How much would classic footballers cost in today’s transfer market?

By Charlotte Yau

It’s fair to say that the football transfer market has been taken to another level in recent years.

Gone are the days when a million pounds could get a half decent player, in 2018, it’s become the norm for top flight clubs to spend the GNP of a small country on a second choice right back.

Premier League teams splurged a record breaking £1.4bn during the transfer window last summer – a 22% rise from the summer before that (the credit card bills must be insane). The big story of last summer was, of course, Neymar Jr.’s £200 million switch from Catalan tiki-taka merchants Barcelona to Parisian moneymen PSG. With the world’s top sides already conducting their transfer business in preparation for the 2018/19 campaign (with such incredible fees being thrown around) we had a look at what the true legends of the game were transferred for in their day.

The inimitable, revolutionary Johan Cruyff was transferred from Ajax to Barcelona for the princely sum of £993,000 back in 1973. This was a record breaking fee at the time, but even with inflation, that comes to just over £10 million today.

That got us thinking, how much would the classic footballers of old cost in today’s market?

How did we work it out?

To figure it out, we compared the stats of last summer’s big transfers with their legendary counterparts at the same age, to estimate their value based on their vital statistics, e.g. goals and clean sheets. For example, we compared Diego Maradona’s goal record at age 24 with Romelu Lukaku, and a 27-year-old Maldini’s career clean sheets with Man City’s Kyle Walker.

If players had won the highest individual honour in football, the Ballon d’Or, by the time they reached our sample age, we boosted their transfer fee by 36.6%, which was worked out using the average rise in market value for players after winning the prestigious award (market value data from transfermarkt).

Pele – £351,000,000

Compared to: Neymar Jr

Age: 25

Goals: 515

The Brazilian goal machine had already fired in 461 goals for Santos by the time he was 25 (the same age as Neymar Jr at the time of his transfer to PSG), and using our calculations, this would have given him the highest transfer fee on the list.

Pele famously never won a Ballon d’Or during his career, an outrageous fact considering he’s won the World Cup three times, the Copa Libertadores twice, the Brazilian Série A six times, and the Campeonato Paulista ten times, all while scoring an obscene amount of goals.


Ferenc Puskás – £258,700,000

Compared to: Neymar Jr

Age: 25

Goals: 379

When Ferenc Puskás died in 2006, millions of Hungarians took to the streets to mourn him. Puskás was a hero of the national team, taking the them to the final in 1954, and the best ever footballer to emerge from Hungary.

Puskás was a hero at both Budapest Honvéd and Real Madrid during his illustrious career, and his unbelievable goal return even at age 25 would have earned him a huge money move in today’s market.

Johan Cruyff – £242,000,000

Compared to: Alexandre Lacazette

Age: 27

Goals: 250

“Without him, there would be no Pep Guardiola, no Leo Messi, no Xavi and no Andres Iniesta.” – Graham Hunter, football journalist.

Johan Cruyff changed the way Barcelona and the world viewed football. His technical skill and paradigm shifting playing style was felt all over the world, not to mention his impeccable scoring record as a forward.

We compared his 250-goal haul and two Ballon d’Or wins by age 26 with Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette, which gave him a worthy value of £237 million. Even as the third most expensive player on our list, his contribution to the modern game is priceless.


Oliver Kahn – £13,000,000

Compared to: Jordan Pickford

Age: 23

Clean sheets: 16

It’s testament to the loan system in the UK that Jordan Pickford has enjoyed so much game time at the tender age of 23, with spells at Burton Albion, Bradford City, and Preston North End before breaking into the first team of doomed Sunderland.

His £30 million transfer to Everton last summer was the largest fee paid for a British ‘keeper in Premier League. In comparison, future star Kahn would have been worth considerably less, with fewer clean sheets and league appearances by the time he was 23.


George Best – £157,000,000

Compared to: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Age: 27

Goals: 190

A troubled footballing icon, George Best was famed for his blistering pace, deft skill, and impressive goal and assist record.

The Manchester United legend George Best spent the best part of his career rampaging through the English top division, winning the league twice and being awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1968.


Michel Platini – £155,000,000

Compared to: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Age: 27

Goals: 255

Winner of the Ballon d’Or three times over his lifespan, the Italian midfield maestro would go down in history as one of the best. At 27, Platini had already won Ligue 2 with Nancy and Ligue 1 with Saint-Étienne, and would go on to win a boatload of medals at Juventus.

Paolo Maldini – £111,000,000

Compared to: Kyle Walker

Age: 27

Clean sheets: 131

As part of his partnership with Franco Baresi, Maldini was an integral part of AC Milan’s unbreakable defence. They let in just 23 goals in 196 matches, an incredible feat considering they were up against the likes of Roberto Baggio, Gianfranco Zola, and Gabriel Batistuta.


Thierry Henry – £103,000,000

Compared to: Alexandre Lacazette

Age: 26

Goals: 185

Part of Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’ and a true icon of the modern Premier League, Thierry Henry is well worthy of his hefty modern-day price tag. He’d already scored 185 goals for club and country by the time he was 26, and won Ligue 1, the Premier League, and the World Cup.

Diego Maradona – £94,000,000

Compared to: Romelu Lukaku

Age: 24

Goals: 210

What more can be said about Maradona? A force of nature in his prime, Maradona had bagged 210 goals by the age of 24. We compared Maradona to current Manchester United star Romelu Lukaku, which gave us a bargain price of £94 million.


Tony Adams – £64,100,000

Compared to: Victor Lindelöf

Age: 23

Clean sheets: 60

A stalwart of the Arsenal and England defence, we compared Adams’ record to Manchester United’s Lindelöf. By the time he was 23, Adams had more than double the number of clean sheets than his Swedish counterpart, putting his transfer fee at a world record high for a defender today.

Rio Ferdinand – £56,600,000

Compared to: Victor Lindelöf

Age: 23

Clean sheets: 52

Ferdinand’s £30 million transfer from sleeping giants Leeds to Manchester in 2002 raised a few eyebrows at the time. A record fee for a defender has since been smashed multiple times, Rio had a lot to live up to when he pulled on a red jersey.

It was money well spent, as Rio went on to win the Premier League six times, the League Cup twice, and the Champion’s League once. In today’s market, he’d still be among the most expensive defenders in history.


Dino Zoff – £38,000,000

Compared to: Jordan Pickford

Age: 23

Clean sheets: 46

Originally rejected by Juventus and Inter Milan due to his height, Dino Zoff made his name between the sticks for Udinese, Napoli, before becoming a Juventus powerhouse, over an incredible career. We compared the stats of a 23-year-old Zoff to Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to determine his value, which would make him a world record signing for a ‘keeper.

Matt Le Tissier - £37,000,000

Compared to: Marko Arnautovi?

Age: 28

Goals: 128

As a player, Le Tissier never had a transfer, staying loyal to Southampton for his entire career. His impressive performances and enviable goal return for an attacking midfielder would have earned him a reputable £37 million price tag.

Are these legends worth this much? What value would you put on a classic player from the past if they were playing today? Let us know on Twitter.

The transfer market is pricier than ever. We figured out how much the transfer fees of classic footballers would be, including George Best, Johan Cruyff, and Pelé.

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