at Inter Milan, who bought him for £32.1 million in 1999. One thing was guaranteed with Vieri: goals. He scored 24 in 24 appearances for Atletico Madrid, 12 in 22 at Lazio, and upon signing for Inter Milan, he scored 103 goals in 143 games. The forward only won a single trophy at the San Siro, yet his impressive goal return still made his massive transfer fee a justifiable sum.

CF: Hernan Crespo. £35 million. Parma to Lazio. 2000.

Hernan Crespo took a bit of career hit during a mediocre spell at Chelsea, but he is undoubtedly a Serie A legend. He had an excellent spell at Parma, scoring 62 goals in 116 matches, a star of their impressive UEFA Cup winning side in ’99. Lazio were investing heavily to create their own dominance in Serie A and Hernan Crespo’s £35 million transfer fee was a large part of that. Crespo won the Suppercoppa Italiana in his first season, scoring 39 goals in 54 games. He was an integral part of Lazio’s title challenge, but was sold to Inter Milan in 2002 to appease the financial pressure of Lazio.

That is the pre-2007 most expensive XI, and what a team that was. Christian Vieri’s £32.1 million transfer to Inter Milan in 1999 was the earliest, while Ferdinand, Nesta and Coco were all transferred in 2002. Some of these star players were signed in to long contracts, some costly transfers flopped, and some teams, such as Lazio, suffered severe financial hardship after heavy transfer activity. As a result, years went by without world record breaking transfer fees.

The only thing left to do in this article is to create a combined XI of world record transfer fees, past and present. This is being selected based on how they did at the club they were transferred to for their large fee, although the previous form is considered. Secondly, they are being selected based on their position selected in this article; for example, Luis Figo was capable of playing on the right, but is selected as a left midfielder.

GK – Gianluigi Buffon

RB – Lilian Thuram

CB – David Luiz

CB – Alessandro Nesta

LB – Benjamin Mendy

RM – Juan Sebastian Veron

CM – Zinedine Zidane

CM – Paul Pogba

LM – Gareth Bale

CF – Christian Vieri

CF – Cristiano Ronaldo

There are a number of conclusions to be taken from this article. Firstly, football is just bloody ridiculous. The money being banded about for players is ludicrous. Fair play, Pogba, Neymar etc are worth breaking the bank for, but paying nearly £50 million for John Stones is just scandalous. But that is just the way football is. I am sure that going back fifteen years, there would be some questions raised over the value of players back then. Football is a fast movie industry, the prices of everything in football are skyrocketing and until a whole host of big name clubs capitulate, it isn’t going to stop. Debts will always get rolled over by banks, owners will always throw money at their teams and the players will always negotiate bigger and better deals. We can sit and argue about the good old days, and how much X, Y and Z would be worth by today’s valuation, but that just isn’t how it works.

What we can do, is accept it. Nothing that us fans can say or do will stop these fees going about. Yes, it is not right that Kyle Walker is worth more than Zidane, but that is just the way it is. What I have done is shown the most expensive XI from 2007, a decade ago, back when fees were high, but not ludicrous. From 2009 onwards, it has become a bigger and more costly business. I have displayed the most expensive modern team, as well as the golden age team, and I have combined my own XI from that. Feel free, valued reader, to create your own combined XI out of these two teams, and please tweet us your thoughts!