• John Gilding


The football transfer carousel can come up with some ridiculous amounts of money, and often those huge fees are wasted on players that didn’t really deserve them, or crumbled under the pressure they brought (ahem, Andy Carroll for £35m).

This ranking looks at the other side of the transfer market - where clubs have struck some truly magnificent deals, bringing in top-class talent for rock bottom prices. 

First, some rules. Free transfers have been ruled out, because they are more gifts than bargains, and any transfer profit, influence and trophy hauls have all been taken into account. 

Just missed out:

  • 15/16 Thomas Lemar - £3.6m (Caen to Monaco)

  • 97/98 Henrik Larsson - £650,000 (Feyenoord to Celtic)

  • 04/05 Robin Van Persie - £4m (Feyenoord to Arsenal)

  • 08/09 Seamus Coleman - £60,000 (Sligo Rovers to Everton)

  • 91/92 Peter Schmeichel  - £500,000 (Brondby to Manchester United)

  • 13/14 Riyad Mahrez - £450,000 (Le Havre to Leicester City)

  • 92/93 Eric Cantona - £1.2m (Leeds United to Manchester United)

5. Radamel Falcao - £4.9m (River Plate to Porto, 09/10)

Falcao could have come to Europe under very different circumstances. The previous summer, he had been linked with some of Europe’s giants, but stayed in Argentina. A poor season with River meant his value dropped and interest from the biggest players weakened, but a deal came close with Benfica, then days later he signed for Porto.

The Colombian soon proved he was worth all the hype of the previous season though, as he did not stop scoring in the two years he spent at the club. He scored 72 times in just 87 games, including 22 goals in Europe, making him Porto’s highest scorer in international competitions. Those goals took Porto to a Europa League title while he was there, as well as a league title and two Portuguese Cups.

He was sold to Atletico Madrid in the summer after that Europa League win for a fee of £38 million, a record fee for both clubs. That profit, as well as his significant contributions to the team (and the bragging rights over Benfica for signing him), make Falcao a shoo-in for this list. 

4. Vincent Kompany - £7.65m (Hamburg to Manchester City, 08/09)

As the most expensive transfer here, Kompany has to have done something pretty special to justify his inclusion. He arrived in the same window as Robinho, who broke the transfer record for an English club, however, the Belgian went on to have a much more successful time in Manchester.

Kompany’s trophy haul with the Citizens is remarkable, and most of them he lifted himself as the captain. Four Premier League titles, four League Cups, two FA Cups and two Community Shields, including an unprecedented domestic treble in 2019, after which he left the club on a high. 

Manchester City are not well-known for picking up bargains in the transfer market, but Kompany is the exception to that rule. He has provided a decade of world-class service and leadership from the back and established himself as one of the great defenders of the Premier League era.

3. Jamie Vardy - £1.1m (Fleetwood Town to Leicester City, 12/13)

Vardy is the definition of a late bloomer. He was 25 when he made the move from Fleetwood, who he had recently helped win promotion to the Football League. His transfer broke the record for the fee received for a National League player, but since then he has more than justified that. 

He has played a starring role in the incredible turnaround of Leicester’s fortunes, and his record-breaking goalscoring habits were a huge part of their magical title-winning run. Vardy probably won’t have the sell-on factor of the likes of Falcao to boost the value of this transfer, but his iconic status in the city of Leicester makes up for that. 

At the time, this transfer looked like a big gamble and an overpayment for a player unproven at the higher levels of English football, but since then Vardy has silenced those doubts and proven that not only can he compete with the best strikers in England, he can outscore them too. 

2. Frenkie De Jong - €1 (Willem II to Ajax, 15/16)

Yes, you read that right. The initial fee for De Jong’s transfer to Ajax was just €1. He went straight back on loan to Willem, but after that initial period, he returned to the Dutch giants and rose through the ranks to become an integral midfield cog in the young machine that powered its way to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.

That same year De Jong helped to secure a domestic double for Ajax, with an outstanding season that earned him a £75m move to Barcelona. Willem got the last laugh on that deal, as they took around 12% of Ajax’s earnings, from a sell-on clause in the €1 contract from 2015.

At 23, it seems odd to already be calling him a bargain, because he still has the majority of his career ahead of him, but getting a player of De Jong’s quality for the price of a ham sandwich (ignoring the sell-on clause) is remarkable, and one hell of a bargain.

1. Alessandro Del Piero - £420,000 (Padova to Juventus, 93/94)

Although Del Piero’s price was in the billions of Italian lire, thanks to the magic of inflation, it means it was equal to under half a million pounds. It’s sometimes difficult to know when a player qualifies as a club legend, but the nearly 20 years Del Piero spent at Juventus certainly puts him in that bracket.

He is still Juventus’ all-time top scorer at 290, with over 100 goals worth of gap between him and second place, and he holds the record for the most appearances (706). He may not just be a Juventus legend, he is arguably the Juventus legend. His trophy cabinet isn’t bad either, filled with six Scudettos and a Champions League, to name just a few. 

Today, a League One club would happily pay £400,000 for 20 years of service from any player, so for Juventus to be able to pay that for 20 years of one of the greatest Italians to ever grace the game is outstanding business, and it’s enough to top this list.