Man Utd wasters join king Van Dijk in grim list of all 17 £70m-plus Premier League signings
Is there a curse on Premier League transfers above £70million? Declan Rice has done his bit to buck the trend, but this list remains grim.
Including an alarming number of flops, we have ranked the 17 players who cost a Premier League club £70m or more.
17) Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea
Chelsea bought Romelu Lukaku for the second time in 2021, splashing out £97.5m on the Belgian – who was given another chance to make a name for himself at Stamford Bridge. He had spent time on loan at Everton and West Brom during his first spell, playing the best football of his Premier League career for the former.
After permanently joining the Toffees, Lukaku joined Manchester United for big money (more on that soon) before a move to Inter and then Chelsea. Many expected Lukaku to be the signing of the season, F365 included, but he flopped disastrously having dug his own grave by publicly begging Inter to re-sign him.
The ill-advised interview with Sky Italia ensured the former Red Devils striker had no way back in west London. He did, at least, earn a loan move back to Inter for the 2022/23 campaign. He is currently on loan at AS Roma after the Blues failed to secure a transfer fee last summer.
It is unclear whether Chelsea will get anything for Lukaku, but what is clear is that this is the worst massive-money signing in Premier League history.
16) Jadon Sancho to Manchester United
Manchester United have had some absolute howlers in the transfer market over the years, but the signing of Jadon Sancho takes the cake. The Red Devils chased the England winger for well over a year while he was at Borussia Dortmund, before eventually landing him for around £73m in the summer of 2021.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years and Sancho has no future at Old Trafford. That is as long as Erik ten Hag is in charge. A loan move back to Dortmund looks like it is in the pipeline and it would be pretty funny – yet unsurprising – if he picks up where he left off in Germany.
Perhaps the most costly example of ‘Bundesliga tax’, Sancho has been unable to play his game for United and any hopes of him turning things around are now wafer thin.
15) Harry Maguire to Manchester United
From one Manchester United flop to another, Harry Maguire was signed for a monstrous £80m from Leicester City. Maguire did well enough under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be given the captaincy, which resulted in even more pressure when the colossal transfer fee was already doing a number on him.
Pressure may well be the main reason for Maguire’s downfall, and that argument has only gained weight given his stellar performances this season after being stripped of the captaincy before 2023/24 kicked off.
The next time we revisit this list, the England centre-back might be a few places better off.
14) Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal
Nicolas Pepe cost Arsenal £72m when he signed from Lille in 2019. There has been talk before and since that then-head coach Unai Emery preferred and wanted to sign Wilfried Zaha, but was given the Crystal Palace star’s fellow Ivorian instead. This Arsenal fan right here was ecstatic when news of Pepe’s transfer broke, nonetheless. What a poor – yet devilishly handsome and charming – sod.
Although Pepe is widely regarded as a massive flop, he did have his moments in an Arsenal shirt. He came up big when Mikel Arteta led the Londoners to FA Cup glory during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing an assist in the semi-final and final. 18 goal contributions in his debut year was an okay return, if not a bit underwhelming for someone who cost so much money.
The following season, Pepe claimed 21, including 10 goals in 29 Premier League matches. He came second in the voting for Arsenal’s Player of the Year, though they did finish eighth so some perspective is required. 21/22 was rubbish and the Ivorian spent the last 12 months back in France with Nice.
After the filthy rich Saudis failed to come in clutch for the Gunners, Pepe left for Turkish outfit Trabzonspor last summer, joining on a free transfer.
13) Kepa Arrizabalaga to Chelsea
The former Athletic Bilbao shot-stopper (that term is being used loosely) is the most expensive goalkeeper of all time, joining Chelsea for a mind-blowing £72m in August 2018.
Since the move, he has only played 12 times for his country, lost his spot as first-choice goalkeeper after two seasons, was replaced by a goalkeeper the Blues signed for around £56m less, who would go on to become the best in his position in Europe, before falling off a cliff and giving Kepa another chance to impress.
Football is a funny sport, though, and of course Kepa is currently Real Madrid’s No. 1 goalkeeper with Thibaut Courtois out injured for the season.
The goalkeeper position at Stamford Bridge remains uncertain as Djordje Petrovic deputises for the injured Robert Sanchez, who is yet to fully convince anyone he is a long-term solution. But at least he didn’t cost £72m.
12) Antony to Manchester United
Antony is given the benefit of the doubt in a sense here. If he wasn’t still employed by Manchester United he would be lower down this list, but he still has the chance to turn things around, so despite having less of an impact at Old Trafford as Pepe at the Emirates, the Brazilian sits in a generous 12th place.
Going into his first summer transfer window at the club, Ten Hag decided he would try to bring in some of his former Ajax players, ending up with two and chasing another for three months straight, despite Frenkie de Jong making it abundantly clear he was not leaving Barcelona. Persistence can sometimes be saluted, but not here…definitely not here.
United ended up spending more than they ever have before in a single window, signing Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Antony, who joined for around £80m in a bitter-sweet deal for Ten Hag. Reports suggest the Brazilian was available for significantly less earlier in the transfer window, but the Dutch manager did get his shiny new toy eventually. Every cloud.
Four goals and 22 wins from 41 Premier League matches is woeful from Antony – who ended 2023 with eight goal contributions and is yet to register a single goal or assist in 21 appearances this season.
11) Paul Pogba to Manchester United
Ah, Paul Pogba. What a player he has shown he can be. Manchester United broke the world transfer record in 2016 when they paid £89m to sign the player they released four years before. It is safe to say the Red Devils did not get the player they thought they were buying.
Pogba’s first season back at Old Trafford was actually very good. He scored nine goals and got six assists as Jose Mourinho’s side won the Carabao Cup and Europa League, which was their most recent trophy until Ten Hag ruined all the fun and made United fairly competent again in 22/23. The French international played in all 15 Europa matches and scored in the final win over Ajax. But his (second) debut season at the club was as good as it got for Pogba.
Six goals and 10 assists in the league was a decent return in 17/18, but a bit disappointing for a player of his supposed calibre. The following year was more like it as Pogba scored 16 and assisted 11 in 47 games across all competitions, but then the wheels really started falling off in Solskjaer’s first full season at the helm.
After running the show for France at the World Cup a year before, injuries greatly hindered Pogba’s 19/20 campaign. After another below-average season, Pogba returned to Juventus, joining the Serie A juggernauts on a free transfer for the second time in his career.
He is currently unavailable due to a doping ban. Pogba has had a strange career.
10) Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United
Somewhere in between Lukaku’s two spells at Chelsea, he found himself at Manchester United, for whom he looked out of place from his first day at the club.
It simply wasn’t a good fit for a player who joined for £75m after banging in 87 goals in 166 matches for Everton. 55 goal contributions in 96 United appearances was hardly awful, and the fact he was sold for only £8m less than he was bought saves Lukaku from further criticism.
9) Josko Gvardiol to Manchester City
Manchester City usually do well in the transfer market. Anyone signed for a modest fee – your Negredos and Nolitos – doesn’t have a lot of pressure to succeed, while the guys brought in for mega bucks tend to justify it within a season or two.
Josko Gvardiol is one of the best young defenders in the world and his move to the Treble winners was met with moans and groans from rival fans as they looked like they had managed to upgrade on the incredibly consistent Nathan Ake. That has not been the case as of yet, with Ake outperforming the 21-year-old Croatian.
Time is on Gvardiol’s side, obviously, and there is faith he will show his Leipzig and Croatia form at the Etihad, but at the moment he probably doesn’t get into a full-strength City XI.
8) Darwin Nunez to Liverpool
Darwin Nunez is definitely at the right club in terms of fan base. Liverpool supporters are rallying around the Uruguayan and have made him one of their own. In terms of an actual style on the pitch, the player looks a bit lost.
Roberto Firmino was never an incredible goalscorer as Jurgen Klopp’s No. 9, but he offered so much to the team and brought the best out of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. While Salah is enjoying a great season and links up well with Darwin, the relationship between Klopp’s striker and his inverted wingers are not the same.
At the age of 24, the £73m forward is a unique, yet very raw, talent and has time to polish his game.
7) Wesley Fofana to Chelsea
Similar to Man United’s signing of Antony, Fofana was pursued by Chelsea for some time before the transfer became official. There was talk of a fee that would eclipse Harry Maguire’s but it did not quite happen. He still, obviously, cost an absolute fortune (around £70m).
Fofana could only manage 17 Premier League appearances in 22/23 and will only be an important player for Chelsea if he can overcome the injuries that are ravaging his career.
A centre-back partnership with Levi Colwill has a lot of promise but we are yet to see it with Fofana sidelined with a cruciate ligament tear.
6) Kai Havertz to Chelsea
Chelsea somehow managed to sell Kai Havertz to Arsenal for £65m in the summer, which is a minor miracle given his form for the Blues. His start in north London has been indifferent and the transfer is becoming very difficult to justify.
Having paid around £72m for Havertz, the Blues only made a £7m loss on a player who was expected to fall out of favour under Mauricio Pochettino. That is pretty good business and one of the reasons the player ranks so high on this list, the other two major factors being how rubbish the standard is, and that Champions League final goal.
Scoring the only goal in a Champions League final against Manchester City ensured Havertz will always be remembered at Stamford Bridge. Without it, the German might be one of the biggest flops in Chelsea’s history.
5) Moises Caicedo to Chelsea
Former Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo is quietly going about his business after a noisy debut which had everyone scratching their head. Producing seven out of tens every week is pretty much what you want from your defensive midfielder, but for a fee expected to reach £115m, is it enough?
Either way, Chelsea have one of the best young defensive midfielders in the game and if he can become what the Blues had with N’Golo Kante in his position, Pochettino will be laughing.
Caicedo made it no secret that he wanted to join one of the Premier League’s elite forces and having signed an eight-year contract, he is sorted financially. It’s all about keeping yourself motivated, which some of Chelsea’s newest recruits might not do.
4) Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea
Speaking of players who can be key for Chelsea for a long time, British record transfer Enzo Fernandez joined the Blues last January and has barely put a foot wrong in an incohesive shambles of a team.
Fernandez starred for Argentina at the 2022 World Cup, being named Young Player of the Tournament ahead of Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol, prompting Todd Boehly to spend all of the 2023 winter transfer window trying to sign him from Benfica. They eventually settled on a record fee paid by a Premier League club, reported to be close to £107m.
The 22-year-old midfielder still has a lot to prove in England, but something tells me he will be just fine. Living up to that price is a whole other story, though. He has to basically be the best in his position for the foreseeable. Good luck fella.
3) Declan Rice to Arsenal
And Fernandez is not better than this guy, so that’s not the best start.
Our signing of the season so far, Declan Rice has been superb in the Arsenal midfield, even if the Gunners are doing worse this term than they were in 22/23. Mikel Arteta’s men are not playing the fluid football we have been accustomed to seeing in recent years with the Spanish manager obsessed with winning duels, but there is no doubt that Rice is the first player on this list to be absolutely worth the money.
This is a signing Arsenal fans would not have considered possible a couple of years ago, but this is what Arteta has achieved. Being able to attract Rice is a great sign but the Gunners’ start to the season shows there is some work to be done and that other funds have not been spent as wisely…
2) Jack Grealish to Manchester City
The £100m Manchester City paid for Aston Villa is still an eyebrow-raising fee despite Jack Grealish’s placement on this list.
Grealish had a great 22/23 Treble-winning campaign, improving massively on his first season at City, but he still does not look like a £100m footballer. The only leeway he gets is that he cost what he was worth to Villa, where he was club captain and their best player by a country mile.
The 28-year-old took his time to adapt to life at the Etihad, initially underwhelming fans after City paid a record fee for a British player. Once again, there is a bit of leeway as it is not an overnight process becoming a cog in the Pep Guardiola machine, but at £100m, you would hope for a much more seamless transition.
He more than played his part as the Cityzens won the Treble last season. playing 50 times across all competitions, which is impressive considering how much Guardiola loves to rotate, notching 16 goal contributions. That sounds a little underwhelming but this guy goes further than stats.
Grealish will need to elevate his game to yet another level if he wants to remain Guardiola’s first-choice left winger. Jeremy Doku has been fantastic.
1) Virgil van Dijk to Liverpool
This was never, ever, ever, EVER, in doubt.
Virgil van Dijk’s arrival flicked a switch at Anfield. Those silly dropped points against bottom-half sides like Swansea City and West Brom were behind them the day the Dutchman walked through the door. He sorted out their defence without breaking a sweat and was joined by world-class goalkeeper Alisson six months after joining, in a transfer that completed the puzzle for Klopp and made the Reds European, and then Premier League champions.
Since joining Liverpool from Southampton for a fee in the region of £76m in January 2018, Van Dijk has won four major trophies, been named PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Season, UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, Champions League Defender of the Season, Liverpool Fans’ Player of the Season, Liverpool Players’ Player of the Season, Football Supporters’ Federation Player of the Year, and been in the PFA Team of the Year and UEFA Team of the Year three times. Not too shabby.
He is a rare case of a £70m-plus Premier League signing not turning out to be absolutely pants.