We’ve looked back at 10 years’ worth of transfers to reveal which club’s signings have lost the most value.
Our transfer analysis covers players bought and sold by the same club since 2013, with fees converted from euros to pound sterling. We exclude sales where the fee was unknown.
To focus on players in their prime, we’ve also excluded anyone sold past the age of 30.
Which clubs are most likely to sell players at a loss?
Manchester United have arguably the worst transfer record in Europe since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. The Red Devils have lost money on 10 out of 11 occasions when selling players in their prime, with Welsh winger Daniel James the only sale to provide any profit.
Elsewhere in Europe’s top five leagues, only German side Schalke have lost money on more than 80 per cent of sales (15 out of 18).
United have lost £16.2million per player on average, again the highest in Europe. Real Madrid are next on the list, losing £8m each time, followed by Arsenal, who sacrifice £7.9m on average. Manchester City are the only top English side to have recorded a profit on players under 30.
In general, Premier League teams pay a premium for players which they rarely recoup when coming to sell. Among clubs to have bought and sold at least 10 players in their prime, 12 sides in the English top flight have recorded a net loss since 2013. This is more than the other big European leagues combined (10 – two in Spain, two in Italy, four in Germany and two in France).
Which players have lost the most value?
Paul Pogba is by far and away the most costly transfer among players sold before the age of 30. The Frenchman re-joined Juventus on a free transfer from Manchester United this summer, with the Red Devils having paid Juve almost £90m for his services in 2016.
Juve may have had the last laugh on Pogba, but they too have made mistakes in the transfer market in recent years. The Italian giants have seen both Paolo Dybala and Federico Bernardeschi leave the club for nothing this summer, having spent a combined £69m to bring them in.
After Pogba, James Rodríguez is the next-most expensive player to leave a club for free before turning 30 – the Colombian was signed by Real Madrid for £64m following a string of impressive displays at the 2014 World Cup, but he went on to become a bit-part player before joining Everton on a free transfer in 2020.
Which players have gained the most value?
Unless you’re Manchester United, every failed transfer is at least partially offset by a player who gains value while at the club.
The best example of this is Neymar in his time at Barcelona. Despite paying £75m for his signature from Santos, the Catalan side were able to make a healthy profit on the Brazilian, selling him to PSG in 2017 for a world record fee of almost £190m.
Barca reinvested a chunk of the Neymar money in the same summer, spending £119m on Dortmund winger Ousmane Dembele. The German club are seen as one of the shrewdest operators in the transfer market – since making almost £90m on the Dembele deal, Dortmund have gone on to record big profits from the sales of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) and Jadon Sancho (Manchester United).
In the Premier League, Leicester were the biggest winners on a single deal when they sold Harry Maguire to United for around £75m in 2019. The Foxes had signed Maguire for roughly £12m just two years earlier.
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