It feels like record transfer fees are creeping up with each passing season, especially in the Premier League.
Indeed, just a few months ago we saw the nine-figure fee mark being breached for the first time in England as Manchester City completed their £100 million deal to bring Jack Grealish on board from Aston Villa.
As the cost of signing players continues to swell, it’s likely that top-flight clubs will have to spend more to stay competitive — but are they getting value for their investment?
Here we have assessed every single Premier League club’s current record incoming transfer and whether or not that player has provided a requisite amount of bang for the buck. Then we’ve ranked them from 20-1.
Taken into account is the size of the fee, their basic performance levels and success at the club from that date onwards. All stats are taken from the point the player in question made their permanent transfer to the club. Any previous stints or prior loan spells are not included.
You will almost certainly disagree with at least one player/club’s position here, but don’t worry, by this time next year this list could look very different.
Fee: £39.6m from Hoffenheim, July 2019
Record (in all competitions): 91 games, 10 goals, 8 assists
It looked like a good fit on paper: a muscular, physical Brazilian target man with a respectable scoring record in German football, almost tailor-made for the rigours of the Premier League. Unfortunately, Joelinton has proved an exasperating disappointment at St James’ Park and has returned just six goals in 79 Premier League appearances. He is yet to get off the mark this season.
Fee: £15.2m from Middlesbrough, August 2018
Record: 6 games, 1 goal
Gibson is still Burnley’s record signing despite having not played a single game for the team since August 2019 (90 minutes against Sunderland in the second round of the Carabao Cup, in what proved to be his only appearance of that season). Overall, the centre-back played just 62 minutes of Premier League football for Sean Dyche’s side, though in fairness he did manage to score on his solitary top-flight appearance so therefore does technically maintain a 100% goal-scoring record. Since then, Gibson has spent the last two seasons at Norwich City, having initially joined on loan for the 2020-21 Championship campaign before making the move permanent last summer for a reported fee of £8m following the Canaries’ promotion.
Fee: £45m from Eintracht Frankfurt, July 2019
Record: 54 games, 14 goals, 3 assists
Often looking clumsy and unsure of his precise role, Haller never quite gelled at the Hammers despite arriving in East London as a record signing and ending his tenure with an adequate if unspectacular record. Offloaded to Ajax at a £25m loss in January 2021, Haller has since proved his capability by scoring 27 goals in his first 40 games for the Dutch side. He played a pivotal role in the second half of the club’s double-winning 2020-21 campaign, and this term has continued his goal rush by scoring four in one Champions League game. West Ham, meanwhile, are third in the Premier League table after beating Liverpool 3-2 last time out. So it worked out well for everyone.
Fee: £9.9m from PAOK Salonika, August 2021
Record: 7 games, 2 goals, 2 assists
Tzolis has barely had chance to feature for Norwich since arriving from the Greek league and has completed a full 90 minutes just once (against Bournemouth in the second round of the Carabao Cup) since he became the most expensive player ever to move to Carrow Road. The left winger — who chipped in with 16 goals and 10 assists in 46 appearances for PAOK last season — has played a mere 21 minutes of league football since the end of September. Perhaps the recent departure of head coach Daniel Farke might signal a fresh start for Tzolis under new manager Dean Smith, but as things stand it’s all been decidedly underwhelming in his first three months as a Canary.
Fee: £36m from FC Porto, September 2020
Record: 45 games, 4 goals, 5 assists
Aged just 18 at the time, Wolves signed Silva despite the youngster having made just 12 senior league appearances in his career. Since moving to Molineux, the Portugal under-21 international has impressed in isolated bursts. However, after extra pressure was heaped on his shoulders last season following Raul Jimenez‘s long-term absence with a head injury, even his most enthusiastic supporters would be hard-pressed to describe his presence for Wolves as anything more than “peripheral.” There’s still plenty of time — Silva signed a five-year contract, after all — but the forward has got a long way to go.
Fee: £34.5m from Norwich, June 2021
Record: 10 games, 1 goal, 1 assist
Buendia emerged as a key creative force for Norwich in their last few years of yo-yoing between the Championship and Premier League, though the Argentine is yet to fully bed in at Villa since arriving to help plug the hole left by Grealish’s departure. The attacking midfielder has found the net only once and, just as Villa themselves have struggled to tread water so far this season, the club’s record signing has fallen some way short of recapturing the game-turning form he displayed in the second tier last term. Maybe new boss Steven Gerrard will get more out of him.
Fee: £14.1m from Celtic, July 2021
Record: 9 games, 0 goals
An assured presence at the back, Ajer appeared to be coping with the stresses of the Premier League rather well since moving south of the border last summer to join newly promoted Brentford. However, a promising start was disrupted by injury with the centre-back managing just two appearances for the Bees since the start of October. He is missed Norway’s World Cup qualifiers in November, with coach Stale Solbakken speculating that Ajer’s hamstring issue could sideline him for months rather than weeks following a secondary evaluation.
Fee: £20.07m from FC Salzburg, July 2021
Record: 8 games, 2 goals, 2 assists
Mwepu hasn’t had long to prove his mettle, but the versatile Zambia international has performed well in a variety of midfield roles for the Seagulls since arriving from Salzburg over the summer. The 23-year-old has even opened his goal-scoring account with a fantastic long-range strike to spark his side’s recent comeback against Liverpool — a 25-yard effort that earned his side a 2-2 draw at Anfield and also saw him win Brighton’s goal of the month award for October.
Fee: £27m from Valencia, August 2020
Record: 41 games, 9 goals, 2 assists
Impressive in flashes, Rodrigo scored seven Premier League goals for Leeds in his debut season for the then-newly promoted club, with four of those goals coming in the final four fixtures of the campaign. Despite finishing strongly last time out, the 30-year-old Spain international has been more sporadic in 2021-22, scoring just two goals in 10 league appearances so far. However, his 94th-minute penalty against Wolves last month did see him demonstrate the ability to kick a corner flag clean in half as Elland Road erupted in celebration around him.
Fee: £27m from Rennes, August 2019
Record: 81 games, 23 goals, 16 assists
Sarr was Watford’s top goal scorer with 13 in 39 games as they secured promotion back up into the Premier League last season after one year in the Championship. Sure enough, the 23-year-old Senegal forward is topping the Hornets’ charts again this season too, having scored four goals in his first 11 top-flight outings.
Fee: £28m from Liverpool, August 2016
Record: 158 games, 35 goals, 12 assists
He’s hardly been a regular on the scoresheet for Palace, but Benteke has proved a dependable leader of the line for the Eagles over the past five years. The Belgian battering ram famously went 358 days across 2018 and 2019 without scoring a single goal for Palace, only to then go another 34 Premier League games without finding the net between 2019 and 2020. Regardless, he remains a regular in the team — which is either testament to his utility or a damning indictment of Palace’s alternative attacking options.
Fee: £54m from Lyon, July 2019
Record: 86 games, 10 goals, 18 assists
A mercurial figure who divides opinion among Spurs fans, Ndombele was openly criticised by former manager Jose Mourinho for his supposedly poor fitness and failure to adapt to the levels required in the Premier League. The France midfielder found himself in and out of the team under Mourinho, despite providing glimpses of ability as a combative ball-carrier in brief cameos. With Antonio Conte now at the Spurs helm, Ndombele must work with a coach famed for his zero-tolerance approach to stamina and conditioning work.
Fee: £72m from Lille, August 2019
Record: 98 games, 25 goals, 18 assists
Pepe has a tendency to perform in fits and starts and has amassed decent numbers since moving to Arsenal without ever fully winning over his doubters in the terraces. The skillful Ivory Coast winger scored eight goals in 42 games in his debut season, then doubled that to 16 in 47 as he ended as his sophomore campaign in England as the Gunners’ second-highest goal scorer in all competitions. Still prone to fading out of games, at 26 it’s probably time for Pepe to start delivering with a little more consistency if he’s going to truly convince people he was deserving of such a gigantic outlay. It’s hard to imagine Arsenal spending even close to that again for a while.
Fee: £35.2m from Watford (potentially rising to £50m), July 2018
Record: 126 games, 44 goals, 10 assists
Richarlison originally moved to Everton in a deal worth £40m but that fee was always set to rise to £50m once a certain amount of clauses were triggered, which would make the forward the club’s all-time record signing. The Brazil international has been playing well at Goodison for three years and has signed a new and improved contract in that time, both of which are likely to have fulfilled several of said clauses.
Fee: £98m from Inter Milan, August 2021
Record: 11 games, 4 goals, 1 assist
Never afraid to spend big, Chelsea broke their transfer record for the fourth time in five seasons when they re-signed Lukaku from Inter Milan over the summer. The Belgium international kicked off his second stint at Stamford Bridge by plundering three goals in his first three games but things have slowed down dramatically since then. An ankle sprain has kept him out of action for the past few weeks so, despite Chelsea coping well without him thus far, coach Thomas Tuchel will have everything crossed that Lukaku returns from his injury layoff with both his physical condition and his eye for goal refreshed.
Fee: £94.5m from Juventus, August 2016
Record: 212 games, 38 goals, 49 assists
A young Pogba played a handful of games for United in 2011-12 before leaving for Juventus, where he swiftly became one of the most coveted central midfielders in world football while playing alongside Andrea Pirlo. The France international returned to Old Trafford in 2016 in a world-record transfer that was accompanied by a cacophony of hype, only to settle into a five-year groove that has been equal parts fantastic and frustrating. Capable of midfield domination and supreme technique, Pogba can often be a passenger for United despite his obvious talent, but there have been plenty of high points too..
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 21, 2021
Fee: £100m from Aston Villa, August 2021
Record: 15 games, 2 goals, 3 assists
It’s early days but Grealish has made a pretty decent start to life at City as the most expensive signing in the history of British football. However, with more tactical responsibilities and positional intricacies to digest under Pep Guardiola, the former Villa star’s form hasn’t quite reached scintillating levels yet. So it’s perhaps fair to suggest that City fans haven’t witnessed the attacking midfielder at his fluid, creative best quite yet. Let’s hope his Champions League debut goal against RB Leipzig — a trademark cut-in and curling finish — is a sign of things to come.
Fee: £22.5m from Liverpool, July 2019
Record: 75 games, 38 goals, 7 assists
After his time at Liverpool was plagued by injuries, Ings joined Southampton on a season-long loan for the 2018-19 campaign and proved an instant hit with fans while rediscovering his scoring touch. Ings chose to make the move permanent and became the Saints’ record signing in the process, adding a further 38 goals to his tally over the course of the two seasons that followed and even playing his way back to England contention. The 29-year-old then brought his time on the south coast to an abrupt end in August 2021 when he agreed a shock move to Aston Villa for a fee around the £30m mark as part of the Birmingham club’s post-Grealish recruitment, and has scored three goals in nine Premier League games since.
Fee: £40.5m from Monaco, July 2019
Record: 112 games, 17 goals, 17 assists
Tielemans first joined Leicester on loan in January 2019 before making his switch the King Power Stadium permanent in a record-breaking deal six months later. The 24-year-old Belgium international (the third on this list) has cemented himself as a regular in Brendan Rodgers’ side thanks to his versatile midfield skillset, which includes a healthy supply of goals and assists. Tielemans will forever be remembered for scoring the goal which won the 2021 FA Cup final against Chelsea. A great player and in the age of the £200m transfer, a relative steal at a sliver over £40m.
Fee: £76.1m from Southampton, January 2018
Record: 144 games, 13 goals, 7 assists
Few could argue against Liverpool having had exceptional value for money from their record signing, with Van Dijk proving integral to a side that won the Premier League, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup under Jurgen Klopp. The Netherlands centre-back has become one of the best in the world since arriving at Anfield: he has excellent judgement and leadership skills, and an elegance that belies his sheer size and strength. Van Dijk has perhaps not been quite the same player since suffering the anterior cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out for nine months last season, but at 30 years old he still has plenty of time to recover his best form and give Liverpool several years more service.
Given that Premier League clubs have collectively burned through almost £890 million (£889.17m to be precise!) on their record signings, it’s perhaps a little jarring just how little true star quality we have populating the ranking.
It represents clear evidence that continually forking out huge transfer fees in an ever-inflating market doesn’t necessarily guarantee value any more. Indeed, it could be argued that approximately half of the players on this list have not even begun to prove their worth at club level — though of course, some still have time on their side in that regard.
Some record signings have come and gone in a flash, some have lingered, but a disconcertingly high number have objectively fallen short when it came to living up to their potential.
There’s a sound fiscal lesson to be learned there, but whether the Premier League as an entity chooses to heed it is another matter entirely.
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