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World record transfers, and how Neymar has changed everything forever

What classes as “good value” these days, in football transfer terms? Richarlison for £40m? Virgil Van Dijk for £75million? How about £22m on Aleksandar Mitrovic? I know some of you will read those names and fees and think yeah, they’re all pretty good value in this market.

And it’s those three words that sum up this new age of “value” in which we live; In this market.

This market isn’t the same as it was before 2017, because before 2017 the world record transfer by which all other transfers we measured wasn’t £200million. Every time a player is valued for transfer from now on, that value will always be in relation to Neymar, and for that reason we’ve seen some incredible fees mentioned for sometimes mediocre players.

Market distortion post-Neymar

No disrespect intended to Richarlison, but before the Neymar effect he would’ve been worth maybe half of this summer’s reported £40million fee. His stats last season for Watford were pretty average; 5 goals and 4 assists in 38 appearances hardly mark him out for greatness. But his pace and eye for goal – he attempted 95 shots in last season, the 4th highest in the Premier league – as well as being only 21 at the time of writing, show glimpses of potential. And it seems that is what Everton are paying for; the potential to turn shot into goals with time, and the potential to increase in value further as he approaches his peak.

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Phillipe Coutinho’s value soared after the Neymar transfer. Liverpool’s valuation went from £90m to a reported £142m with add-ons | © Reuters

This distortion of fees also applies to the very top of the game too, as you’d expect. The £200m for Neymar is considered the top-level fee for arguably the world’s biggest star at the end of the Messi/Ronaldo era. Therefore any player in the bracket just below – or on the cusp of – that elite level is valued in line with this.

Phillipe Coutinho’s move from Liverpool to Barcelona is a prime example. The offer from Barcelona before the Neymar transfer was a reported £77m, but Liverpool were holding out for £90m. Post-Neymar this rose to a reported £142million with future add-ons, because, well, if Neymar is worth so much, then surely that’s Coutinho’s new value? That was the new logic, and Barcelona paid up.

This has since opened the floodgates, with some fees that even a couple of years ago would’ve been a record, but are now the going rate.

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Since Neymar’s record fee, a further 8 transfers have been expensive enough to be in the top 15 transfers of all time (fees shown in £ and, in cases where many fees are reported, an average calculated)

A brief history of the world record transfer

Whenever this particular record gets broken it naturally raises eyebrows. In the 80s and 90s, the fee rose steadily with each new superstar breaking the record – and it usually was a genuine superstar. In 1982 and 1984, Diego Maradona’s transfers were rightly the biggest in world football. In 1990 it was Roberto Baggio, in 1996 Alan Shearer, 1997 Ronaldo at his peak. Each time, the record fee was an incremental rise; £8m to £10m, £15m to £19m, up until Christian Vieri’s £32m move from Lazio to Inter Milan in 1999 overtook the previous record of £22m held by Denílson.

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In 1999, a leap of £10m from one record to the next was pretty seismic; an increase in fee of 45% at a time when Champions League revenue began to fuel the market. The next major leap happened in 2009 when Real Madrid paid Manchester United £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo, who at the time was developing into the finest player of his generation. His fee eclipsed the previous record set by Kaká just months earlier by 43%. Like the Vieri transfer this was a major leap, but with market factors at play in both to determine such a hike in price.

The graph above shows how every price increase apart from these 2 is fairly gentle otherwise – until Neymar’s transfer blew all previous out of the water, even the previous record just a year earlier. His £200m fee represents an increase of 125% from the Paul Pogba transfer – when you consider they were just a year apart, this is an incredible rise. Now wonder market valuations for players have never been more uncertain.

The future of transfer fees?

It’s been a year since Neymar’s ground-breaking transfer, and it’s no exaggeration to say that transfer fees have changed forever. The number of figures appearing in the all-time top 20 transfers seems to grow with every window, and the standard fee for a very good player seems to have gone from £40m-£50m just 5 years ago, to around £60m-£70m today. The most elite players will now almost certainly attract fees over £100m (I predict Eden Hazard and Harry Kane moving for similar sums very soon), while very good players in form and at the right age will command easily upwards of £50m. But is there any value to be had in this market any more?

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Jadon Sancho made the leap from the Man City reserves to rising Bundesliga star after moving to Borussia Dortmund | © Getty Images / Maja Hitij

Scouting has never been more important if a club wants any kind of value in a transfer. The Bundesliga in Germany has followed a pattern of scouting raw young talent from abroad – Jadon Sancho had a great debut season after leaving Man City for Dortmund last summer and looks set to be given more minutes this season.
There are a slew of young stars making moves for relatively modest fees that look like making an impression on the big stage. Justin Kluivert (19) moved from Ajax to Roma for a very reasonable £15m, Ricardo Pereira (24) joined Leicester City from Porto for £18m after a breakthrough season there, and Xherdan Shaqiri (still only 26) joined Liverpool from relegated Stoke for just £13.5m. All of these players have been away from the biggest stage in recent years and perhaps gone under the radar a bit, and so their fees could end up being a bargain as a result.
The valuations of players have changed completely since Neymar, and the factors affecting value are becoming more extreme. It might be a while until we see the transfer record broken again, but one thing’s certain – what we consider a “normal” transfer has now changed forever.

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© Mike Barclay at The Football Diary 2020