World Record Transfer Fees: Why Cristiano Ronaldo is still the world’s most expensive player

It’s not often that I’m topical, but the news that former Southampton player, Gareth Bale is off to Real Madrid for £85.3 million seems to me like a good excuse to make a few graphs. The most obvious one being to take. The Guardian helpfully published a list of all the world record breaking transfers since the first transfer to break the £1 million barrier –  Giuseppe Savoldi’s £1.2m move from Bologna to Napoli in 1975.

World Record Transfers 76

The graph – which has predictably been reproduced across various outlets – shows a fairly smooth upward curve, but of course it’s misleading as it takes no account of inflation. So using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator I’ve adjusted the graph based on 2012 prices.

World record transfers adjusted

A couple of interesting changes. First the curve is less pronounced, secondly Maradona’s transfer in 1982 and Kaka’s in 2009 are no longer world records. Similarly Cristiano Ronaldo’s £80 million 2009 transfer would be, taking into account inflation, the equivalent of £90 875 445 in 2012 – so Bale’s transfer of £85.3 million in 2013 would also not constitute a world record were the inflationary playing field to be leveled.

Looking now at the buyers and sellers, including the Bale transfer there have been 19 world record transfers since 1975. This has been spread among 9 buying clubs, Real Madrid, currently the worlds richest club, lead the field with five record breaking fees paid – which incidentally are the last five on record.

Buying club

The majority of record breaking transfers were though involving Italian clubs. With eleven out of the nineteen record breaking fees paid by Italian clubs. Spanish clubs follow on with seven and English clubs. This is a reflection of the position of Serie A as the worlds pre-eminent league competition over much of the the period in question, however the more recent decline in Serie A’s fortunes are given away by the fact it was the year 2000 when an Italian club, Lazio, last broke the world record. Somewhat surprisingly, given the riches of the Premier League, England only features once – perhaps this is due to the nous of Sir Alex Ferguson, long-time manager of England’s wealthiest club Manchester United.

Country of buyer - record fees

Finally looking at the countries of the clubs which acted as sellers in these transactions a slightly different picture emerges with Italy and Spain pre-dominating.  This, again, is a legacy of Serie A’s power; Seven of the transfers being from Italian clubs to other Italian clubs.

Country of seller


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