The worst record transfers in Premier League history
We are all well-versed in the spreadsheeted reality of modern football: the more you spend the better your team performs.
Despite this, breaking your transfer record is generally a terrible idea.
To use an example picked not-at-randomly, and because it is useful to talk about trauma, take my club Queens Park Rangers, who paid £12.5m for Chris Samba. A laughable waste of money, time and dignity for all parties.
Of the record signings at the Premier League’s 20 clubs, you can make a case for two, perhaps three, as unqualified successes. That is a dreadful return for a sport supposedly so advanced with its scouting, so well schooled at the university of Moneyball, that we should already be able to pick out the golden boot winners of the 2042 World Cup.
That success rate is not helped by so many of the record deals taking place within the past few windows. In many cases it is clearly too early to tell. But from those we can make a fair judgement about, the signs are not good.
Record signing: Nicholas Pepe, £72m, from Lille
Starting with a bang for all-time record-smashing mega-flops. Arrived to complete a potential holy trinity with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubmeyang. Used up his season of grace to adjust to league without distinction, then faded from view entirely. Now on loan: at Nice. Still has 18 months left on his Arsenal deal: not nice.
Record signing: Emi Buendia, £33m, from Norwich
Always a risk to sign by far the best player in the Championship. Has shown his quality in fits and starts since arriving in summer 2021 but lacks an obvious position, which is suboptimal for a player in the peak years of his career. Looks some way short of the best-case scenario that he could replace the talismanic Jack Grealish. More on him later.
Record signing: Jefferson Lerma, £25m, from Levante
A success, by dint of still being with club nearly five years after signing. Was relegated in his second season but stuck around and played a fair part in promotion two years later. Is now featuring regularly again in the top flight. In today’s market that probably represents value for £25m, even if Bournemouth are relegated once again. Olé!
Record signing: Keane Lewis-Potter, £16m, from Hull City
When power-scouting goes wrong? The left winger has only started three Premier League games so far, but has been used from the bench a further six times and was injured throughout most of autumn. Always looked like one for the future so has time on his side and if it doesn’t work out, with a name like that, he could always start a firm of solicitors.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Record signing: Enock Mwepu, £20m from Red Bull Salzburg
The only genuinely tragic tale of unrealised potential on the list. Started life promisingly after arriving in summer 2021, scoring a particularly gorgeous goal in Albion’s 2-1 win at Arsenal, nearly as good as his dipping long-range shot which beat Alisson at Anfield. Forced to retire in October after having a heart condition diagnosed.
Record signing: Enzo Fernandez, £105m, from Benfica
A transfer which happened mere hours ago, so you would be brave to commit to a judgement at this stage. Intriguing to note that Chelsea are responsible for eight of the 50 biggest fees paid in world football history. Some crackers in there: £97m on Romelu Lukaku, £71m on Kepa Arrizabalaga, £58m on Alvaro Morata. Does not bode brilliantly.
Record signing: Christian Benteke, £32m, from Liverpool
Became known for a near-year-long spell without a goal which unfairly/understandably overshadowed a solid return in his first season. Although goals dried up and his injuries did not he left happy memories, especially for goals against Liverpool and Brighton. On balance he did not live up to his record fee, but was useful, not disastrous.
Record signing: Gylfi Sigurdsson, £45m, from Swansea
Difficult to pick winners from Everton’s dalliances with big spending recently. Sigurdsson sparkled for Swansea but after a passable second season at Goodison his productivity fell off a fjord in 2019/20 with two goals and three assists from 35 league games. A slight revival the following year but was not seen at all during 2021/22 and released last June.
Record signing: Jean Michael Seri, £25m, from Nice
The crowning glory of a mega-million splurge in summer 2018. Like most of that cohort he was an enormous disappointment as Fulham were relegated. Loaned twice, then redeemed by constructive role in Fulham’s promotion last year. Showed his talent for a sustained period under Marco Silva, but now at Hull City so… not great.
Record signing: Georgino Rutter, £36m, from Hoffenheim
New arrival was described by Jesse Marsch as “The most two-footed player I’ve ever seen,” which is exactly the sort of weirdly specific and vaguely odd thing Jesse Marsch tends to say. Seems to have the goods Leeds need but if you fear for a young attacking player coming into struggling team for big money you might be on to something.
Record signing: Youri Tielemans, £32m, from Monaco
You cannot argue with an FA Cup-winning goal, nor what it gave the supporters - another excursion into Europe, for fans whose biggest dream was once to escape League One. Ongoing contract dispute is unfortunate, but apparently without rancour. Despite the fee, one of Leicester’s better signings since the unbeatable summer of Kante and Mahrez.
Record signing: Darwin Nunez, £85m, from Benfica
If you asked someone to watch a few Liverpool games and pick out the five most expensive players in the team you might not get a lot of votes for Nunez. Tough for him, given next two on their highest fees list are Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson. Could certainly fulfil his promise, but, my, Benfica have done pretty well out of the Premier League recently.
Record signing: Jack Grealish, £100m, from Aston Villa
Is it a cop out to say the jury is still out, 18 months and £100m later? His honesty about how hard he has found adapting was instructive but rather undermined by how easy it seems to have been for Erling Haaland, among others. Is beginning to show flashes of the game-turning brilliance he is capable of, but next season already feels pivotal.
Record signing: Paul Pogba, £89m, from Juventus
We’ve all done things we regret. Letting Paul Pogba go to Juventus for free, re-signing him for the best part of £90 million then letting him go – to Juventus again for free is enough for a small conurbation of remorse. An emblem of how terribly United have been run for a decade. The fact he occasionally shone somehow made it worse.
Record signing: Alexander Isak, £59m, from Real Sociedad
Correct at the time of writing but likely to change at least a dozen times within the next five years, or for as long as Newcastle remain in this wonderful dream in which they get to Wembley and the nation agrees that Sam Fender is good. Three goals does not sound brilliant, but he has only started three league games, so could be the new Shearer.
Record signing: Morgan Gibbs-White, £25m, from Wolves
A high point in Forest’s recruitment policy, which has given a bad name to scatterguns everywhere. Looks composed and capable, and, crucially, seems to be improving under Steve Cooper. Fee may rise to £40m with clauses, which given Forest’s transfer strategy, are clauses probably linked to hitting certain targets, like a weekly wash of Cooper’s car.
Record signing: Kamaldeen Sulemana, £22m, from Rennes
The deadline-day arrival plays on the left wing and registered the highest running speed at the World Cup, 22mph. Ready the triumphalist chants: “Highest running speed, you’ll never sing that.” Career path (Nordsjaelland, Rennes, Southampton) smacks of player taking sensible steps, will he fulfil his destiny of disappointing big-money move to Spurs?
Record signing: Tanguy Ndombele, £55m, from Lyon
North London’s clubs are locked forever in a bitter rivalry, the other lot are from Woolwich, our lot are their own adjective, from ancient grudge etc, etc. Good that they are also fighting in the competitive field of worst record signing. Ndombele gives Pepe a run for his money, or he would have done if he had ever gone much above an uninterested jog.
West Ham United
Record signing: Lucas Paqueta, £52.6m, from Lyon
In their tawdry hangover of a season, Paqueta’s status as a passenger in David Moyes’ side is one of the biggest disappointments. Bizarrely seems both better and more important for Brazil than West Ham. My, Lyon have done pretty well out of the Premier League recently. Let’s face it, everyone has done pretty well out of the Premier League recently.
Record signing: Mathias Nunes, £38m, from Sporting Lisbon
An uneven start which was not helped by injury issues, but has since provided some evidence for the lofty fee splurged on him. Was engaged in some shenanigans with Liverpool who seemingly could have him for just £6m more this January, for some reason, but ended up staying put. £6m? That’s only 7.27 per cent of a Tanguy Ndombele, sign him up!