Since the astronomical €222 million fee PSG paid for Neymar in 2017, the transfer market has gone haywire. Gone are the days when €20-30 million got you a top quality player, let alone a world superstar. As we progress into the ‘20s, the €100 million mark has become the cornerstone number to be banded around regarding players deemed “world class” if any club wants to have a try at buying them. The trouble is, that figure also seems to be a curse. To date, there have been eight transfers that have cracked the £100 million mark, and they have almost all turned out to be complete flops. This week, I’ll be taking a look down the list at four such transfers and assessing if it was really worth breaking the bank.
4. Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool to Barcelona summer 2018, €135 million
This move at least seemed to make some semblance of sense at the time, as Coutinho came in to replace the outgoing club legend that is Andrés Iniesta. They seemed to possess similar skill sets to some extent, with both being very technically gifted, diminutive passers and capable of controlling the game from the middle of the field. The issue was, Coutinho didn’t want that role. He wanted to play further forward as a luxury attacking player, pulling the strings in and around the box as opposed to in midfield. As a result, he was left to compete with Messi, Dembele and eventually Griezmann for minutes. He quickly fell out of favor, and even had to watch as his former side beat Barcelona in the semifinals of the 2018-19 Champions League before winning the title.
He’s since had a loan spell at Bayern Munich where he won the Champions League in 2020, scoring twice in an 8-2 demolition of Barcelona along the way, further embarrassing his contractual employers, and currently sits on loan at Premier League side Aston Villa. He seems to finally be enjoying his football again, but at age 30 and having wasted his peak years, this move was a failure for all involved, and an expensive one at that, with (potential) add-ons taking his eventual price as high as €180 million by the time he leaves this summer.
Rating: Barcelona have pulled another blunder, 1/10
3. João Félix, Benfica to Atlético de Madrid summer 2019, €126 million
Remember that Griezmann transfer I ranted about a few lines ago? Well, here’s how Atleti used the massive fee they received. They didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either.
On the surface, this also looked like a good idea. Félix was the brightest prospect in Europe in 2019, scoring 19 and assisting 7 in 37 matches across all competitions at just 18 years old. But with a massive fee comes massive expectations, and Félix hasn’t met them. Now in his third season in Spain, he’s never cracked 10 league goals in a season, and seems to have stagnated. He also faces stiff competition for minutes from Ángel Correa to play in his favored number 10 role, meaning it has been difficult for him to maintain a sustained run of good form. No one can fault his defensive work rate, as he consistently puts up quality numbers in pressures and ball recoveries for a forward as expected in Diego Simeone’s system. But he was brought in to be a striker, and not the average one he’s been ever since.
Rating: hopefully more to come, 4/10
2. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco to PSG summer 2017, €180 million
This is perhaps the only successful transfer on this list, at least at the time of writing. Mbappe had promise to become a world star when PSG signed him as an 18 year old in 2017, and he has proved himself. In the five seasons since, Mbappe has finished fourth in the Ballon D’or, scored 111 goals in the league alone, played in a Champions League final, won the World Cup and scored in the World Cup Final, and is now linked with a €200+ million move to Real Madrid. Mbappe now sits alongside Erling Haaland as one of the favorites to dominate world football when Messi and Ronaldo finally retire in the near future and is France’s main hope to retain the World Cup this winter in Qatar. Whatever the fee they paid for him, Mbappe was worth it and more. If he had won a Ballon D’or by now, this transfer would have a perfect score.
Rating: stellar, 9/10
1. Neymar, Barcelona to PSG summer 2017, €222 million
The man whose transfer made the rest of these possible, Neymar’s 2017 move reset the bar for transfer prices in the football world. His price tag was more than double the previous record of Paul Pogba, and really showed the world the power of the Qatari-backed PSG project. And yet, has he worked out? With a price so high, only a perfect outcome would have been called justified. And that simply hasn’t happened.
Neymar has been plagued by injuries since his arrival in Paris. He has missed nearly 100 matches through injury. His express goal at leaving Barcelona was to leave Messi’s shadow and win the Ballon D’or, which he has failed to do, having not even made the top 10 in that time. He has never played more than 20 league games at PSG, and never managed 20 league goals in a season. He is also regularly injured at key points in the season, regularly picking up knocks in the post-Christmas period when PSG have crucial Champions League matches. Truth be told, he hasn’t made much of a difference. The only exception to this rule was making the Champions League final in 2020, where he was exceptionally quiet in a 1-0 loss. One cannot deny his brilliance, with tricks and flicks galore, but he has simply missed too many matches and gone quiet in too many important ones to be considered a success.