Assessing the Premier League’s 10 most expensive foreign sales ever

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Philippe Coutinho of FC Barcelona during the Liga match against Valencia CF at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain. 17 October 2021.

The Premier League is the richest and most-watched league in the world – so, when its biggest stars are sold, they naturally command hefty fees.

In spite of the wealth and prestige offered in the English top-flight, the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich remain alluring destinations – so it’s no surprise to see those destinations dominate the list of the league’s most expensive sales.

Note: this list is the top 10 most expensive transfers from the Premier League to overseas clubs, and excludes the biggest transfers between Premier League clubs such as, for example, Jack Grealish and Declan Rice.

10. Diego Costa

One of several players to return to Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid after a spell away, Costa’s third stint at the club didn’t quite go to plan.

The Brazil-born Spain international was somewhat in limbo after his three fruitful years at Chelsea, having been told bluntly by Antonio Conte that he was surplus to requirements following his 20 goals in the Blues’ 2016-17 title win.

He was left out of their squad and signed for Atletico, but couldn’t arrive until the following January amid their transfer ban. Those six months off appeared to stunt his momentum, and he never quite regained his sharpness.

After three years and 19 goals in 81 appearances – plus an eight-match ban for abusing a referee – Costa had his contract terminated. Not quite worth £54million.

9. Leroy Sane

A serious knee injury in the 2019 Community Shield delayed Sane’s £54million transfer to Bayern Munich.

The Germany international had established himself as one of European football’s most exciting youngsters during his first three years at the Etihad, but being sidelined for almost the entire 2019-20 campaign was a major setback.

When he finally did arrive at the perennial Bundesliga champions, they’d just completed a treble by beating PSG in the Champions League final.

It’s taken him time to get back up to speed, and while Bayern predictably won three successive league titles during his time there, it’s difficult to say that Sane has really improved them.

It remains to be seen whether the winger will ever fully realise his early potential or justify the price tag, but at 27 he still has time to fully realise the ridiculous potential he showed at Manchester City.

8. Angel Di Maria

David de Gea’s girlfriend once opined that “Manchester is uglier than the back of a fridge” – a sentiment evidently shared by Di Maria and his wife after an unhappy year at Old Trafford.

The Argentinian arrived in Manchester after a man-of-the-match performance in the 2014 Champions League final, and he offered a reminder of that class with a stunning goal against Leicester early on in his United career.

But he never settled and soon looked desperate to depart. He got his wish when PSG stumped up £56million for his signature, with United ultimately happy to recoup most of the fee they paid Real Madrid a year earlier.

Seven seasons, five Ligue 1 titles, 92 goals and well over 100 assists, it’s fair to say PSG got their money’s worth out of the Argentinian before eventually allowing him to join Juventus on a free.

7. Romelu Lukaku

Chelsea and Manchester United fans may have a different view of the player, but the Lukaku we saw at Inter was nothing short of sensational.

The striker was Inter’s talisman, scoring 24 Serie A goals and leading from the front, as they ended Juventus’ nine-year reign in 2020-21.

The fact he was bought for £66million and the Italian club made a £34million profit when selling him to Chelsea tells you everything about how good he was at San Siro. Let’s not talk about how things have gone since then.

6. Luis Suarez

Suarez produced arguably the greatest individual campaign we’ve ever seen from a Premier League player before moving to Barcelona for a colossal £73million in 2014 – and yet he still lived up to the hype.

He scored 198 goals in six seasons, making him Barcelona’s all-time third top goalscorer, a stint that included lifting four La Liga titles, four Copas del Rey and the Champions League.

The Uruguayan also made Barcelona regret letting him go, as he went on to score 21 league goals to fire Atletico Madrid to the 2020-21 La Liga title.

5. Cristiano Ronaldo

Four Champions League titles. Four hundred and fifty goals – over a hundred more than any other player in Real Madrid’s history. After nine years of the Portuguese icon at the peak of his powers, Los Blancos still made a £20million profit.

The £84million paid to Manchester United was a world-record fee and a head-spinning amount of money back in 2009, but it almost feels paltry now. 

READ: The five forwards Real Madrid signed to replace Ronaldo & how they fared

4. Harry Kane

It’s very early days for Kane at Bayern Munich. At €100million (£86million) he’s the record signing in Bundesliga history so will have do something special to justify the fee.

People inevitably cracked jokes when Bayern lost 3-0 to RB Leipzig on his debut in the German Super Cup, but he’s since scored three goals in his first two Bundesliga appearances and we’d be amazed if he doesn’t score hatfuls in Germany.

3. Gareth Bale

Forget the nonsense from certain corners of the Madrid-based media, Bale proved worth every penny of the £90million Tottenham received for his signature in 2009.

The player himself would admit the last few years didn’t quite go as envisaged, but frankly who cares when you think of the moments he produced and silverware he lifted. His 106 goals and 67 assists in 258 appearances is a more than sufficient return on the investment.

2. Eden Hazard

We could point out that Hazard has won two league titles, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League during his three seasons at Real Madrid. But that would be so selective an interpretation of events as to be worthy of a Tory leadership hopeful.

The sad truth is that the Belgian has looked like a shadow of the brilliant player he was at Chelsea, and Madrid almost certainly would’ve won those trophies regardless. A club-record transfer and a total waste of £103million.

Hazard left the Spanish capital a year early and his career has stalled that he’s reportedly considering retirement at the age of 32.

1. Philippe Coutinho

Florentino Perez can take some solace in the fact Hazard didn’t work out as planned by taking a quick glance at Madrid’s eternal rivals.

Not only did the £121million finance Liverpool’s transformation into one of Europe’s best sides – as Barcelona themselves found out in the 2019 Champions League semi-finals – but Coutinho proved a total dud at the Camp Nou.

The transfer sums up the state of modern-day Barcelona and remains a colossal squandering of money. The windfall also allowed Jurgen Klopp to build his Premier League and Champions League-winning squad.

READ: Ranking the 10 worst signings of Bartomeu’s Barcelona presidency

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