Real Madrid have become known for their Galactico policy in the Florentino Perez era and have built some exceptional squads as a result, but that comes at quite a cost so sales are just as important as identifying the next superstar.
Thankfully, Los Blancos have been pretty good at selling players and regenerating their squad in a way that causes as little disruption as possible. Especially when compared to La Liga rivals Barcelona, who now find themselves in a sticky financial situation due to their poor use of the transfer market.
For a club known for its lavish spending, Real sell smart and they deserve credit for that. Not everyone they purchase can hang at the top level and they get moved on as a result.
With that said, here are the club’s 10 most expensive sales and how they did after life in Madrid.
10. Gonzalo Higuain
After six years in the Spanish capital, Higuain had impressed and looked every bit a striker with the potential to be one of the best in Europe, but hadn’t quite forced his way into a regular starting berth for Real.
They sold him to Napoli in 2013 for a £34.5million fee, with the Italians beating Arsenal to his signature.
Higuain would spend the bulk of his career in Italy after that, scoring for fun in Naples before earning a big-money move to Turin with Juventus, where it never quite clicked.
Two rather forgettable loans to AC Milan and Chelsea would come – the latter a particularly poor move – before the Argentine headed back across the pond to see out the final few years of his career with Inter Miami, retiring in 2022.
El Pipita, siempre el Pipita 🇦🇷⚽️
— JuventusFC (@juventusfces) April 21, 2023
Real made a profit on the Brazilian they signed just three years earlier when Manchester City paid a British record £32.5million fee to sign Robinho in September 2008, the same day a takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group was complete.
He only spent two years in Manchester before embarking on somewhat of a journeyman career that took him across several continents.
8. Raphael Varane
It was quite a shock to see Real willingly sell their multiple-time Champions League-winning central defender Varane to Manchester United in 2021, for only £41million including add-ons, although the initial fee was reported to be closer to £34million
Yes, injuries had never been too kind to the Frenchman, but Los Blancos looked short defensively. That, and Varane on his day is truly exceptional.
That Old Trafford presentation upon signing immediately made him feel priceless, and despite a rocky first season, he’s since established himself as an integral piece in Erik ten Hag’s puzzle alongside Lisandro Martinez.
Real don’t miss him per se, but United certainly got a much better deal than many perhaps expected.
🏟 Raphael Varane is unveiled to @ManUtd fans…
😍 This beats any announcement video! pic.twitter.com/SS2adOJJET
— SPORF (@Sporf) August 14, 2021
7. Achraf Hakimi
Hakimi was sent on a two-year loan to Borussia Dortmund after coming through Real’s academy ranks and was sold to Inter upon return in 2021 for an initial £36.3million.
He only spent one year in Italy before signing for Paris Saint-Germain in a deal that could be worth up to £60million.
6. Mateo Kovacic
Real snapped up Kovacic from Inter in 2015 after the Italian side’s hand was forced as a result of Financial Fair Play regulations.
While the Croatian played a part as a rotation arm, he was never able to break into a midfield trio that was already comprised of prime Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.
A season-long loan to Chelsea in 2018 would turn into a permanent deal the following summer, with the Blues parting with an initial £40.25million to secure the midfielder.
Kovacic struggled under Maurizio Sarri and battled inconsistency for some time, but in the last few years has quietly become one of Chelsea’s most important players thanks to his press resistance and abilities in front of both boxes.
Mateo Kovacic – World Cup 2022 pic.twitter.com/FYj1krn5C2
— َ (@CheIseaComps) December 14, 2022
5. Mesut Ozil
Real’s decision to sell Ozil in 2013 created a moment that Arsenal fans will never forget.
After only three years as a Madridista where the German looked to be blossoming into potentially the most dangerous creator in European football, the Gunners swooped in and signed Ozil on Deadline Day for a £42.5million fee.
It all started so well for him at the Emirates, too. Ozil quickly became a fan favourite and in 2015-16 he not only finished the Premier League’s top goal creator but as Arsenal’s Player of the Season.
But despite putting together an unworldly highlight reel over the years and graduating to a senior role at the club, he left under sour circumstances in 2021 and signed for boyhood club Fenerbahce, where he never managed to recover his best form. Ozil retired earlier in 2023.
4. Angel Di Maria
Why were United fans so apprehensive about Varane? Angel Di Maria was why.
They’d seen it all before. Real Madrid wantaway being offered ridiculous sums of money by their rather incompetent board who thought it would be good business regardless. Di Maria was exactly that, signing in 2014 for a British record £59.7million and taking their historic number seven jersey.
After a dream start, the move quickly turned into a nightmare. An already uninterested Di Maria failed to find any sustained form, looked like a square peg in a round hole and was desperate to leave Manchester after his house was burgled.
He was gone the following summer, signing for PSG in a cut-price deal, the club he’d wanted to join initially. He’s since been back to Old Trafford a few times; no prizes for guessing what kind of reception he gets.
The one good thing that came from Di Maria signing for Manchester United 👌🥵
— The Premier League Club (@TPLCSports) March 8, 2023
3. Alvaro Morata
Does Morata even exist? Or is he a figment of our imaginations, designed merely to serve as a book-balancing finance project for the likes of Juventus, Real and Atletico Madrid?
We’ll never know, but what we can be sure of is that Los Blancos have done exceptionally well to recoup funding for him.
After initially selling him to Juve in 2014, Real bought him back in 2016, activating their £24million buyback clause just to sell him again a season later to Chelsea, who paid a club-record £70million fee.
Morata flopped and ended up back in Madrid during his three-year stay in London, being loaned to Atletico Madrid, who then bought him, loaned him back to Juve and now have him in the squad once again.
Got that? No? Us neither. Go figure.
United fans were both excited and apprehensive when Casemiro expressed a desire to leave Real to join their club in 2022, off the back of their worst season in Premier League history.
The Red Devils paid £70million to sign the Brazilian, who had just won his fifth Champions League a few months prior, leaving fans worried about his motivations for joining the club and leaving behind Madrid – they’d seen it all before with Di Maria, remember?
In the time since, it has become abundantly clear that they have not bought a player looking for his last big paycheque, but a rather mad Brazilian who loves football too much for his own good.
After seeing United get thumped 4-0 by Brentford two games into the 2022-23 season, Casemiro told his agent to inform the club that he would fix things.
He has done absolutely that, helping to transform Ten Hag’s side by giving them some mental and physical steel along with former Real teammate Varane.
— MUFC Scoop 🔴 (@MUFCScoop) April 23, 2023
1. Cristiano Ronaldo
After paying a then world record £80m to sign him from United in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid nine years later a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, a five-time Champions League winner and the club’s all-time top scorer.
Despite now being ten years older than when he first joined, Real somehow managed to make a profit on their world record fee, selling the 33-year-old to a Juve side who were desperate to win the Champions League at any cost.
The cost? £99.2million. At least it paid itself back after they finally cemented years of domestic dominance with European glory once again, right? No.
Ronaldo’s signing crippled the club. Completely. Real struggled for the first year without the Portuguese forward, but quickly recovered, while Juve slipped off the mountain completely.
Their style of play suffered, the power struggle was obvious, they failed to win the Champions League and they lost their decade-long grasp on the Serie A title while also finding themselves completely hamstrung financially.
Ronaldo left in 2021, to re-sign for United. Because of course it was United who were silly enough to actually push through that deal. Unsurprisingly, it ended in tears.