When a club manages to sign a world-class talent, paying a huge transfer fee in the process, it generates major excitement and anticipation. However, it doesn’t always work out for the best.
In fact, several of the most expensive transfers ever have turned out to be flops, costing the buying clubs big time.
The top 10 most expensive transfers of all time
If looking at the above graphic of the 10 most expensive transfers, it’s clear to see that there are some cautionary tales there.
“Of the list of the 10 most expensive signings in history, only two or three have lived up to expectations,” is how former Real Madrid player Poli Rincon puts it.
And, he’s right. Joao Felix didn’t work out at Atletico Madrid, Romelu Lukaku only lasted a year back at Chelsea, his Belgian teammate Eden Hazard has hardly seen the pitch at Real Madrid, and Barcelona have had several disappointments, such as Philippe Coutinho or Antoine Griezmann or even Ousmane Dembele, even if he is now showing some form.
The case of Joao Felix
The most recent example of a club admitting they have got a big investment wrong is with Atletico Madrid and Joao Felix, with the Portuguese having been sent out on loan to Chelsea for the second half of the 2022/23 season.
Victor Sanchez del Amo has discussed these kinds of cases generally and the Joao Felix one more specifically.
“With such cases, there are usually shortcomings in two situations: either in the player’s predisposition to adapt to the new environment or in the club’s success in helping him to find that climate of adaptation,” the former Deportivo La Coruna and Real Betis coach said.
“Behind all this is the relationship between player and coach.
“When you go to a club, you are responsible for knowing what club you are going to.
“You should understand the philosophy, because you then can’t use that as an excuse because when you signed you knew what was there”.
“In the case of Joao Felix, [the philosophy] was very clear. In others, it sometimes isn’t so clear.
“It seems there was something missing with this signing from both parties.”
Gregorio Manzano, who understands Atletico Madrid well from his stints as a coach there, also discussed the Joao Felix example.
“Maybe the price wasn’t right, he started.
“They say something is worth what you’re willing to pay for it, but perhaps there are players who, without demonstrating anything outstanding beforehand, are exorbitantly priced.
“That was the case with Joao Felix and some of Real Madrid‘s recent signings.
“Such prices are a double-edged sword. With an outlay of this level, it is understood that it has to be amortised over the years.
“Sometimes it pays off and, as you can see in these cases, sometimes it doesn’t.
“There is no magic wand because there are many variables and each case is unique.”
Francisco Torreblanca, an expert in marketing and a professor at the ESIC Business and Marketing School, presented another theory for why Joao Felix hasn’t lived up to expectations.
“There is a theory in economics is called the ‘money illusion’, which is that you feel you’re going to get rich because you achieve an ability or status in record time,” he said.
“But when you take the step up, you have that added pressure, little experience and you’re talked about all the time because you’re new to the market.
“You might stand out stand out in a specific sector with specific variables, but then you move to another sector and think you are also going to win, but it doesn’t work out because there are other variables.
“Explosive growth, as was the case with Joao Felix at Benfica, can be dangerous. Even though was impressive, he had only played a little.”
Players suffer the effects of being overpriced
It’s not just the clubs with bills to pay who can suffer when a transfer fee is excessive, as the players struggle too, even if they didn’t decide their fee.
“Being in an environment where you feel loved and comfortable is almost as important as adapting to the system of play,” pointed out Miguel Martin, CEO of SportCoach.
“And another factor is the patience to develop your quality, as the higher the cost of your transfer fee, the less patience there will be.”
Clubs might stop spending over 100m euros for players
One person who understands the transfer market well is Alvaro Torres of You First and he thinks the spending will slow down for some of the reasons outlined above.
“The market has stabilised, we are not going to see many more transfers that can be included in this list,” he stated.
“If we do, it will be from the Premier League or from a club with a new owner who makes an extra effort.
“The market was a bit crazy, it was disproportionate and the pandemic has stabilised it.
“Whereas we used to see 20 transfers of 80m euros, now we don’t see that so much.”
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play could also shake up the market
Marc Menchen, of 2Playbook, discussed the big Spanish clubs and pointed out that the stadium redevelopments should reduce their spending for a while.
He also discussed the market as a whole and stated that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play could still be key.
“What you won’t see any more will be signings of more than 100m euros for players of the level of Dembele, Coutinho, etc,” he said.
“But, you will still see it with the likes of Kylian Mbappe or Erling Halaand.
“In the Premier League, they are in a league of their own, but the new UEFA Financial Fair Play, when it comes in, will change everything even more.”
There is a consensus that the market will stabilise and that prices will be reset.
Top clubs will still find their superstars, but the means of acquiring them might change and, in any case, we all know now that a big fee doesn’t always correlate with becoming a legeng.
“Superstars like Lionel Messi or Diego Maradona can only be counted on the fingers of one hand for the whole of history, so money does not guarantee everything,” Miguel Angel Portugal concluded.