The bloody dozen most expensive transfer failures in football history
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – from Inter to Barcelona
Sure, Ibrahimovic is a top footballer and a true football legend, but he himself has repeatedly confirmed that the move to Barcelona was the biggest mistake of his career. But if Zlatan lost time at the Camp Nou, the Catalans lost a lot of money and Samuel Eto`o went in the opposite direction. Samuel won the Golden Treble in his first season with Inter and Mourinho, while Ibrahimovic became disillusioned with Barcelona and Guardiola, who he later described as “a coward without balls”.
Romelu Lukaku – from Everton to Manchester United
Romelu Lukaku’s first, but not last, appearance in this top spot. The Belgian forward has proven himself in the APL, playing for Everton, but Manchester United have not got the ideal forward in the form of Romelu. Although his start at Old Trafford has been encouraging: 10 goals in the first nine games, breaking the record of the legendary Bobby Charlton. And then there was the goal drought, reduced playing time under Sulzer, loss of form and a move to Inter.
Kepa Arrizabalaga – from Athletic to Chelsea
The most expensive goalkeeper in football history has been at Chelsea for two seasons and in the last two years has been a stand-in for Edouard Mendy, who cost the Blues almost four times less. Kepa is likely to leave Stamford Bridge this summer and his most vivid memories of Chelsea will be of two lost League Cup finals: in 2019 he refused to leave as a substitute and in 2022 he went under the penalty shoot-out and made a crucial miss.
Alvaro Morata – from Real Madrid to Chelsea
Alvaro Morata is a gifted forward who might even have been great had it not been for mental problems. “Chelsea decided to bet on Alvaro in 2017, but the Spaniard has not justified the investment in him. In a year and a half at Chelsea, Morata scored a measly 18 goals for the €66m forward. Started briskly, but fell apart after the first difficulties and the accompanying buzz of criticism.
Nicolas Pepe – from Lille to Arsenal
The Ivorian forward’s one successful season in the French league impressed Arsenal so much that the Canaries splashed out €80m. In three years at Arsenal, Nicolas produced only one bright spot when he resembled a Ligue 1 tearing player. That came towards the end of the 2020/21 season but Pepe scored just one goal in the APL the following campaign.
Jamez Rodriguez – from Monaco to Real Madrid
Florentino Perez decided to hype it up by signing the young and luscious Jamez, the top scorer at the 2014 World Cup. It was also good for Perez’s construction business in Colombia. For Rodriguez’s sake, Real Madrid saw off Decima hero Angel Di Maria. During his first season in Madrid, Jamez charmed the public at times, but under Zidane the Colombian lost his place in the starting line-up and soon lost Zizou’s respect due to discipline problems. Rodriguez left Real Madrid as a free agent and by the age of 30 he had reached the Qatari championships.
Romelu Lukaku – from Inter to Chelsea
The renowned robber of English big-name clubs is at it again. Last summer Lukaku returned to Chelsea stating that he had unfinished business in London, and now he is back to Inter on loan for €8m. The scam is the biggest one, and a real disaster for Chelsea: the Blues have signed one of the best strikers in world football, but they have received a headache of one hundred and a hundred million euros.
Harry Maguire – from Leicester to Manchester United
The most expensive defender in football history suffered the same fate as the most expensive goalkeeper (and there will be a midfielder bought for record money). Both Manchester clubs wanted to sign Harry in 2019, but City refused, deeming the asking price excessive, while United were happy to pay. Maguire still has a chance to minimise the damage done to the club, although it was MU’s own fault. It was ridiculous to pay that kind of money for Harry, ridiculous to emphasise his contrived status with the captain’s armband.
Eden Hazard – from Chelsea to Real Madrid
Hazard has always dreamed of playing for Real Madrid but the Belgian has come to the main challenge of his football career overweight. An injury, another, a third, a tenth… three years in Madrid flew by. Last season, Eden reached the peak he was aiming for – winning the Champions League – but spent a measly 83 minutes on the pitch in the triumphant draw. Hazard is aware that he is letting his club and partners down and has adequately assessed his performances in his three seasons at Real Madrid and promises to return to his best form, but so far it is just words.
Paul Pogba – from Juventus to Manchester United
In 2016, United pulled off a record transfer for world football, bringing Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford, who to this day remains the most expensive midfielder of all time. The Frenchman left Manchester United after six seasons. In that time he won the Europa League and League Cup, changed 200 hairstyles and produced several dozen pedestrian matches, after which he was hated by the fans. Now he’s back where he came from.
Antoine Griezmann – from Atletico to Barcelon
In 2018, Griezmann humiliated Barcelona with his rejection, there was even a documentary about it. “The Coulez were furious and the proud club had to put a cross on the player, but Barça came after Griezmann the following summer and gave €120 million. Seriously? Antoine never really came into his own at Barça, never became Spanish champion and two years later returned to Atletico broken and devoid of his former ardour.
Ousmane Dembele – from Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona
“Barcelona cut an ugly story of blackmailing Borussia, Bartomeu put the club’s reputation on the line for the transfer of Dembele and then spent most of the proceeds for Neymar. And did the talented Usman acquit himself? The panicked purchase resulted in an undisciplined character in the team who never got to fulfil his potential at the Camp Nou. And now he will almost certainly leave as a free agent.
Philippe Coutinho – from Liverpool to Barcelona
The acquisitions of Griezmann, Dembele and Coutinho are three important reasons for Barcelona’s current dire financial state, which the new junta, led by Joan Laporta, is trying to rectify. “Liverpool sold Coutinho on time and profitably and Barcelona got a classy player with no instructions on how to use him. The highlight of Philippe’s career following his move to Barcelona was his double against the Catalans for Bayern Munich, where he played on loan. That match ended with the scoreline at 8-2. Coe eventually returned to England this summer, with Aston Villa paying 20m euros for him.