How much would our favourite footballers be worth if they were bought for today’s prices?

Footballers cost a lot of money these days, don’t they? This summer, unproven strikers set clubs back £30 million, and a top centre-back nearly £80 million. Even Newcastle United spent £40 million on an uncapped Brazilian with just seven Bundesliga goals to his name.

Hard to get your head around, right? Well, you’re in the right place: helping you to understand finances is what we do here at TotallyMoney

We’ve taken the 100 most expensive transfers each season in Europe’s big five leagues – England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France – since the dawn of the Premier League in 1992. Armed with that data, we’ve produced the TotallyMoney Transfer Index and calculated the beautiful game’s unique “football inflation”, so we can see how much players from yesteryear would cost today.

And what did it tell us? Well, first of all, it seems that Neymar has lost his crown as the most expensive transfer of all time, to a former Watford manager…

How much would they be worth now?

Gianluca Vialli

£14.9 million from Sampdoria to Juventus in 1992 – £209 million today

While Sky was busy inventing football in England, Italy remained the glamorous home of footballing riches. In 1992-93, the seven most expensive transfers in Europe were all to Serie A clubs – and none were more expensive than Gianluca Vialli’s move to Juventus.

No stranger to huge amounts of money, Vialli, the son of a self-made millionaire, grew up in a 60-room castle in Lombardy. But even he would struggle to pay his transfer fee in today’s market: after consecutive seasons helping Sampdoria to their first ever Serie A title, then propelling them to the European Cup final, he moved to Turin for £14.9 million – worth £209 million in today’s market.

During his four seasons with the Bianconeri, he paid them back handsomely – eventually captaining the side to victory in the 1996 Champions League.

Neymar

£200 million from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 – £202 million today

In second place is everyone’s favourite perpetual wantaway, Neymar.

The Brazilian had already cost Barcelona £79.4 million when he moved from Santos as a 21 year old in 2013 – that fee, worth £145 million today, is enough to also place him 13th on our Transfer Index. But when the oil-rich Parisians came calling for the jewel in the Catalans’ crown – well, the achievable one – in 2017, they had to smash the world record to secure his signature.

The £200 million (£202 million today) they spent was more than double the previous record – Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United for £95 million – and secured a player who would surely bring them the European success they craved.

As yet, it’s not quite happened. But then, if a club really wanted to buy success, it would go all out to sign a certain ab-rich Portuguese…

Cristiano Ronaldo

£84.6 million from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 – £195 million today

At Old Trafford, the young stepover fanatic developed into the world’s best player, winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League in the process.

He also picked up his first Ballon D’Or in 2008 – and so, as is the way of the world, was signed by Real Madrid the following summer. At £84.6 million his transfer fee broke the world record – it is equivalent to £195 million today.

He certainly did his bit to repay them, bringing Real the trophy they coveted more than any other: the Champions League they simply call la Décima – the tenth. Then he added three more, for good measure.

In fact, other than a cringeworthy documentary about his life, there was barely a misstep during nine years on the Bernabéu pitch. His five (to date) Ballons D’Ors is a joint record – tied with Lionel Messi, and you rarely hear those two mentioned in the same sentence. Ronaldo holds the record for most Champions League goals, with 126 (Messi: 112), most La Liga hat-tricks (34; Messi: 33), and most international goals for a European, with 93 (Messi: not European, but also only 68).

Plus, Messi has played his entire professional career for Barcelona, so he doesn’t feature on the Transfer Index.

Someone missing? Don’t worry — our interactive table has the full list.

The rest of the top 10

Romário joined Barcelona from PSV Eindhoven for £10.8 million in the summer of 1993 – £167 million today. He scored 39 goals in 65 matches, before suddenly leaving for Flamengo after falling out with Johan Cruyff, which everyone did at some point.

Gareth Bale moved to Real Madrid from Tottenham for a world record £90.9 million in 2013 – worth £167 million today. He has only won four Champions Leagues, scoring in two finals – one with a scarcely-believable overhead kick – so it’s no surprise the Bernabéu crowd haven’t really taken to the Welshman his teammates nickname “the golfer”.

In 2002, Sir Alex Ferguson identified Leeds United’s 23-year-old Rio Ferdinand as the man around whom to build a team which could challenge at the top for a decade. He was right: with six Premier League titles and a Champions League victory, he proved himself more than worth his British record £41.4 million fee – worth £159 million today.

Zinédine Zidane seemed to improve with age, and, at 29, is the oldest player at the time of their big-money move in our top 10. In 2001, Zizou – already a European Championships and World Cup winner – joined Real Madrid from Juventus for a world record fee of £69.8 million – £158 million today. A solid investment, he helped the club to a Champions League triumph as a player, scoring one of the great goals in the final: a first-time volleyed winner, hit with his weaker foot, from a looping Robert Carlos cross. As a manger, he’s done alright too – in each of the three seasons he’s finished as a coach, he’s delivered Real Madrid another Champions League trophy.

Ronaldo, the original one, was nicknamed by his compatriots O Fenômeno – The Phenomenon. By the time he moved from Inter to Real Madrid in 2002, for £40.5 million (£105 million today) the 25-year-old he was already a two-time World Cup winner. If Lionel Messi – an Argentine, no less – describes you as “the best striker I've ever seen”, you know you’re doing something right.

Ninth in our list is Alen Boksic, a Croatian striker who, in two seasons in France, turned his fortunes around dramatically. Struggling so much with injury in 1991-92 that he only managed one game for AS Cannes, the following season a move to Marseille saw him become Ligue 1’s top goalscorer, win the league title (though they were later stripped of it following a bribery scandal) and a controversial European Cup. As the fallout from the scandal was about to consign Marseille to an enforced relegation, Boksic made a move to Lazio in 1993, for £9.9 million – now worth £153 million. He would go on to play for Juventus and, arguably less glamorously, Middlesbrough – winning two Serie A titles and the Boro Supporters’ Club Play of the Year Award.

A year before Boksic left Marseille for Italy, Jean-Pierre Papin had done the same. Following six prolific seasons in France, AC Milan paid a world record £10.8 million for the striker – £152 million today. In an age in which Italian sides were only allowed three foreign players in their team, Papin struggled to settle – he had the formidable Dutch trio of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard to compete with. Despite this, he came off the bench to play in the 1993 Champions League final – losing to his former club – and claimed a winner’s medal with the Italian side the following year.

Can money buy victory?

Parting with your hard-earned petro-millions is no guarantee of success – for every Didier Drogba or Kevin de Bruyne signed, there’s an Andy Carroll or a Denílson. For every Fernando Torres, there’s, well, a later-in-his-career Fernando Torres.

Let’s start with the Spaniard. At just 23, Torres made the move from his hometown of Madrid, where he played for Atlético, to spearhead Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side. He cost £34.2 million at the time, £87.1 million now – not a minor outlay.

By January 2011, a 26-year-old Torres should have been reaching the prime of his career, and Chelsea parted with £52.7 million to sign him – £145 million. But it never quite worked out for him in London – his goal rate halved and he drifted out of favour. He eventually left London to return home to Atlético Madrid, with 45,000 fans turning out for his unveiling in the Spanish capital.

The same winter that Liverpool sold Fernando Torres, they replaced him – spending £36.9 million on a young Andy Carroll: £102 million today. The 6ft 4in striker had helped Newcastle United to promotion to the top flight, then scored 11 in 19 Premier League games in the first half of the season.

But he was unproven at the highest level, and the gamble didn’t pay off: Carroll scored just 11 goals in two-and-a-half seasons on Merseyside. Fortunately, Liverpool spent some of the spare Torres cash on a Uruguayan called Luis Suárez, who stepped in with more than his fair share of goals, and bagged them a tidy profit when he joined Barcelona in 2014.

Perhaps no flop is greater than Denílson.

Real Betis are known as Seville’s working-class club, in contrast to cross-town rivals Sevilla. So when they came into a bit of cash, courtesy of owner Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, they decided to make a statement: breaking the world record by splashing £28.4 million – £124 million today – on a 20-year-old fleet-footed Brazilian from São Paulo.

There’s a reason Betis didn’t go on to dominate European football. In seven seasons with Betis, Denílson scored just 13 La Liga goals, and gradually moved to the fringes of the squad. In his final year, he started just three games.

You can explore the rest of the data with our interactive table.

Sources