The 10 clubs in Europe with the highest net spend since 2017

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Manchester United's Harry Maguire in action against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League. Old Trafford, Manchester, January 2022.

We all know transfer fees in football have risen wildly in recent years, but while some clubs take advantage of that to earn huge amounts of profit, others spend profligately without filling the coffers through sales.

Europe’s big five leagues are home to all of the 10 clubs with the highest net spend – that is a club’s outlay on transfers minus its income from sales – in the world over the past five years. And six of them are from the Premier League.

We’ve taken at each of them and what they’ve got for their money, with figures courtesy of Transfermarkt. Note: the period taken into account is from the start of the 2017 summer window until the end of the 2022 winter window. Transfers already agreed for summer 2022 are not included in the total net spend.

10. Aston Villa – £221.24million

The most surprising inclusion on this list, Villa were still in the Championship for the first two years of this period but under the ownership of Tony Xia and then Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, they have invested heavily, first to make it back to the big time and then to stay there.

The summers and winters of 2019, 2020 and 2021 were lavish, with the likes of Tyrone Mings, Wesley, Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings all arriving for fees in excess of £20million.

They did recoup a whopping £105.75million with the sale of Jack Grealish to Manchester City, but they still beat out fellow Premier League clubs Everton, Newcastle, Liverpool, West Ham and Wolves to make it into the top 10.

This summer they look set to continue that sort of outlay, with the arrivals of Diego Carlos and Philippe Coutinho already confirmed. The pressure will be on Steven Gerrard to turn that spending into results.

9. Barcelona – £225.63million

Barcelona received an astronomical £199.8million from the sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017. And they quickly proceeded to piss it all up the wall.

Ousmane Dembele, Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann arrived for over £100million each, among a slew of other signings. Almost all of them failed to live up to expectations.

Barca are actually the club that has spent most in absolute terms during this period – an outlay of £901.08million. If it weren’t for the Neymar money and the (weirdly) inflated fees received for Arthur and Paulinho, they’d be even further up this list.

All this means current boss Xavi is working with one arm tied behind his back when it comes to the transfer market.

8. Tottenham – £231.60million

Daniel Levy has a reputation for driving a hard bargain. But so difficult is it to do deals with the Spurs chairman that of the clubs on this list only Villa have received less money in transfer fees since 2017.

Levy held out for so long with players like Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane that Tottenham either commanded a reduced fee or did not make the sale at all.

As such, the £430million they’ve spent on players far outweighs what they’ve made. With Antonio Conte now in charge, expect the turnover of players – and their spending – to increase in summer 2022.

Harry Winks of Tottenham during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, 19th January 2022.

READ: Ranking all 16 signings Man Utd made under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

7. Chelsea – £240.56million

The original big spenders.

Roman Abramovich famously injected over £1.5billion into Chelsea during his time in west London, including the big-money purchases of Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Alvaro Morata and Christian Pulisic in the period in question here.

Fortunately for him, Chelsea had Marina Granovsakai, who was good at knowing when to get rid of players, with the £103.5million sale of Eden Hazard and £54million sale of Diego Costa lessening the blow. In recent years, they’ve also been able to bank big fees by moving on academy players like Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham.

What happens now Abramovich has been forced to sell? We’ll have to wait and see.

6. Juventus – £291.81million

Juventus are famous for their love of a free transfer – or at least a signing that doesn’t involve paying a transfer fee to another club. Aaron Ramsey, Emre Can and Adrien Rabiot have all been signed for nothing in recent seasons (and all been a bit, err, crap?).

But Juve can still splash the cash with the best of them, spending £857.89million on a remarkable 182 players over the past five seasons. The most expensive of them have been Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Matthijs de Ligt and Dusan Vlahovic.

They have also sold well at times, however, receiving solid sums for Joao Cancelo, Mattia Caldara, Leonardo Spinazzola and Moise Kean among others.

Still, the business overall has been less than ideal as they’ve seen their dominance in Serie A slip away over the past two seasons.

5. Arsenal – £334.73million

Oh, Arsenal. Nicolas Pepe for £72million and he’s not produced. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for £57.38million and he left for nothing. Alexandre Lacazette for £47.7million and he’s leaving for nothing too.

And, most importantly, they’ve not been able to break back into the top four under Unai Emery or Mikel Arteta, despite the outlay.

Still, they’re on the right track now, right? Right?

Composite image of Arsenal managers Mikel Arteta (left) and Unai Emery (right) during matches at the Emirates Stadium, in the Premier League in March 2022 and the Europa League in November 2019 respectively.

READ: How Mikel Arteta’s record at Arsenal compares with Unai Emery’s

4. AC Milan – £342.80million

After Villa, the second biggest surprise is seeing Milan this high up the list especially given their record signing is still Leonardo Bonucci, brought in from Juventus for £37.8million in 2017. In fact, their second most expensive signing ever is still Rui Costa, who moved to San Siro all the way back in 2001.

But a scattergun approach to the transfer market under the ownerships of Li Yonghong and Elliott Management Corporation has seen them fruitlessly invest huge sums over the past half a decade – not to mention get banned from the Europa League for breaching FFP regulations. Mattia Caldara, Krzysztof Piatek and Samu Castillejo, anyone?

Still, they’ve started to turn things around under the joint leadership of Stefano Pioli and Paolo Maldini and now have a really vibrant young squad with some brilliant players who led them to the 2022 Scudetto and would be worth an absolute fortune if they decided to sell.

3. Paris Saint-Germain – £375.12million

Into the top three and it’s little surprise to find Qatar-backed PSG lurking menacingly.

The fees spent on Neymar and Kylian Mbappe dwarf any other they’ve forked out – and any other any club has ever forked out for that matter.

When they sell, they tend not to do it that well either. Exhibit A: Christopher Nkunku. Sold for €13million in 2019, the PSG academy graduate is now reportedly worth upwards of €60million and is attracting the interest of… PSG. Oops.

2. Manchester City – £424.81million

Like PSG, City have the near-limitless wealth of an oil state to call upon and they’ve really put it to use in the past five years, signing Grealish from Villa as well as players like Ruben Dias, Riyad Mahrez, Joao Cancelo and Aymeric Laporte for huge fees.

Most of those players have been highly successful in east Manchester, helping City to four of the last five English titles on offer as well as League and FA Cup glory.

Indeed, there have been remarkably few missteps in the market, with only Grealish, Nathan Ake, Ferran Torres and Danilo arguably not providing value for money in recent years. Take into account that the first of those could still come good and the last were both sold for a profit, and the record looks even better.

Huge amounts invested? Yes. A return on that investment? Also yes.

1. Manchester United – £479.04million

Similar cannot be said for their Manchester neighbours, however.

With a net spend of nearly half a billion quid in just half a decade, Manchester United top this list by a significant margin. And what have they got to show for it? In terms of silverware, nothing.

They have been competitive in the top four, bringing in that sweet Champions League money. And they are not spending beyond their means. But their approach to the market has been misguided at best.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka for £49.5million, Romelu Lukaku for £76.23million, Fred for £53.1million, Harry Maguire for £78.30million… the list goes on.

Fans will be glad to see the back of Ed Woodward, however many noodle partners he brought to the club, and they’ll hope the arrival of Erik ten Hag signals a new era of more precise, well-planned market activity.

Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini celebrates scoring in the Premier League. Old Trafford, December 2014.

READ: Where are they now? Woodward’s first 10 Manchester United signings

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