Buy low, sell high. It doesn’t matter whether you’re acquiring footballers, stock and shares or commemorative Princess Diana teacup and saucer sets, the secret to making money is to sell for more than you buy at. The masters of that art, in a football sense, continue to be Brighton, whose mastery of talent identification and acquisition has seen them net more than £300 million in player sales since the start of the 2021/22 season alone.
The latest cab off the rank is Moises Caicedo, the Peruvian who first seduced Liverpool and then Chelsea into making bids for him. The midfielder has seemingly chosen the Blues over the Reds, with a fee of £115 million changing hands – not bad when you consider Brighton paid £4 million for him as recently as February 2021.
Ben White (Free -> £50.5m), Marc Cucurella (£15.5m -> £56m), Alexis Mac Allister (£7m -> £35m) and Yves Bissouma (£14.5m -> £25m) have all been sold for a healthy profit within a couple of seasons, while Kaoru Mitoma – signed from Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale for £2.5 million in 2021 – is now thought to be worth around 20 times that.
But none can match the net profit of Caicedo, who has banked Brighton £111 million in cash in just barely 30 months as a player at the club. Is that the most profitable transfer of all time?
Gareth Bale (Tottenham to Real Madrid, £74.5 Million)
Gareth Bale spent six happy seasons at Tottenham, winning, erm, the 2007/08 League Cup at a time when he was brilliant and his teammates were, arguably, not.
Although his signing didn’t yield an avalanche of silverware, at least Spurs chiefs benefited financially from the Welshman’s development – he netted them £74.3 million in net profit, having joined from Southampton for £12.5 million before being sold to Real Madrid for £87 million in 2013.
Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid to Barcelona, £77.5 Million)
Atletico Madrid paid a relatively paltry £25.5 million to capture the signing of Antoine Griezmann from Real Sociedad in 2014. By 2019, he’d scored 94 goals in 180 appearances for Atleti, assisting many more and helping his side to the Europa League and a Champions League final.
Suitably convinced, Barcelona paid £103 million for the Frenchman, where things went rather sour – in 2022, Atletico brought him back for just £17 million!
Ousmane Dembele (Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona, £86 Million)
The kings of the wanton overspend, Barcelona also allowed Borussia Dortmund to profit to the tune of £86 million in their pursuit of Ousmane Dembele.
The Germans signed the Frenchman for just £30 million in 2016, and he would enjoy just a single season in the yellow-and-black shirt before being packed off to Barcelona for a cool £116 million.
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool to Barcelona, £105 Million)
Liverpool’s recruitment team came up trumps with the signing of Philippe Coutinho, who cost the Reds just £11 million when joining from Inter Milan in 2013. The Brazilian became a mainstay on Merseyside, making a mockery of his lowly fee by appearing more than 150 times for the club, scoring and assisting more than 60 goals.
The Reds refused to sell cheaply when Barcelona – who else? – came calling, ending up with a handsome £105 million profit from the subsequent £116 million sale.
Neymar (Barcelona to PSG, £116 Million)
Ironically, Barcelona are on the right side of the most profitable transfer in football history. Buy Neymar for £75 million, watch him help you win two La Liga titles and a Champions League within four years, before selling him on to PSG for £191 million – a healthy net profit of £116 million.
Barcelona FC’s school of economics doesn’t always get its numbers right, but in the case of the Brazilian talisman they very much did. PSG, meanwhile, would recoup just £86 million when passing Neymar on to Saudi outfit Al Hilal.
Who Is the Most Profitable Free Transfer Signing?
If we consider youth team graduates to be free signings, so to speak, then a handful have brought more than £100 million into the coffers of their former club.
Kylian Mbappe came through the ranks at Monaco, who banked a whopping £155 million when the forward left for PSG. Similarly impressive returns in this fashion were netted by Benfica for Joao Felix (£110 million), Aston Villa for Jack Grealish (£101 million) and West Ham for Declan Rice (£100.5 million).
But in terms of a pure free transfer signing, the bizarre dealing that saw Paul Pogba leave Manchester United for Juventus on a free – before United re-signed him four years later for £93 million – really does take some beating!