Chelsea announced on Wednesday that Joao Felix, whose €126 million transfer to Atletico Madrid remains the fourth biggest in the history of the game, has joined them on loan for the remainder of the 2022-23 season.
Sources have told ESPN’s James Olley that the move carries a fee of around €12.5m, and while the Blues will be paying Felix’s wages in full until the end of the campaign, there is no obligation to make the deal permanent in the summer.
That loan fee raised more than a few eyebrows, but it is modest compared to the huge transfer fee that took Felix from Benfica to Atletico 3½ years ago when the forward was only 19 years old.
Indeed, his is one of only 12 players in football history to command an initial transfer fee of €100m or more (not including any add-ons, performance-related clauses, etc.), with some of the biggest stars of the game being added to the list since the barrier was first broken in 2013.
Here is a look at those dozen nine-figure deals made over the past decade, as we determine which of them were a hit and which were a miss. (Spoiler alert: Hits are thin on the ground.)
A world record was set in 2013 when Bale’s move from Spurs to Real became the first to break the €100m barrier, eclipsing the previous record also set by the Spanish side when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for €94m in the summer of 2009.
Bale experienced the highest highs with Los Blancos, winning three LaLiga titles and five Champions Leagues (and scoring in two finals) among a host of other major honours. However, persistent injury issues and an often strained relationship with the tabloid media, Madrid fans and the club’s hierarchy took the shine off what was otherwise a glorious eight-year spell at the Bernabeu.
11. Cristiano Ronaldo
Transfer: Real Madrid to Juventus
While not quite matching the absurdly prolific levels he reached during his career pomp at Real, Ronaldo still performed incredibly well in Italy, winning two consecutive Serie A titles and a Coppa Italia during his four-year stay.
The five-time Champions League winner was signed by the Bianconeri in no small part to bring European glory back to Turin, which did not happen, but he was named Serie A Footballer of the Year for 2019 and 2020 as well as claiming the Capocannoniere trophy as the league’s top goal scorer in 2020-21 with 29 goals in just 33 games.
Transfer: Chelsea to Real Madrid
Hazard appeared to be at the peak of his powers when he left Chelsea a multiple Premier League and Europa League winner in search of attaining the ultimate prize — Champions League glory — at Real in the summer of 2019.
However, the Belgium international was quickly stymied by various injury and fitness woes that continue to blight his post-Chelsea career: The most appearances he has made in any one season for Los Blancos is 23. He’s also only once managed to score more than one goal during an entire campaign in Madrid, netting a measly four goals in 2020-21.
Transfer: Juventus to Manchester United
What should have been a euphoric homecoming quickly became a stagnant procession for Pogba. The midfielder’s perceived lack of application increasingly became an issue — particularly among the fan base — as time wore on despite his occasional flashes of game-changing brilliance.
In mitigation, the Frenchman often struggled with injuries and did play his part in a Europa League and League Cup win during the six seasons he spent back at Old Trafford, but most would agree that his free transfer back to Juventus ahead of the 2022-23 season was long overdue.
Having played just 50 times for Dortmund during his short senior career, Dembele was suddenly transformed into the second-most expensive player of all time at the age of 20 when Barcelona signed him in August 2017. Thereafter, any momentum the French winger managed to build up was routinely spoiled by injuries, and while there were isolated bright moments here and there, the first four seasons he spent at Barca were largely one big disappointment.
Things have slowly picked up since 2020-21 to the point that Dembele signed a contract extension last summer until June 2024, but for the time being, at least, it’s hard to argue that the Catalans have come anywhere close to getting their money’s worth.
Transfer: Inter Milan to Chelsea
Another grand “homecoming” that quickly turned sour saw Lukaku make a prodigal return to Chelsea after firing Inter to the Serie A title with the intention of leading their line for years to come.
However, despite scoring on his second Premier League debut and then racing to three goals in his first three games for the Blues, the burly Belgian player scored just two goals in his next 20 league appearances before gradually seeing himself phased out of the first team by then-coach Thomas Tuchel.
After falling out of favour, Lukaku then angered fans by publicly commenting on his frustrations before choosing to end his dismal plight at Stamford Bridge by rejoining Inter on loan.
Grealish became the most expensive English footballer ever when City flexed their financial muscle to sign him from Villa in the summer of 2021, after a season in which he had scored six league goals and chipped in with 10 assists — an impressive tally bettered only by Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne.
The England international has made a moderate start to life at the Etihad, contributing six goals and four assists (in all competitions) in his debut season, but while he was part of City’s 2021-22 title-winning side, he often featured in an ancillary role. Grealish continues to slowly find his feet under the strenuous tutelage of Pep Guardiola, but for now the fact remains that he still has a long way to go before he is one of the first names on the teamsheet to fully justify his fee.
Transfer: Atletico Madrid to Barcelona
Griezmann became an essential lynchpin for Atletico under Diego Simeone, providing creative guile and tireless graft in equal measure for five seasons as the Rojiblancos enjoyed a surge of success in LaLiga and in Europe.
He then made the natural step up to Barcelona in 2019 and commanded a superstar’s fee, but unfortunately the two parties struggled to mesh fully. While a lot was expected of Griezmann, his performances were generally just a little too inconsistent to pass muster and he was unable to combine effectively with Lionel Messi in the Barca attack.
The French attacker spent two full seasons at Camp Nou before making a mutually beneficial loan return to Atletico in 2021 with just a Copa del Rey winners’ medal to show for it.
4. Joao Felix
Transfer: Benfica to Atletico Madrid
The astronomical fee paid by Atletico to sign Felix represented the second-biggest fee ever paid for a teenager (more on that in a moment) and the highest fee ever recouped for a Portuguese player leaving the domestic league.
Things started promisingly as the young attacker helped Atletico end their seven-year wait for a LaLiga title in just his second season with the club, but a drop in form and a souring of relations between himself and coach Diego Simeone has since seen Felix’s role dramatically reduced — to the point where he has played a full 90 minutes just twice in all competitions this season.
Regardless, a new contract signed just this week seems to signal that Felix retains enough potential for Atleti to invest in him long term and that his parent club are hoping that a timely loan spell at Chelsea will help freshen up and reinvigorate their waning striker for years to come.
Transfer: Liverpool to Barcelona
After six trophy-less seasons at Liverpool in which he scored 54 goals and registered 45 assists in 201 games, Coutinho left for Barcelona in search of silverware in a transfer that would eventually come to be the third biggest in football history.
An existing injury flagged up in his Barca medical was a harbinger of things to come for the Brazil international, who struggled to maintain a foothold in the first team during his debut season with just 18 appearances in LaLiga.
Four campaigns came and went (two spent out on loan at Bayern Munich and Aston Villa, respectively) as Coutinho continually failed to replicate the effervescent skill and creativity he had demonstrated at Anfield, all the while facing relentless criticism from the terraces. His most memorable action in a Barca match arguably came against them, when he scored for Bayern in their 8-2 mauling of his parent club in the 2020 Champions League quarterfinals.
He has since made his move to Villa permanent for the 2022-23 campaign but has so far failed to find the net in 17 games this season.
Transfer: Monaco to Paris Saint-Germain
After an initial year spent on loan, Mbappe made his transfer from Monaco to PSG permanent in the summer of 2018 in a gargantuan deal that made the 18-year-old the second-most expensive player of all time as well as the most expensive teenager ever.
Regardless of the huge fees involved, the Parisians clearly didn’t feel Mbappe was much of a gamble, and their confidence has since been substantiated as the ultra-mobile striker has quickly established himself as one of the best players on the planet, winning four more Ligue 1 titles, a whole clutch of domestic cups and the World Cup with France — all by the age of 24.
Transfer: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain
The biggest transfer fee ever recorded and also the only fee to have exceeded the €200m mark, the sheer scale of Neymar’s mega move from Barca to PSG in 2017 is unlikely to be eclipsed for quite some time.
Now age 30, the Brazilian superstar has won 12 honours over the course of six successful seasons in Paris, including four Ligue 1 titles and three Coupe de France triumphs. However, the Champions League remains elusive, with the closest he has taken PSG to European glory coming with defeat in the 2020 final.
There have been dips in form and even questions over his commitment levels at times, but Neymar remains a popular figure at the Parc des Princes and his glimmering record of achievement speaks for itself.