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Top 15 Biggest Release Clauses in World Football

Clubs often struggle to keep hold of their best players, especially with financial muscle becoming increasingly decisive in the modern game. Not much can be done to stop a wantaway heading for the exi

Clubs often struggle to keep hold of their best players, especially with financial muscle becoming increasingly decisive in the modern game. Not much can be done to stop a wantaway heading for the exit door when he or she is offered higher wages and a new house thrown in with a handful of other incentives.

For clubs with expert business negotiators, inserting a release clause or buy-out clause can go a long way towards deterring rivals from pinching star players. Although there is a slight difference between the two terms, the result of offering to pay the required fee is virtually identical. For the sake of simplifying this article, it will include both types of fees.

A release clause legally binds a club to sell a player when it receives a bid that meets or exceeds an amount specified in his or her contract. This condition can be activated by various circumstances set out in a player’s contract including timing, relegation or failure to qualify for the Champions League. On the other hand, a buy-out clause sets a figure for which the player can buy his way out of his contract with the club.

Neither of these conditions are common in English, French, German or Italian football, but buy-out clauses are mandatory in Spain. However, these are rarely triggered due to a number of reasons, but mainly because the release sum often vastly exceeds the player’s estimated market value.

As the presence of money in football continues to rise, clubs will be become increasingly desperate to protect their most cherished assets from the clutches of richer, more prestigious rivals. As players attract bigger transfer fees, teams set higher buy-out and release clauses. It could be described simply as fighting fire with fire.

Here are the top 15 biggest release clauses in world football.

*All figures were converted to pounds based on conversion rates from June 26th, 2015.

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15 Koke – £48m

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke has long been a transfer target for a host of top Premier League clubs including Chelsea and the Manchester rivals, but a €67m (£48m) release clause has fended off any admirers who claim to be interested in making a serious move for the Spaniard. The 23-year-old, who contributed 10 assists in the 2014-15 La Liga season, is a key member of the Atletico side and has induced his employer to consider offering him a fresh contract that includes a huge release clause of £100m (€140m). Having lost Diego Costa and Felipe Luis to Chelsea during the 2014-15 summer window, Diego Simeone will be desperate to convince Koke to pen a more secure deal at the Vicente Calderon.

14 Marc-André ter Stegen – £57.2m

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One of only two goalkeepers who feature in this article, Marc-Andre ter Stegen epitomises the logic of Spanish clubs inserting expensive clauses into player contracts. Barcelona coughed up €12m (£8.5m) to prise the talented German away from Borussia Mönchengladbach in May 2014 before tying him down to a lengthy deal. His current agreement expires in 2019 and includes an eye-watering £57.2m (€80m) buy-out clause – an enormous fee considering the 20-year-old shares goalkeeping duties with Claudio Bravo. Despite not playing at all in La Liga as Barça lifted the 2014-15 title, Ter Stegen was ever-present in the victorious Champions League campaign and looks comfortable wearing the gloves for the Catalan giants.

13 Javier Mascherano – £71.5m

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Barcelona is understandably keen to hold on to Javier Mascherano, a player who has put in consistent performances throughout his five years at the club. Despite predominantly operating as a defensive midfielder before arriving for £22m (€30.8m) from Liverpool in August 2010, the Argentine has quickly staked his claim as a world-class centre-half. Contracted to the Blaugrana until at least 2018, Mascherano is one of the most important figures at the Nou Camp, a status underlined by the whopping €100m (£71.5m) buy-out clause embedded in his current deal. Now with numerous trophies and accolades to his name, the 31-year-old is likely to wind up his glittering career wearing the red and blue of Barça.

12 Gonzalo Higuain – £72m

Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

Constantly flying under the radar as one of the deadliest strikers in world football, Gonzalo Higuain is most often making headlines around transfer time when big clubs are interested in bolstering their firepower up front. The Argentine is under contract at Napoli until 2018 but as the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid seek to acquire his services, the Serie A club has claimed it will only allow their star man to leave if his €100m (£71.5m) buy-out clause is met. Suitors have so far been warded off by the enormous asking price, and club president Aurelio De Laurentiis has quite accurately labelled anyone who would be willing to pay up a “madman.”

11 Gareth Bale – £75m

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Given that Gareth Bale is the most expensive footballer of all-time and owned by one of the richest clubs on the planet, he might not feature as high up on this list as rationality suggests. Purchasing the 25-year-old would inherently require an enormous amount of money, but it is rather surprising his contract contains a €105m (£75m) buy-out clause, a figure that falls significantly short of his £85m (€119.6m) record-breaking price tag. Chelsea and Manchester City are reportedly open to tabling such an offer for the Welshman, but Financial Fair Play regulations could tempt the Premier League giants to pursue less exorbitant alternatives.

10 Iker Casillas – £85.3m

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Iker Casillas was said to be the subject of a mind-boggling €150m (£106.6m) bid from Manchester City soon after the bank-rolled Premier League outfit was taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group (now operating under the title of City Football Group). Although the reported offer would have significantly exceeded the €120m (£85.3m) buy-out clause apparently listed his contract, the Real Madrid icon refused to open talks with City and chose to honour the deal he signed in 2008. Casillas is tied to his boyhood club until 2017, but could be allowed to negotiate a move away from the Bernabeu should Real lure David De Gea from Manchester United.

9 T7. Sergio Busquets – £107m

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The average football fan fails to give Sergio Busquets the credit he deserves. He does like to roll around a bit after copping a knock to the shin, but his theatrics do little to diminish his standing among the best holding midfielders in the world. Barcelona has recognised this throughout his journey from the club youth academy to senior football and saw fit to reward him with a bumper contract extension in February 2015. Busquets’ current deal runs until 2019 and contains a massive €150m (£107m) buy-out clause, designed to prevent other powerful clubs from chasing his signature. The La Liga giants consider him an important cog in their machine and one they will not allow to move on without receiving sufficient compensation.

8 T7. Jordi Alba – £107m

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Left fullback might not be the most glamorous of roles on a football pitch, but it takes a special player to get the nod in any position at a club like Barcelona. Many wondered who would replace Eric Abidal after his career was tragically halted by health issues in 2012, but once Jordi Alba made the post his own during his debut 2012-13 season, club officials knew they had to keep hold of him. The Blaugrana promptly offered the Spaniard a contract extension in June 2015, keeping him at the Catalan capital until 2020 and bumping up his buy-out clause to €150m (£107m). Given his importance to the club and its return to the summit of European football, it is unlikely Alba will jump ship any time soon.

7 T7. Pedro Rodriguez – £107m

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Pedro rounds out a three-way tie of Barcelona players with lucrative terms embedded in their current contracts. Jostling for a starting berth with the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi is far from an easy task and although the Spaniard is no longer the crucial first-team player he has been in seasons gone by, he is still an asset the La Liga champions desperately want to keep on the books. Set to play his eleventh year with the club in the 2015-16 season, Pedro signed a new agreement in June 2015 to remain at Barça until 2019, unless another club dares to trigger his €150m (£107m) buy-out clause in the meantime.

6 Neymar – £135m

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The pressure of moving to a club the size of Barcelona has cracked many talented players, most without the additional burden of a €57m (£40.5m) transfer fee and a contract containing a €190m (£135m) buy-out clause. In a single figure, that is the immensity of the weight resting on the shoulders of Neymar. Even with transfer fees increasing to astronomical levels, it is simply unthinkable to imagine a club paying nearly double the current world record sum for the services of a single player. It would seem Neymar selected Barcelona from a host of top European sides with the intention of sticking around for many years, perhaps even the remainder of his career.

5 T4. Jesé Rodriguez – £143m

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Regardless of its top-class training facilities and coaching staff, Real Madrid hardly provides the ideal conditions for a developing young player. Jesé Rodriguez has quietly honed his skills and advanced through the ranks to earn his place among the glittering names of the first-team. Although the 22-year-old is yet to claim a regular starting role, the Spanish giants remain eager to keep him while Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez are around. Considering Real handed him a new four-year deal including a colossal €200m (£143m) buy-out clause in July 2013, it appears Jesé is tipped to have a bright future at the Santiago Bernabeu.

4 T4. Andres Iniesta – £143m

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Equal to the Real Madrid youngster is a veteran icon of rival club Barcelona, 31-year-old Andres Iniesta. Having joined La Masia in 1996, the Spaniard will likely call time on his career where it started nearly two decades ago. In 2009, Barça tied Iniesta down to a five-and-a-half-year contract with a €200m (£143m) buy-out clause, a deal he has since chosen to extend until 2018. Having won four Champions League medals and seven La Liga titles with the Nou Camp outfit, it is difficult to envisage the playmaker wearing any kit other than the blue and red of Barcelona.

3 Luis Suarez – £160m

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When Barcelona made a successful swoop for the Uruguayan in July 2014, it was thought the Spanish club activated his estimated £75m (€105m) release clause. Suarez, who has since starred in a team full of other star names, promptly agreed to sign a contract including a staggering €225m (£160m) buy-out clause. For all the trouble Barça endured to get their man, the Catalan giants are unlikely to consider any offers failing to meet the conditions stated in his contract.

2 Lionel Messi – £179m

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The player who many regard as the best in the world, and perhaps even the greatest of all-time, naturally comes close to commanding the highest fee required to break a contract with his employers. Lionel Messi, a four-time Ballon d’Or winner, has ignored the lure of bigger wages while forging an unrivalled legacy at Barcelona. The Catalonians have made their prized asset virtually unavailable for transfer due to a series of lucrative contracts, the latest containing a colossal €250m (£179m) buy-out clause. Even if a handful of top clubs are equipped to part with such a large sum of money as reports suggest, Messi has never made any serious indication he would consider leaving the Nou Camp.

1 Cristiano Ronaldo – £1 Billion

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Whether Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo is the best footballer in the world, the Portuguese is unquestionably the more marketable player. Bearing in mind the two are virtually inseparable in terms of ability and statistics, commercial appeal could perhaps explain why the Real Madrid star’s buy-out clause is four-times greater than his arch rival. According to his agent Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo's buy-out clause sits an incredible £1 billion. Manchester United fans still dream of watching the 30-year-old play in red at Old Trafford again, but it would take a monumental fee to convince Real to let go of its record-breaking superstar.

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Top 15 Biggest Release Clauses in World Football