There’s no question the Premier League is by far the wealthiest domestic competition in world football. Although the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich may trump their English counterparts in terms of individual financial muscle, the collective riches of the Premiership sides is unparalleled.
According to transfermarkt.co.uk, Premier League teams comprise five of the top 10 most valuable football clubs on the planet. With lucrative sponsorship partnerships pouring funds into their respective transfer kitties, it’s no great surprise the globally recognized brands of Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea are willing to spend big bucks on signings.
However, having the monetary capacity to bring in world-class players doesn’t guarantee value for money. Certain special players justify massive transfer fees, but too often Premier League sides carelessly allow both domestic and international opponents to exploit their seemingly bottomless bank accounts through exorbitant asking prices.
This situation can be inflamed by a number of factors including media hype, homegrown player status, interest from rivals and time constraints – namely the immense pressure of transfer deadline day. But with the sums of money being thrown around in the modern game, there’s rarely an excuse for overpaying to sign players, and those who crumble beneath the expectation of a hefty price tag are often eventually sold on at a significant loss.
Of course, Premier League clubs do bag the odd bargain, but this is somewhat of a rarity in comparison to the ever-expanding list of signings who have arrived on English shores for a transfer fee in gross excess of their true market value.
Selected from an extensive catalogue of candidates, here are the top 15 most overpriced Premier League players ever.
*All transfer fees are sourced from transfermarkt.co.uk.
15 Lazar Markovic to Liverpool – €25m
It has been a ride at breakneck speed to one of the most recognizable football clubs in the world for Lazar Markovic. The 21-year-old Serbian joined Benfica from boyhood club FK Partizan in June 2013 and played a hand in securing a domestic treble in his first and only campaign with the Portuguese giants. Liverpool scouts liked what they saw from the rapid winger during his brief stint at the Estadio da Luz and wrote a cheque for €25m to snap him up ahead of Premier League rivals Chelsea. With a year of life at Anfield behind him, Markovic is yet to show any sign of living up to the price tag ensued by the hype that surrounded him in Serbia and Portugal.
14 Owen Hargreaves to Manchester United – €25m
Few football careers have been as ravaged by injury as the one Owen Hargreaves endured. The Canadian-born former England international was a regular first-team player during for most of his seven years at Bayern Munich, but his fortune took a turn for the worse after a broken fibula forced him to sit out nearly the entirety of his final season in Germany. Hargreaves managed 17 appearances in all competitions during the 2006-07 campaign, slightly less than half the amount he would go on to make throughout four seasons with Manchester United following a €25m move to Old Trafford on 31 May 2007. The versatile midfielder was a fine player when fit, but scarcely worth a quarter of a hundred million euros.
13 Stewart Downing to Liverpool – €22.8m
There’s no doubt about it, Stewart Downing has a sweet left foot, but inconsistency has too often spoiled runs of good form for him to be considered a great player. The former England international played some of his best football between 2009 and 2011 with Aston Villa, a spell in which the Birmingham club achieved sixth and ninth-place finishes in the Premier League. Having played every league match and bagged seven goals during his final season at Villa Park, Downing drew the attention of Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish, who forked out a staggering €22.8m for the winger at a time when the likes of Santi Cazorla, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez were switching clubs for similar transfer fees.
12 Joleon Lescott to Manchester City – €27.5m
With Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor also joining Manchester City in the 2009-10 summer window, Joleon Lescott was hardly considered the star signing when he arrived at the Etihad Stadium. Even though a series of niggling injuries prevented the defender from forging a lasting partnership alongside either Vincent Kompany or Kolo Toure, Lescott never truly looked the part in a sky blue shirt. He was a shadow of the important figure he was over the course of four seasons with Everton and City eventually released him at the conclusion of its title-winning 2013-14 campaign. Although silverware may be harder to come by, the 32-year-old looks more at home with West Bromwich Albion.
11 Jo to Manchester City – €24m
Despite boasting an average return of more than a goal every other game for CSKA Moscow, Jo was a name few were familiar with beyond the Russian border prior to his transfer to Manchester City on July 31, 2008. His impressive goalscoring exploits prompted the newly taken-over Citizens to pay a then club record €24m fee to land the striker despite his unproven reputation outside the Russian top-flight. The expensive Brazilian struggled to adjust to the physical demands of the Premier League and was twice loaned out, first to Everton then Galatasaray before City sought to offload him permanently. After three disappointing, goal-deprived years under contract with the Sky Blues, he decided to return to his homeland with Internacional.
10 David Bentley to Tottenham Hotspur – €22m
It’s bizarre to imagine any sensible club shelling out €22m for a player who lined up for more teams on-loan than his permanent employers. A rueful decision in hindsight, but that’s exactly what Tottenham Hotspur did to sign David Bentley from Blackburn Rovers in July 2008. Having produced admirably consistent form throughout three seasons with the Lancashire club, the former England international arrived at White Hart Lane under the considerable expectation he would provide an equally reliable outlet down the right flank. Whether due to his hefty price tag, new surroundings or some other reason, the opposite occurred and Bentley never regained the confidence he once had while wearing a Blackburn shirt at Ewood Park.
9 Christian Benteke to Liverpool – €46.5m
Such is the intensely competitive profit-driven nature of the transfer market today, a reputable Premier League striker will usually cost upwards of €30m even if he’s yet to register a 20 league goal season in the English top-flight. Christian Benteke has proven he can be a formidably dangerous player even under the watch of top-class defenders, but is yet to make his mark on the grandest stage having missed the 2014 World Cup through injury and never played in the UEFA Champions League. However, should the Belgian develop into the striker many predict he’s capable of becoming, his €46.5m transfer fee will be irrelevant history.
8 Shaun Wright-Phillips to Chelsea – €31.5m
When Shaun Wright-Phillips arrived at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea already had Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Damien Duff on the books. With a trio of more than capable wingers at the Blues’ disposal, the €31.5m fee paid to bring the Englishman to the club naturally raised a few eyebrows. Wright-Phillips amounted a respectable 11-goal haul for Manchester City in his final season before moving to West London, but that effort alone fails to justify why Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich perceived the eight-figure sum to be a good deal. The wide midfielder was never more than a bit-part member of the Chelsea squad, failing to cement a place in the first eleven during three years at the club.
7 Fernandinho to Manchester City – €40m
A man with seven league title winners’ medals to his name commands a significant amount of respect, but perhaps not to the tune of €40m when the Ukrainian Premier League is the division in subject. Fernandinho was one of the finest footballers in the country during his time in the eastern European nation, but the playing standard in general is considerably lower than comparable competitions such as Portugal, Russia and Switzerland. Manchester City wasn't fazed by this notion in its search for a defensive midfielder to accompany Yaya Toure in June 2013, though. The Sky Blues parted with €40m to sign the Brazilian from Shakhtar Donetsk, slightly less than the amount they paid to land Sergio Aguero two seasons prior.
6 Juan Sebastian Veron to Manchester United – €42.6m
Juan Sebastian Veron was unlikely to be an instant success in the wildly physical English Premier League. A midfield conductor best-suited to low-tempo football with plenty of time on the ball, his natural game couldn’t cope with its speed nor ferocity and thus his reputation took a battering during a two-year spell at Old Trafford. The Argentine improved his stock via a successful albeit brief stint at Chelsea but his resurrection was hampered by persistent injuries, forcing him to reconsider his future in England. Veron eventually returned to Italy with Inter Milan before spending the final years of his career playing in his native country for Estudiantes and amateur club Brandsen.
5 Anderson to Manchester United – €31.5m
Paying big money to bring in a player with limited international experience is always a gamble. Anderson had just two senior caps for Brazil prior to joining Manchester United for a fee in excess of €30m in 2007 and, to this day, the 27-year-old has only nine under his belt. A series of injury problems marred what was meant to be his dream move to Old Trafford and after seven and a half years of sitting on the bench or the physio room table, Anderson was rescued by Internacional when the Brazilian outfit signed him on a four-year deal in February 2015.
4 Robinho to Manchester City – €43m
Bought by the organisation then known as Abu Dhabi United Group on the final day of the summer transfer window in 2008, Manchester City had only a matter of hours to announce its intentions to the rest of the football world. Backed by the astonishing wealth of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Sky Blues quickly hunted down a big name and settled on want-away Real Madrid forward Robinho. With talks of a new contract on the rocks, the Brazilian was seemingly destined to sign for Chelsea, but an exorbitant eleventh hour bid from City coaxed him to instead head to Manchester for €43m – a British transfer record at the time.
3 Raheem Sterling to Manchester City – €62.5m
It’s common practice for Premier League clubs pay a premium in order to sign English players, especially from rival teams. This notion was particularly evident in the record-breaking €62.5m deal to bring former Liverpool wonderkid Raheem Sterling to Manchester City. Despite his obvious world-class potential, his ascent from playing 20 minutes of Premier League football during the 2011-12 season to becoming the most expensive British player of all-time just three years later is dubious at best. But having snapped up one of the best young – and importantly, homegrown – talents in Europe, Manchester City and its enviable bank balance won’t mind one bit.
2 Andy Carroll to Liverpool – €41m
If panic has ever influenced a club to make a rash decision to replace an important player, it’s the signing Liverpool made to replace Fernando Torres on transfer deadline day in January 2011 – Andy Carroll. The Englishman was brought in to replace one of the deadliest strikers in Europe following an 13 goal season with Newcastle United during the 2010-11 Premier League campaign. Carroll failed to adjust to the Reds’ style of play and struggled to win over fans of his new team as he wasted chance after chance in front of goal. A useful target man on his day, but hardly one a club should ever consider paying €41m to sign.
1 Angel Di Maria to Manchester United – €75m
Few would disagree Angel Di Maria is a versatile yet elegant player; he can run, dribble, create and score goals with or without the help of his teammates. He operated in a number of different positions for Real Madrid including out wide, behind the striker and even in a box-to-box midfield role, but with so many superstars playing alongside him, he never truly made any of them his own. Di Maria was the multifaceted attacking player Manchester United needed at the time – but not the kind worth nearly breaking the world record transfer fee to sign. Simply put: the Red Devils paid €75m for a world-class player, not one of the best in the world.
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