Hit or miss? Rating the Premier League's most expensive signings in each of last 10 years

Matt Jones - Editor 15:31 08/07/2019
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The Premier League is a money-making machine with the best players around the world attracted to the bright lights of the stadiums, the fast, free-flowing football and, of course, the big bucks on offer.

Ever since the dawn of the Premier League in the early 90s, each summer has come and gone with a flurry of big name signings from Europe and beyond.

Transfer fees have gone up and up – newly promoted Blackburn Rovers splashed a British record fee of £3.6 million on Southampton’s rising 21-year-old England striker Alan Shearer in the summer of 1992 ahead of the inaugural Premier League campaign.

The record currently stands at £89m – paid by Manchester United to bring Paul Pogba back to the club in the summer of 2016 – then a world record fee.

When you shell out a lot of money on a player, you expect a return. But as you can see below, it doesn’t always work out that way. Here, we take a look at the 10 most expensive Premier League signings in each of the last 10 summers, and deliver a verdict on whether they’ve flourished or flopped.


KEPA ARRIZABALAGA (Atletico Bilbao to Chelsea)

Fee: £71.6m

Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga

That the two most expensive signings in the Premier League last summer were goalkeepers is mind-boggling enough. The fact 23-year-old Kepa broke the world transfer record for a keeper – a month after Liverpool had done so by splashing £66.8m on Alisson – added to the hysteria.

Becoming the most expensive player ever, or in your position, brings with it tremendous pressure, and there was a sense Kepa would struggle with the expectation much more than Alisson at Anfield.

The Brazilian is two years older and a seasoned international, whereas Kepa had played only just over 50 La Liga games.

And yet, the confident young Basque kept 14 clean sheets in 26 league games (second only to Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson). He looked a little lightweight and shaky under the high ball at times, but finished the season with a Europa League winners medal.



ROMELU LUKAKU (Everton to Manchester United)

Fee: £75m

Romelu Lukaku

If you go purely on goalscoring record – and after all he is a striker – it’s hard to argue against Lukaku being a success at Old Trafford.

But look past the goals – 28 in 66 Premier League games and 42 in 96 overall – and there’s a bit more debate to be had. Lukaku has always been labelled a flat-track bully.

And, of his 42 United goals, only four have come against elite teams. One in a 2-1 league win over Chelsea, the brace in the Champions League last-16 second leg win over PSG last season and a consolatory strike against Real Madrid in the 2017 UEFA Super Cup.

After a stellar 2017/18 – in which he rocketed in a career high 27 goals – he bulked up massively last summer and that hampered him throughout much of the season.

His already questionable technique and first touch suffered and he was pilloried by fans and critics. Lukaku does what he says on the tin, scores goals. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United need a little more.



PAUL POGBA (Juventus to Manchester United)

Fee: £89m


Much like Lukaku, Pogba carries a weighty burden upon his shoulders. That tends to happen when you’re the most expensive player in the world. Pogba’s biggest problem is that while ‘burden’ doesn’t seem to be a word in his vocabulary, he’s only sporadically performed at the level of an £89m player since his heart-tugging return to United. And his contributions off the field are often more telling than those on it.

Sure, there was the immense burst of form that yielded nine goals and seven assists under Solskjaer’s interim guidance following Jose Mourinho’s December sacking. And 22 assists and 24 goals in the league during three campaigns is far from horrible.

But despite seeming to adore the limelight, Pogba also appears a reluctant talisman in a troubled and truculent United squad that don’t have the stomach for the fight to regain relevance that they find themselves in.

He wanted the director fired and yet the over-dramatic actor is still poking holes in the script.



KEVIN DE BRUYNE (Wolfsburg to Manchester City)

Fee: £55m

De Bruyne

On his day, De Bruyne is the deadliest midfielder in the world. Elegant, intelligent and a fierce striker of the ball, he has been a revelation since being brought back to the Premier League four years ago.

The issue last season was that we didn’t get to see many of those days as the brilliant Belgian was beset by a string of debilitating injuries that saw him miss 156 days (29 games) in total.

And yet, when he was fit, he was still electric. On a dramatic night in the Champions League last-16 second leg 4-3 victory over Spurs, De Bruyne was devastating, laying on three assists and pulling City’s strings.

Statistically, the season didn’t even really damage De Bruyne’s standing. Despite just two assists and two goals in 19 appearances, he remains second for assists (45) overall since his debut in 2015/16.

Only Christian Eriksen (50) has teed up more goals in that time and his 18 and 16 assists respectively in 2016/17 and 2017/18 saw him top the playmaker’s charts.



ANGEL DI MARIA (Real Madrid to Manchester United)

Fee: £59.7m

Angel Di Maria

You’d have to scour the Premier League archives thoroughly for a player who arrived from another country with more hype, yet turned out to be such a flop.

Sure, there’s been plenty of players who’ve bombed. Alberto Aquilani, Juan Sebastian Veron, Andriy Shevchenko, Eliaquim Mangala, El-Hadji Diouf, Roberto Soldado to name but a few.

But did any of them endure such a stark fall from grace? Di Maria arrived in Manchester having earned the man of the match award in the Champions League final three months earlier as Real Madrid lifted the first of four titles in five years.

And it all started rather well for the wiry winger, who scored three goals in his opening five games – including a stunning chip against Leicester.

Di Maria then suffered a shocking drop-off in form, scoring just once more. He fell out with Louis van Gaal and his home was robbed while he and his family were there. A sending off in a 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final home defeat against Arsenal was the beginning of the end and he was on his way to PSG after a year.



MESUT OZIL (Real Madrid to Arsenal)

Fee: £42.5m

1110 Mesut Ozil

Another brilliant player who sadly has failed to hit the brilliant heights we know he’s capable of in six largely inconspicuous years in north London.

The question is not about talent, he undoubtedly is. It’s just the lack of regularity with which it has been seen at the Emirates from arguably the best creator in the league.

In 2016/17 he scored 12 goals in 44 games – a career best return. Meanwhile, in 2015/16 he notched 19 Premier League assists – six more than Eriksen and the second most in a season in the league’s 27-year existence. Only Thierry Henry’s 20 assists in 2002/03 betters it.

And yet Ozil, a World Cup-winner with Germany in 2014, endures a very truculent relationship with Arsenal fans, and there’s a palpable sense a parting of ways is best for all concerned.

It seemed he might have received a clean slate under Unai Emery last summer. And yet the mercurial 30-year-old made just 35 total appearances – his joint second fewest since arriving.

Emery seemed content to leave the league’s second highest earner out of his squad regularly and Gunners fans seemed equally happy.



EDEN HAZARD (Lille to Chelsea)

Fee: £31.5m

0529 Hazard

Spoiler alert: Let’s just start by saying that Hazard is a definite hit and arguably one of the finest creators the Premier League has ever witnessed. Phew. But there is also a black mark against the Belgian.

It’s hard to think of a team that have possessed such a mercurial, talismanic figure that they were so reliant on, as much as Chelsea leaned on Hazard during his seven years at Stamford Bridge.

Hazard’s 110 goals in 352 games is a fine return and he’s just got his dream move to arguably the biggest club in the world.

But, there was more than a suggestion that, as brilliant as Hazard was for the Blues, there were seasons where he turned it on, and other campaigns where he slipped anonymously into the shadows.

He left the Blues for the Bernabeu on the back of his most prolific season, scoring 16 Premier League goals (joint best) and delivering 15 assists – four more than his debut 2012/13 campaign.

And yet they were his only two double figure terms, with just three, five and four recorded from 2015/16 to 2017/18. He scored just six goals in total for the club in that fateful 2015/16 campaign as Chelsea finished a woeful 10th, 31 points adrift of champions Leicester.

Chelsea’s Player of the Year in four of his seven seasons, Hazard is beguiling and bewitching, but also seemingly doesn’t perform if he doesn’t feel like it.



SERGIO AGUERO (Atletico Madrid to Manchester City)

Fee: £35m

Sergio aguero

Greatest goalscorer in club history, check. One of the greatest Premier League scorers of all time, check. Some big name buys have flopped in the Premier League, but when Aguero arrived on UK shores you just knew he was going to live up to the hype.

Since the Abu Dhabi royal family invested their millions into Manchester City 10 years ago, some huge names have come through the Etihad Stadium doors. Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Mario Balotelli, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling.

But none has had as telling an impact on the club than the dynamic Argentine, without whom none of City’s success would have been possible.

Manager Pep Guardiola called Aguero a “legend” last season, one in which he became only the second player in Premier League history, after Thierry Henry, to score 20 goals in five consecutive seasons.

Let’s not forget, this is a player many believed was finished when Guardiola arrived as he wanted his strikers to offer more than simply scoring. Aguero, however, adapted his game to elongate his career – one which sees him sitting sixth on the list of all-time Premier League scorers (164 goals in 239 games), while his ratio (0.69) is equalled only by Harry Kane.



YAYA TOURE (Barcelona to Manchester City)

Fee: £24m

Yaya Toure of Manchester City

If there was ever an example of a move that transformed a player’s career, it’s hard to look beyond Toure. It might seem odd to think that at first glance, considering the lanky Ivorian came to City in the summer of 2010 from Barcelona.

But at the Camp Nou he was deployed as a defensive midfielder, eventually moving on after three seasons when new manager Guardiola favoured the emerging Sergio Busquets in that role.

Toure moved to Manchester where he would transform himself into the “human train”, a box-to-box attacking menace who became a goalscoring machine – his 10 goals in his debut campaign was more than he had scored in each of his three seasons in Catalonia.

In City’s title-winning 2013/14 campaign, Toure rocketed in an unbelievable 20 goals in 35 league games (more than Aguero and Edin Dzeko) and 24 in 49 overall for City.

His latter years were soured by a bizarre incident sparked by his agent Dimitry Seluk, and Toure himself, claiming he was disrespected when the club forgot to honour his 31st birthday with a cake in the wake of their 2014 title triumph. But it’s hard for City fans to look back on his eight years with anything but sweet memories.



CARLOS TEVEZ (Manchester United to Manchester City)

Fee: £25.5m

Tevez City

Like Toure, his City exit left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans. Then again, his arrival was so sweet it – and his more than decent goalscoring record – remains the enduring flavour of the Argentine’s tenure.

Shunned by city rivals United after a two-year loan deal, Tevez was welcomed to City with open arms – literally. Like the club’s famous Blue Moon song, City were rising and produced a hugely provocative city centre poster featuring Tevez, arms wide open, with the message ‘Welcome to Manchester’, enforcing their belief that City are the only true Manchester club.

Tevez, one of the most effective and unique forwards of recent times, had his ups and downs at City – he lifted a league title and the FA Cup as well as enjoying prolific 29 and 23-goal campaigns in his first two years.

There was an explosive fallout with Roberto Mancini though where he reportedly failed to come on as a substitute in a Champions League game against Bayern Munich in September 2011 – he was banned from the club and didn’t return for six months, meaning he only played 15 games all season.

A controversial but ultimately brilliant footballer, and 73 goals in 148 games remains a pretty good return.


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