Ah, the summer. For football fans it can be the best and worst time. The transfer window can either fill the void left by meaningful games, or it becomes an unwanted distraction as the constant scheming, planning and rumour-mongering tumbles out of an incessant transfer market which never seems to end.
And yet, there’s something so captivating when your club signs a new player – be it someone the manager has coveted for a while, a surprise coup who has been stolen away from under the nose of a rival or an up-and-coming talent.
Of course, that excitement can rise or fall depending on how well the player performs in the ensuing season and how much money is forked over.
When shelling out big bucks, returns are naturally expected. But as you can see below, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Here, we take a look at the 10 most expensive La Liga signings in each of the last 10 summers, and deliver a verdict on whether they’ve flourished or flopped.
2018/19 | THOMAS LEMAR | £63m | Monaco to Atletico Madrid
Was Lemar’s disappointing debut campaign in Spain a simple case of adjusting to higher climes, or has he simply been found out at the elite level?
Like the man signed a summer before him, time will tell, but Lemar certainly found La Liga a big leap after leaving the comforts of Ligue 1.
The versatile midfielder rocketed in 14 goals during 2016/17 season for Monaco – one in which the Principality side ended a 16-year title drought and, briefly, halted the Paris Saint-Germain juggernaut.
His output plummeted the following season, but Atleti were still tempted to part with a then club-record fee for the livewire attacker.
However, another lifeless debut season followed as a paltry three goals were produced from 36 appearances in Rojiblancos colours last term, leaving critics wondering if – like Monaco’s championship-winning campaign – Lemar was a flash in the pan.
Hey, anyone can endure a rocky first season. Especially if you’re moving to a superior league and team. So one underwhelming Spain campaign should not be a stick to lash Lemar with. But another lacklustre campaign and he will likely be leaving the Wanda Metropolitano.
HIT or MISS: MISS
2017/18 | OUSMANE DEMBELE | £112.5m | Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona
It certainly feels a little too early to judge the dynamic Dembele on two, injury-interrupted years at the Camp Nou. But it’s also clear a pivotal season approaches for a precocious talent – who may yet not even be in situ at the Camp Nou come the start of the campaign.
Still only 22, the Frenchman has dealt with sickness and injury issues during his spell in Catalonia, problems that can befall any player. Yet, it also appears as if Dembele is his own worst enemy, with unprofessionalism (he has been late to training and team meetings on numerous occasions), nutrition (not adhering to a healthy diet) and even an apparent video game obsession which impacts his sleep, presenting the feeling Dembele is a self-destructive character sabotaging his career.
He’s been linked with various clubs this summer as a makeweight for the Blaugrana’s reported desire to bring Neymar back to the club, while Antoine Griezmann’s arrival does little to cement his future.
Injured towards the end of last season he still scored 14 goals in 42 appearances so there’s a world-class talent in there somewhere. It seems to be a simple case of does he want to become one or not?
HIT or MISS: MISS
2016/17 | ANDRE GOMES | £33.3m | Valenica to Barcelona
You may know him as the stylish yet gritty midfielder who dazzled and delighted at Goodison Park while on loan at Everton last season.
But in Spain, Gomes is remembered as a Barcelona flop. Now, we all know Barca and Real Madrid fans tend to be fickle, but when you’re voted the worst signing of the season by readers of Marca, you must have been pretty shocking.
It was a rapid fall from grace for the midfielder, now 26, who arrived in Catalonia on the back of earning a European Championships winners’ medal with Portugal in 2016.
He was signed with plenty of pedigree, having come through the ranks at Benfica and then honing his skills in two years with Valencia. But, as plenty of other players have discovered, coming to the Camp Nou can be daunting.
And Gomes insists his biggest problem was the pressure he put on himself following a €35m move. He consulted a psychologist to help him at Barcelona and admits he needed the loan to Everton to rediscover his self-belief.
He’s now made the permanent switch to Merseyside and is hoping to get stuck in to the Toffees’ attempts to crack the Premier League’s top six.
HIT or MISS: MISS
2015/16 | MATEO KOVACIC | £34.2m | Inter Milan to Real Madrid
A man with three Champions League crowns and one La Liga title to his names is a miss, we hear you cry? Well, essentially, yes. Especially when you struggle to break through and convince the manager you’re an essential component.
Real made a tidy profit on Kovacic when he joined Chelsea permanently this summer, and it’s not as if he was a total flop at the Bernabeu. But after a promising debut season under Rafa Benitez in 2015/16 where the versatile midfielder was utilised in different areas, Zinedine Zidane used him increasingly infrequently. He was only a part-time starter when Los Blancos banked the league title the following season and he failed to score a goal during his third campaign.
The problem was, Kovacic was kind of supposed to be the long-term successor to fellow Croatia midfield metronome Luka Modric, yet the student never was able to outsmart the master. In fact, the former Tottenham man was so superior he became the first player to break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi duopoly on the Ballon d’Or in a decade.
Kovacic, meanwhile, slunk off to Chelsea on loan where his solid if unspectacular meandering continued. A permanent £41m transfer was confirmed earlier this summer.
HIT or MISS: MISS
2014/15 | LUIS SUAREZ | £73.55m | Liverpool to Barcelona
Love him or loathe him, there’s no mistaking what an utterly sublime striker Luis Suarez is. Lauded and loved at Liverpool, the Uruguayan has been brilliantly breathtaking at Barcelona, even if his form is supposedly sloping recently.
Last season he still managed a sublime 25 goals in 49 games – putting on par with his efforts during his debut 2014/15 campaign.
He teamed up to complete the greatest attacking trio in world football when he came to the Camp Nou in 2014 – linking up with Lionel Messi and Neymar. In fact, linking up is putting it lightly.
A frankly preposterous 2015/16 campaign saw Suarez smash in 59 goals in 53 games. He outscored mercurial Messi (41) by a staggering 18 goals and Neymar (31) by 28 goals – despite only playing four more games than both team-mates.
Condemned for racially abusing Man United’s Patrice Evra while at Liverpool and embroiled in three separate biting incidents during his career, Suarez can often be hard to stomach at times.
But there is no topping his thirst for goals and he has chewed out defences for fun during five years at the Camp Nou, where he has also found silverware to his taste too.
Four La Liga and four Copa del Reys have been hoisted in five years, while he also earned a Champions League-winners’ medal in his first season, scoring in the 3-1 final victory over Juventus as part of 25 goals and 20 assists in all competitions that term.
HIT or MISS: HIT
2013/14 | GARETH BALE | £90m | Tottenham to Real Madrid
It’s turned ugly for Bale at Real. Zidane is back and trying to force him out, and the majority of the fan base seem to be on board, yet no other top teams appear to want or – more realistically – can afford the Welshman. It’s all making for a rather messy end to his Bernabeu career, but let’s not forget what Bale has brought to Los Blancos.
As has been stated above. There’s nothing more fickle in football than a Real Madrid or Barcelona fan. They’re a demanding, impatient bunch who expect, nay demand, success. Always.
Bale was brought off the bench with the scores 1-1 against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool. Minutes later he scored arguably the tournament’s greatest ever goal, adding a fortuitous third late on to seal a 3-1 win and Madrid’s third straight title and fourth in five years – 13th overall.
And yet, following a fruitless season in which he was admittedly very poor, and the stark reality of Cristiano Ronaldo’s contribution was laid bare, the knives have come out.
Forgotten are the mesmerising, crucial goals (remember the speed-induced run from his own half against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final). More remembered are the injuries and insipid periods.
Madrid fans are now quick to speak ill of Bale, but 102 goals in 231 appearances speaks for itself.
HIT or MISS: HIT
2012/13 | LUKA MODRIC | £31.5m | Tottenham to Real Madrid
Even if Modric’s influence at the Bernabeu has dwindled in the last year or so, there is no doubt he has played a crucial role in the success of Los Blancos – on the continent at least.
While Cristiano Ronaldo has made a mockery of European and domestic defences and plundered goals and trophies – individual and collective – for fun, the diminutive Modric has been the beating heart that has underpinned it all.
His peak came last year, claiming the Ballon d’Or in December – the first man not named Ronaldo or Messi to claim the crown in a decade. OK, so his feats guiding Croatia to the World Cup final played a huge part, but Modric contributed four goals for Madrid in the league – his joint highest since joining, played in his third most games and was joint sixth for assists in La Liga.
And although the 33-year-old (he will turn 34 in September) is certainly at the top of slope looking down on the rest of his career, there is little doubt he remains an integral player for Madrid – for the forthcoming season at least.
A Marca article this week described the trio of Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro as Europe’s “untouchable midfield”. And it’s interesting that in a frenzied summer of activity, the midfield is the only area left untouched by Zidane.
That would obviously change if Madrid could stump up the cash for Paul Pogba, but that doesn’t detract from the fact Modric remains a mercurial presence.
HIT or MISS: HIT
2011/12 | CESC FABREGAS | £30.6m | Arsenal to Barcelona
Fabregas returned to where it all began this time eight years ago, where he enjoyed a glorious homecoming and hoovered up a rich haul of trophies in a glittering three-year spell back at his boyhood club.
Having left the confines of the Camp Nou as a teenager to develop in England, Fabregas doubled his tally of trophies lifted at Arsenal in his first season back in the Blaugrana shirt – winning the Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Copa del Rey. mpionship – to his cabinet a year later and again reached double figures for goals (14) as well as replicating the feat (13) in his third and final season.
As much as Fabregas returning home provided football aficionados with a heart-warming story, in reality it was the player’s longing for sustained success that was intrinsic to the move, having grown frustrated with the Arsenal chapter of his career.
Despite being a key figure during his return to Catalan giants, he was unable to truly force his way past the likes of icons Xavi and Andres Iniesta – a fate which led to his Premier League return with Arsenal’s rivals Chelsea in 2014.
HIT or MISS: HIT
2010/11 | DAVID VILLA | £36m | Valencia to Barcelona
An all too brief stint in the Blaugrana colours, but there can be little doubt that Villa’s stay was a vibrant one for both player and club.
It didn’t take long for the power-packed forward to both start earning his keep and endear himself to the Camp Nou faithful, scoring twice during his first El Clasico against Real Madrid in November 2010, as Barca romped to a 5-0 win.
He also sealed the club’s fourth Champions League crown – and third in five years – when he delightfully curled in the third goal as Manchester United were beaten 3-1 at Wembley the following May.
A broken tibia in the Club World Cup clash with Al Sadd that December curtailed his 2011/12 season, and ruined his chances of being part of a second European Championship-winning Spain squad, but he still found the net nine times in 24 games.
He added 16 goals in 43 mainly substitute appearances during 2012/13 as he claimed a second La Liga title, but his diminished role saw him leave for Atletico Madrid at the end of the season. He notched 48 goals in 119 total games for Barca.
HIT or MISS: HIT
2009/10 | CRISTIANO RONALDO | £84.6m | Manchester United to Real Madrid
Um…really. We don’t really need to write anything here, but we will because…well, it basically writes itself.
Here goes: Real Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer (451), most hat-tricks in La Liga history (34), the fastest player to reach 100, 150 and 300 goals in La Liga history, most goals in the Champions League (126), most goals in the Champions League knockout stages (65), most goals in a single Champions League season (17).
He was the Champions League’s top scorer in 2007/08, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 and, along with Lionel Messi, has the most amount of Balon d’Or trophies – claiming it in 2008 (at Man United), 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
Ronaldo won two La Liga titles with Real and two Copa del Reys as well as, of course, playing a significant role in Los Blancos’ brilliant run of three consecutive Champions League wins from 2016-18 and four triumphs in five years.
Did we leave anything out? Probably lots, but it matters little. Along with Messi, Ronaldo is the best player of his generation. The Argentine probably shades it in all honesty, but he’s the more naturally gifted player.
The Portugal powerhouse, meanwhile, has had to slog; developing, honing and working tirelessly to maintain his impeccably high standards and formidable goalscoring record throughout his glittering career.
HIT or MISS: HIT
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