Gareth Bale‘s transfer saga is proving to be one of the most protracted in recent memory.
From a world-record signing six years ago and winning four Champions League titles since, the Welshman is now being forced out the door at Real Madrid.
It’s been a startling fall from grace for Bale, but becoming the world’s most expensive player is no guarantee of glory to follow.
Previous record-breakers have experienced varying fates and here, we look at the 10 most recent players who reigned as the most expensive and look at what happened next.
NEYMAR – 2017 | Barcelona to PSG | €222m
Having shone at Barcelona, Neymar grew convinced he was ready to flourish away from Lionel Messi’s shadow. Following Paris Saint-Germain’s shattering of the world record fee to sign the Brazilian, he has found his excursions in Ligue 1 comfortable, almost too comfortable.
Despite heavy investment, it’s become apparent the Parisians are no closer to achieving their dream of Champions League glory, and that has found Neymar yearning for a move back to the Camp Nou.
The emergence of Kylian Mbappe has also seen his status as PSG’s talisman challenged. So despite bagging 51 goals in 58 appearances and winning back-to-back league titles, Neymar just doesn’t feel at home.
Having flirted with Barca over the summer before failing to show up on time for pre-season, Neymar has burned several bridges in Paris and put himself in a very tough spot indeed.
Rating – 5/10
PAUL POGBA – 2016 | Juventus to Manchester United | €105m
Jose Mourinho’s tenure as Manchester United boss was off to a promising start when Paul Pogba returned to the club as the world’s most expensive player. The Frenchman’s quality has never been in doubt; his temperament has often drawn criticism, though.
Pogba was expected to drag an otherwise fairly average team up to his standards but has often allowed himself to sink to theirs. When on song, Pogba has shown why he’s regarded among the world’s best with an iconic performance in the Manchester derby in 2017/18 proving as much.
His form dipped dramatically after falling out with Mourinho only to enjoy an immediate resurgence following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment.
That said, he’s spent much of the summer plotting an exit form Old Trafford but with United refusing to sell below valuation of the Frenchman, he’s been professional since returning for pre-season and has looked sharp in friendlies, although he was rumoured to have refused to travel with the squad for their final pre-season friendly with AC MIlan in Cardiff on Saturday. Solskjaer has maintained the midfielder remains integral to his plans.
Rating – 6/10
GARETH BALE – 2013 | Tottenham to Real Madrid | €100m
When Real Madrid broke the transfer record for Bale he was quickly billed as Cristiano Ronaldo’s eventual successor. He began life at the Santiago Bernabeu well enough but was always a notch below the Portuguese who remained the main man.
He also earned a reputation for being prone to injuries but in fairness to the Welshman, he was still a remarkable player and produced the spectacular at key moments. His phenomenal bicycle-kick in the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool will go down as one of the best in the tournament’s rich history and, having scored again in that encounter, was named man of the match.
However, he was not a favourite of Zinedine Zidane’s, even starting the final on the bench. Ronaldo’s departure last season set the stage for Bale to seize the crown but he was not up to the task.
With Zidane’s return, the Frenchman has actively tried to push Bale out of the club only to face resistance from president Florentino Perez. The whole debacle this summer has grown ugly with no takers for a 30-year-old injury-prone winger on massive wages, leaving Bale in limbo.
Rating – 7/10
CRISTIANO RONALDO – 2009 | Manchester United to Real Madrid | €94m
After a lengthy pursuit of the 2008 Ballon d’Or winner, Madrid finally had their man. Cristiano Ronaldo was greeted with much fanfare and was marketed as Real’s answer to Lionel Messi.
It was a tall order for the Portuguese but he took it on as if fully aware it was his destiny. What ensued was one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all time. Messi and Ronaldo would push each other’s limits for nearly a decade.
The two were in direct competition for the Pichichi award and Ballon d’Or year after year. Ronaldo went on to become Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer with a staggering 450 goals in just 438 games. He broke numerous other records as he led the team to four Champions League titles.
When the forward left last summer, he had won the Ballon d’Or five times, only Messi equals that.
Rating – 10/10
ZINEDINE ZIDANE – 2001 | Juventus to Real Madrid | €77.5m
Ironically, there are parallels to be drawn between Bale and the man who has ostracised him. Zidane also arrived at Real for a world-record fee and scored one of the greatest Champions League goals – a stunning volley in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen.
Unlike Bale, the Frenchman would go on to achieve legendary status at the Bernabeu. Los Blancos fans were in awe of the elite playmaker’s elegance on the ball, showing immense vision and control to link play with the other Galacticos around him.
He retired on the top of his game with the Bernabeu packed for his farewell match that featured a banner that read: “Thanks for the magic”.
Rating – 8/10
Is this the most beautiful Zidane goal in his career? pic.twitter.com/pPHtqkqb8u— GoalBet (@GucciBet24) July 29, 2019
KAKA – 2009 | AC Milan to Real Madrid | €67m
Kaka made the move from Milan to Madrid for a fee which would be obliterated only days later when they signed Ronaldo. Unlike the Portuguese though, he didn’t live up to his billing.
To say the Brazilian was a flop would be harsh. He finished with the most assists in his first season to go with eight goals. He was still a world class player but never looked completely comfortable in his new surroundings and injuries soon got the better of him.
After four average seasons and one La Liga title, he returned to Milan on a free transfer.
Rating – 5/10
LUIS FIGO – 2000 | Barcelona to Real Madrid | €62m
At the time Luis Figo was one of the best players in the world and the reigning king at Camp Nou. That’s what made Madrid’s coup so audacious. It added fuel to an already bitter rivalry and the winger was branded a traitor in Catalonia.
However, Figo was an instant hit in the capital. Not only did his arrival antagonise their greatest rivals but he also fired Madrid to the title in his first season, scoring 14 goals and winning the Ballon d’Or in the process.
He would go on to deliver on a regular basis until his free transfer to Inter Milan in 2005.
Rating – 8/10
HERNAN CRESPO – 2000 | Parma to Lazio | €56.5m
When Lazio signed Hernan Crespo in 2000, they weren’t just getting the world’s most expensive player but one of the most feared strikers in the game.
The Argentine proved unstoppable at Parma, scoring 80 times in 150 appearances. Two stunning seasons in Rome followed where he scored 48 goals in just 73 games.
However the second campaign was marred by injuries that began to take their toll. With Lazio struggling financially, he was sold to Inter for a cut-price €26m.
Rating – 7/10
CHRISTIAN VIERI – 1999 | Lazio to Inter | €43m
Though he was something of a journeyman at the time, Christian Vieri had proved to be a top class marksman several times over. So when Inter broke the record to have him partner with Ronaldo up front, they had football fans everywhere swooning.
Unfortunately, that deadly strike-force barely saw the light of day with the Brazilian plagued by injuries. Vieri would at least go on to shine for the Nerazzurri, scoring over 120 goals and forging a good partnership with Crespo.
Rating – 8/10
DENILSON – 1998 | Sao Paulo to Real Betis | €31m
Following some promising displays in the 1998 World Cup, Real Betis decided to make a splash by splurging on Denilson. The Spanish side figured they were signing the next great Brazilian talent but what they got in the 21-year-old was little more than a show pony.
They were relegated that season but Denilson remained on their books for seven years despite being reduced to a fringe player. He scored 13 goals in 186 games for the Spanish outfit before joining Bordeaux in 2005.
After stints in the MLS, Vietnam and Greece, he retired in 2010.
Rating – 1/10
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Paul Pogba remains committed to Manchester United after missing the club’s final pre-season game.
Pogba – who said in June that “it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else” – was absent for the International Champions Cup penalty shoot-out win over AC Milan in Cardiff with what Solskjaer had described as a “back spasm”.
It was reported on Friday night that staff and players were shocked when the France midfielder failed to turn up for the scheduled flight.
But Solskjaer said Pogba’s name being included in the party was down to an administrative error, and he was aware that the World Cup winner would not be travelling to Cardiff.
Asked whether he was concerned about Pogba’s commitment to United, Solskjaer replied: “I’ve no doubts at all.
“I wasn’t expecting him (on the plane). I spoke to him after training and he didn’t feel right.
“Paul will probably be back early next week training. It’s not an injury, he just felt some pain. We didn’t want to risk anything this weekend and he should be OK for Chelsea. I hope so.”
United, meanwhile, are close to completing the signing of Harry Maguire from Leicester.
The 26-year-old England defender will cost £80million – and Solskjaer expects him to be in contention to make his debut against Chelsea in next weekend’s Premier League opener.
“Hopefully the last little details will be in place, so we can announce something very soon,” Solskjaer said.
“Let’s get the last details over the line. But he’s played a few games over the summer so we’ll just have to assess him as and when.”
On his team selection for the Chelsea game, Solskjaer added: “I’ve got an idea.
“It’s been five good weeks, some players have done well to get into the team when you thought they would need some time.
“But eight days is a long time in football.”
Solskjaer also said he had spoken to Romelu Lukaku over a controversial social media post revealing confidential details of a training sprint session.
The Belgium striker, thought to be on the verge of a move to Serie A, took to Twitter on Friday to respond to criticism that he lacks pace by posting statistics from a running test on the Perth leg of United’s July pre-season tour.
Lukaku has since removed the post, which revealed he was second to only Diogo Dalot in a session, which charted the speeds of 22 other first-team players.
The tweet was accompanied by the words “lack of pace” alongside running emojis.
“I’ve spoken to Rom, that’s case closed,” said Solskjaer, who confirmed club captain Ashley Young will wear the armband when he is on the pitch.
Goalkeeper David De Gea skippered the side in Cardiff – a game United won 5-4 on penalties after Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard had scored in a 2-2 draw.
“David is in contention, but when Ash is on the pitch he will carry the armband,” Solskjaer said.
Donny van de Beek has stated that Real Madrid have been in touch with Ajax over a possible transfer.
The midfielder however was reluctant to divulge any more information while a potential deal hangs in the balance.
“Real Madrid has already contacted Ajax. I can’t say much more than that,” Van de Beek told reporters after Ajax’s first Eredivisie game of the season against Vitesse.
The player told Fox Sports: “Without doubt, my agent has spoken with them, that’s what it is, but I prefer to speak about football.”
With Manchester United refusing to let Paul Pogba leave the club, Madrid have turned to the Dutchman as an alternative.
Meanwhile, former Ajax and Madrid player Rafael van der Vaart has urged Van de Beek to make the switch.
“I think he deserves to go [to Real Madrid] and that he has a good chance of succeeding,” he said on Dutch channel NOS.
“He played great in the Champions League last season and they know all about him. He is a hard-working, normal guy, and he would be adored.”
“It’s an ideal time to go to Real Madrid. They’ve had a bad pre-season & the fans expect a great signing. They’d give Van de Beek minutes, but competition is very strong. His situation would be very different to the one at Ajax, but Real Madrid suit his ability to score”
“If I were him [Van de Beek], I would even go to Madrid by bicycle.”