Lucrative television deals, owners and investors with seemingly bottomless pockets, financial fair play not necessarily being fair – there are numerous reasons for the expeditious rise in Premier League transfer fees.
Forty-five days remain in the transfer window and already last year’s record summer total of £822.5m appears set to be broken, and it may reach £1bn if mooted moves such as Paul Pogba to Manchester United go through. What this window has been most notable for so far, however, is the arrival of a new barometer: the £30m fee.
There were five £30m-plus transfers last summer but this year an amount unheard of a decade and a half ago for the world’s best has become the norm for good – but arguably not exceptional – players.
Fifteen years ago
Juan Sebastián Verón became the Premier League’s record signing in 2001 when joining Manchester United from Lazio for £28.1m, a fee still some way off the world record €75m (£46.6m) Real Madrid paid Juventus for Zinedine Zidane that same year. Twelve months later Rio Ferdinand moved to Old Trafford from Leeds for £29.1m but with add-ons and fees bringing the total to around £34m, he again broke the British record and became the world’s most expensive defender for a second time after Lilian Thuram’s move to Juventus had usurped the £18m Leeds United spent on bringing Ferdinand to Elland Road from West Ham United.
Ten years ago
In a list of the top 50 transfers of all time, what is perhaps most noticeable – apart from the majority at the top being quite recent – is a gap between 2002 and 2006 where no record fees were set. However, in 2006 Andriy Shevchenko joined Chelsea for £30.8m and two years later the nouveau riche Manchester City muscled in with the acquisition of Robinho from Real Madrid for £32.5m. City’s convoluted signing of Carlos Tevez 12 months later for £47.5m took the spend of English clubs to a new level.
Five years ago
Even in 2011, fees above £30m were not common and were reserved, with only a couple of exceptions, for the world’s best players. Cesc Fàbregas’s return to Barcelona earned Arsenal £38m, while Manchester City spent the same amount on Sergio Agüero. An English record had been set with Fernando Torres’s £50m move from Liverpool to Chelsea on the final day of the winter window, although Andy Carroll moved from Newcastle United to Anfield for £35m on the same day. Liverpool, it should be noted, had also signed Luis Suárez on the same day for £22.8m, a price that in hindsight was a bargain.
Transfer spending has steadily risen in recent years – Arsenal paying big money for Mesut Özil in 2013 and Alexis Sánchez in 2014, while Chelsea offloaded Juan Mata and David Luiz in the winter and summer transfer windows respectively two years ago – but last season marked a watershed as Stoke City and Crystal Palace flexed their newfound financial strength. The five moves costing more than £30m belonged to three of the elite, though. Manchester City spent a combined £134m on Nicolás Otamendi, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, and Anthony Martial became the world’s most expensive teenager when joining Manchester United from Monaco for £36m.
The most interesting of all, however, is Christian Benteke, considering Liverpool’s desire to offload him and Crystal Palace’s willingness to spend almost the same amount to buy the striker this summer. His £32.5m transfer from Aston Villa to Anfield was an eyebrow-raising fee for a player most notable for saving a team from relegation.
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