Once upon a time, football was nothing but a simple game of two sides chasing around a ball and looking to stick it past the opposing goalkeeper. Equipment was humbly crafted, the ball was so heavy goalkeepers were quite often merely defending themselves from it and having a bottle of liquor close by to take a belt upon conceding was a fairly common practice. Football was the game of the people, played and witnessed by the masses, and loved for the intimate closeness it provided. But it was to change down the years, drastically to say the least.
Looking over a century back into the past, Alf Common was the first player to fetch a transfer fee in the quadruple digits, joining Middlesbrough for a hefty £1,000 in 1905. Not until the aptly-named Luis Suarez’s move to Inter in 1961 would an accepted bid exceed £100,000, the £1 million barrier broken in 1975 when Giuseppe Savoldi was lured to Napoli from Bologna for £1.2 million. The growth in fees paid out after that point would be exponential. Football rapidly became big business, even if the preceding events had all laid the groundwork for what was to come.
The most successful squads are now chiefly those of expensive construction, with the constant game away from the pitch that is the transfer market gripping the hearts and minds of fans. Vast sums of money are poured out every summer and January to improve their construction, at times at the peril of buyers. Teams are gold mines built on the forces of supply and demand, the ancient law of economics that continues to define financial matters in the beautiful game.
Without further adieu, following are the 15 most valuable squads in Europe at present, with market valuations valuations courtesy of Transfermarkt. We will look at the top teams in Europe and use their player's current market values to determine their entire squad's current value. To break it down in a simple way, we're looking at which teams would get the most money if they sold every player on their roster for their market value.
15 AS Roma – £218.14 million
The Giallorossi have returned to the limelight after spending years in the doldrums between the end of the Franco Sensi era and the club’s purchase by an American consortium. Living club legends Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi remain crucial components of the side, but in their older years don’t supply a great deal of the squad’s overall value. Instead, it’s younger rising stars like Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman who see Roma sneak into the top 15 most valuable squads in Europe. Juan Iturbe, the fourth most expensive purchase in club history when agent fees are discounted, also bolsters the Giallorossi ranks in this regard after joining over the summer from Hellas Verona. Cagliari continue to fight the capital club over the fee for the second half of Radja Nainggolan’s card considering the Belgian’s impressive displays at the Stadio Olimpico. Roma have plenty of assets in the squad to cash in on if necessary, though have already made the three most lucrative sales in club history in the past two years – Marquinhos, Erik Lamela and Mehdi Benatia.
14 Napoli – £220.6 million
Napoli will always be best known for one thing: being the beloved club of Diego Maradona, who was made the world’s most expensive player for the second time by the Partenopei in 1984. Nowadays, it’s another Argentine who headlines the big money names on the club’s register – a certain Gonzalo Higuain, whose transfer was largely funded by proceeds from Edinson Cavani’s sale. Marek Hamsik’s stock may have dipped over the past two seasons but the Slovakian remains a valuable figure, while Jose Callejon and Dries Mertens are sought-after men on the wings. January purchase Manolo Gabbiadini also provides an injection of worth after coming to the San Paolo from Sampdoria. Eccentric filmmaker Aurelio De Laurentiis is the man whose wealth built the current Napoli roster, the two-time Scudetto winners having sunk into ignominy after financially imploding and re-registering as a new entity in Serie C1 in 2004.
13 Tottenham – £234.04 million
Despite holding the distinction of having sold football’s most expensive player in history two summers ago, Spurs hold their place as one of the 15 most valuable squads on the continent. This is due in some part to the spending frenzy triggered by Gareth Bale’s departure to Real Madrid, which enabled moves for the likes of Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue. Several of these star names have thus far struggled to live up to their price-tags in North London, with Soldado perhaps the most illustrative example considering his disappointing return of just seven goals in 42 Premier League appearances. Eriksen, meanwhile, has made good on his promise as one of Europe’s brightest young playmakers, serving as the creative hub of the side despite playing under three different managers in his 18 months at White Hart Lane. Fifteen goals and nine assists in a Tottenham shirt make him by far the most successful of Spurs’ Bale-financed signings, who have in some regard come to serve as a cautionary tale for reinvesting clubs.
12 Atletico Madrid - £260.48 million
While Spurs have run into difficulty replacing star players pried away by Europe’s giants, Atletico Madrid have become masters at it – and maximizing in-house value as well. Losing key men such as David de Gea, Falcao, Diego Costa and Felipe Luis hasn’t stopped the club’s rise, as Diego Simeone looks a master motivator who always seems to get the best out of those at his disposal. Koke has already asserted himself as one of the most sought-after youngsters around at just 23 years of age, while Antoine Griezmann is a marquee purchase with La Liga experience that Atleti wisely made with a cash injection straight from Chelsea’s accounts. Mario Mandzukic also falls into this category. Arda Turan and Diego Godin are a pair who perhaps aren’t given enough credit for what they bring to the table, coming into their own as two of the finest players in their position and each achieving a worth that is so far untested by the forces of the transfer market. Simeone will be just fine with that remaining the case – he has shown himself to be a shrewd operator in his time who can achieve the pinnacle of success even in a less financially endowed position than his counterparts.
11 Juventus – £280.02 million
Once upon a time, Juventus would’ve been either at or near the very top of such a list, but the Bianconeri boast plenty of crown jewels even if their relative spending power isn’t what it once was. Look no further than Paul Pogba when searching for gemstones in the Turin outfit’s squad, who has other clubs writhing in envy – especially considering the fact that the Old Lady picked him up at zero cost upon his departure from Manchester United. The day will likely come when the 21-year-old Frenchman waves goodbye to northern Italy, but rest assured when it does, the winning suitor will be writing a hefty check for Juventus to deposit. The Italian champions boast yet another midfielder wanted all around the continent in Arturo Vidal, who was relentlessly linked with Manchester United in the summer but ultimately stayed and has continued to be a major contributor. Distinguished veterans Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo don’t offer much any more in the way of transfer value but Juventus won’t be too bothered, the team’s strong spine and promising youngsters such as Alvaro Morata and Kingsley Coman add plenty of worth.
10 Liverpool – £286.88 million
Liverpool have truly had a tough go of things after parting ways with Luis Suarez, even if matters have vastly improved over the past five weeks. Flogging the Uruguayan off to Barcelona made the Reds £71 million richer and seemingly provided the necessary funds for the club to challenge for the Premier League title once again. But Brendan Rodgers and company instead have run into the same pitfalls that plagued Tottenham in the wake of Gareth Bale’s sale, seeing an expensive assemblage of players unable to gel quickly or find consistency. Mario Balotelli was only the fourth most costly of the summer additions but has perhaps been the least productive, yet to find the back of the net in league play. Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have also struggled to justify the £49 million that was spent between the two of them despite having strong track records in the English top flight with Southampton. Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling each have kept their reputations intact – despite Sturridge missing nearly the entirety of the current campaign thus far – and for their part represent a great deal of value for the Reds. There’s plenty of strong young players on the books that maintain a high overall worth for Liverpool’s squad, but it’s up to Brendan Rodgers to fit all the pieces together.
9 Borussia Dortmund – £307.78 million
One can only imagine how much higher Dortmund’s overall figure would be if the club didn’t face being plundered each summer for their stars – sometimes without any compensation at all. Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski have been taken off Die Schwarzgelben’s hands in successive summers by Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich. The latter was signed on a free transfer at the expiration of his contract, meaning Dortmund were left to mourn the loss of the squad’s best player without receiving anything in return. Despite this, Jurgen Klopp’s squad remains inside the 10 most expensive in Europe. Marco Reus and Mats Hummels are both in high demand, seeing their values soar, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ciro Immobile are two of the three most costly acquisitions the club has ever made. What they haven’t been able to do, however, is stave off a decline in the fortunes of the Westfalenstadion outfit. Dortmund sit second from bottom in the Bundesliga at present – ahead of cellar dwellers Freiburg only on goals for – and face the horrifying prospect of a mass exodus if things don’t improve quickly.
8 Paris Saint-Germain – £329.91 million
Transfer strategy meetings at Paris Saint-Germain must sound eerily like a stock trading deck during a bull market, with frantic executives bouncing up and down, shouting ‘buy’ repeatedly. Ever since Qatar Sports Investments took over majority ownership of the Parisian club in 2011, spending cast sums of money to snap up the most talented and marketable stars around has been the management’s sole mission. This is a side that contains not one but two of the globe’s very best strikers in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, the latter commonly forced to play out of position to accommodate the former. Thiago Silva also highlights the back line and holds the rather dubious distinction of being unseated as the world’s most expensive defender by teammate David Luiz. Pundits on five continents are still in a mixed fit of laughter and confusion as to how Les Parisiens saw fit to splash out £50 million for the former Chelsea man. Add in Marco Verratti, Lucas Moura, Yohan Cabaye and Javier Pastore and it’s quite clear that only success or heavy-handed Financial Fair Play restrictions will curtail the spending spree under way in the City of Lights that has seen PSG rocket into the spotlight.
7 Arsenal – £342.58 million
For years, Arsenal fans and rival supporters alike spent hours a day harping on Arsene Wenger’s perceived lack of willingness to spend on the transfer market. As the financial strain of paying off costs attached to the construction of the Emirates Stadium relaxed, however, the purse strings in turn loosened at Ashburton Grove. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez arrived in successive summer transfer windows, and the Gunners were in turn graced with the two most expensive players in the club’s history by quite some distance. Truth be told, Wenger had spent years putting together a squad that has depth in quality – with a glut of young players developed from future talents to assets of value – and from a monetary standpoint boasts more riches than all but six other European clubs. Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would all fetch a pretty penny on the open market if put up for sale, even though all three aren’t the finished article. Arsenal are also a side that can count on the likes of David Ospina to come off the bench, not the only quality player who is denied regular minutes in a Gunners shirt at present.
6 Manchester City – £384.78 million
It’s surprising to see City outside of the top five, considering that the club has embarked on a spending rampage since 2008 that has already brought about great success within England – not so much on the continent, however. Look no further than last week’s purchase of Wilfried Bony for some £25 million. Sanctioned under Financial Fair Play rules and already boasting an expensive trio of strikers in Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic, Sheikh Mansour and company would simply not be denied the chance to bring in yet another star name. Beyond a strike force that boggles the mind, City have a playmaker with such a reputation on their books that other clubs haven’t bothered to make an offer in David Silva, along with a resurgent Yaya Toure and the invaluable Vincent Kompany. Eliaquim Mangala hasn’t lived up to the £35 million shelled out for him but it’s still early days for the Frenchman at City, who has no shortage of experienced talents around him to aid the transition to life under the microscope at a top tier title contender.
5 Chelsea – £390.5 million
While Manchester City absorb much of the ire of the rest of the Premier League for being the nouveau-riche new boys at the party, Chelsea were the original in this regard. Nobody has forgotten, that much is for sure, but becoming more established has allowed the Blues to go about their business more quietly as the attention falls on City – even if they’re still spending massive sums. There’s no question that Eden Hazard is the most valuable player in the squad some two-and-a-half years on from his £35 million move to Stamford Bridge from Lille. At just 24, the Belgian has already shown himself to be one of the most well-rounded attackers in Europe, blossoming under the guidance of Jose Mourinho. Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa chase up Hazard in terms of value, the duo having arrived from Spain for a combined £63 million over the summer and taking the Premier League by storm, the former on his second bite of the English apple. Quality runs deep in Chelsea’s ranks and a side that sees Petr Cech, Andre Schurrle, and Felipe Luis relegated to back-up roles is certainly a blessed one, with Jose Mourinho having all the tools at his disposal he possibly could ask for.
4 Manchester United – £415.8 million
But how? For all their issues in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, Manchester United still find their way into the top five most valuable squads in Europe. Chalk it up in large part to the presences of Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie and Ander Herrera. The Argentine is the greatest example of United’s willingness to spend heavily in order to return to the top, his £60 million move from Real Madrid representing the record fee ever paid out by an English club. Meanwhile, the Red Devils threw down a substantial £37 million to sign Mata last January after his stock at Chelsea plummeted, while Herrera required a £32 million investment to pry away from Athletic Bilbao. Then, there’s the £30 million plus United threw at Southampton to snap up 19-year-old Luke Shaw in a move that serves as a prime illustration of exactly where the ‘British premium’ stands these days. In total, United spent £170 million in total for new additions last summer – only a small portion of that a loan fee for Falcao – with an evolution of how success is brought to Old Trafford seemingly underway at Old Trafford. Paddy McNair, James Wilson and Tyler Blackett will all need some luck to make it under the Galacticos system being adopted.
3 Bayern Munich - £478.85 million
Don’t get sick of the Bavarians just yet, because in truth they’re only just getting started. Years of executing carefully constructed financial development plans have seen Bayern reach a financial height that even just a decade ago the club was absolutely nowhere near. The squad is now worth nearly £500 million in total and this figure is likely to only increase over the coming years. Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Manuel Neuer head up the list of Bayern’s riches who lace up a pair of boots each week. The talent behind them is simply phenomenal. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben each find themselves on the wrong side of 30 but remain immensely valuable assets, as do Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. David Alaba and Juan Bernat lead up the younger contingent in the squad, the former perhaps the most expensive full back in football despite his tender 22 years and the presence of Luke Shaw. And Bayern have even more talents in their salad days waiting to explode – the likes of Gianluca Gaudino, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Mitchell Weiser could all yet develop into top players.
2 Barcelona – £545.6 million
Did Barcelona fly in the face of their own club ethos by bringing in Luis Suarez and Neymar for mind-boggling fees? A moot point maybe, but it’s one that appears less important when looking through the lens of squad value. There’s one clear winner at the Camp Nou when it comes to the most expensive sweepstakes, a certain Lionel Messi that came up through the ranks at La Masia to claim his place as one of the best in the history of the game. Even the expensive duo of Suarez and Neymar can’t make up half of what it would cost to drag the Argentine away from the only club he has ever known as a professional. But Barcelona have no shortage of players who carry hefty price tags in support of the untouchable Messi and his two front line mates. Andres Iniesta continues to show his class at 30, while younger fellow midfielders Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets are two of the top players in their roles in world football. Among other veterans, Barcelona can also count on a number of growing stars in traditional style, mainly Munir El Haddadi, Sandro Ramirez and Sergi Samper – all of whom former Barca B boss Luis Enrique will be keen to see fulfill their potential.
1 Real Madrid – £606.14 million
Nobody does luster like Real Madrid. Los Merengues are in possession of the most valuable squad in Europe – and the world for that matter – by a considerable distance. Florentino Perez’s Galacticos policy ensures that the Santiago Bernabeu is always home to the game’s most costly and immaculately coiffured stars, headed up by none other than two time reigning Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese finds himself usurped in the category of world record transfer by Gareth Bale, while James Rodriguez stands as the fourth most expensive player in history after joining from AS Monaco in the summer. Indeed, three of the four top transfer fees ever paid out are attached to current Real Madrid men, and Perez and company wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the path of a club that can afford to eat the £26 million spent on a player who can hardly get a game under Carlo Ancelotti – Asier Illarramendi – and take on a starting-quality goalkeeper in Keylor Navas to warm the bench. What more is there to say?