The transfer market is an incredible thing. Players have their lives uplifted and flung left, right and centre on the whims of chairmen, boards and managers. Some players actively pursue moves, others are forced out and occasionally, just very occasionally, it is right for all parties.
We have asked our team at The Football Pink to come up with their greatest transfer ever, so sit back and enjoy our list of big-money moves over the years…
Alfredo di Steffano (Liam Togher)
Alfredo Di Stefano became such an integral part of Real Madrid’s history that the club’s training ground came to be named after him, yet history could so easily have taken a very different course… The Argentine native was due to sign for Los Blancos’ eternal rivals Barcelona from Colombian outfit Millionarios in 1953, only for Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu (whose name would become immortalised in that of their stadium) to intervene and try to entice the coveted striker to the capital rather than the coast.
Naturally, the Catalan club kicked up quite the fuss. A FIFA-appointed mediator solved the dispute between the two giants with what was, in effect, a judgement of Solomon – both clubs could have him for two non-consecutive seasons in the mid-1950s. However, Barcelona – who had him for the first of those – were apparently unimpressed with Di Stefano’s contribution and decided to sell their half-share.
For a fee of £195,000 (inflation-adjusted to £5.57m today), Real Madrid took full ownership of the player.Di Stefano became synonymous with the club’s annexing of the first five European Cups, most famously teaming up to devastating effect with Ferenc Puskas as Los Blancos thumped Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 decider at Hampden Park. In 11 years in Madrid, he won 16 trophies, played 510 games and scored 418 goals (a club record for four decades). Barcelona, meanwhile, had to wait until 1992 to win their first European Cup. Hindsight is a wonderful judge, but giving up on Di Stefano so hastily was not among their finer moments.
Stanley Matthews (Dave Proudlove)
Sir Stanley Matthews was Stoke City’s greatest player of all time, and one of the greatest the world has seen. Matthews played in the top-flight until he was 50-years old, and the oldest player to represent England. Forever known as ‘The Wizard of the Dribble’, Brazilian legend Pelé said that Matthews “taught us the way football should be played”.
Matthews began his career at Stoke in 1932, breaking into the first team during the 1932/33 season, helping the club to win the Second Division title. He helped to establish the Potters in the top flight, and during the 1934/35 season, won the first of his 54 England caps.
Towards the end of the 1930s, rumours grew of dressing room resentment towards Matthews and his success, and he handed in a transfer request that was refused. He eventually agreed to stay after pressure from supporters, but following the Second World War, he did leave the club to sign for Blackpool aged 32 in an £11,500 deal. In 1953, he helped Blackpool to lift the FA Cup in the ‘Matthews Final’ at the age of 38.
Tony Waddington was appointed manager of Stoke City in 1960. At the time the club were in the Second Division, and Waddington was plotting the club’s return to the top flight. Waddington was packing his team with experience and solidity, but saw Matthews – who was 46, and no longer a regular at Blackpool – as a signing that would fire the imagine of the Stoke support, and help to get Stoke back into the First Division.
Waddington was right, on both counts. Matthews returned to the Victoria Ground in a £3,500 deal, and his second debut against Huddersfield Town, the attendance was 35,974, almost three times the previous home game. The following season, Matthews helped Stoke to promotion back to the top flight, where he played until his retirement aged 50.
Johan Cruyff (Andrew Haines)
It is absolutely doubtless that Barcelona are one of the biggest clubs in world football. To put them on that pedestal, there have several big names who played a major role. While Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi have reigned supreme at the Camp Nou in more recent times, during the ’70s and the latter in the ’80s and ’90s, Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff were pivotal.
Michels claimed only a La Liga title in his first stint and the Copa del Rey in his second with Barca, but his impact was deeper than that. He brought not only Total Football to Catalonia, but also Cruyff.
Totaalvoetbal and Cruyff were always going to go hand in hand and it was Ajax, Barcelona and the Netherlands that reaped the majority of the benefit from that. For what he did at the Camp Nou as a player and then later as a manager, Cruyff’s signing by Michels in 1973 for six million Dutch Guilders from Ajax must go down as one of, if not the, greatest signings of all time.
With just one La Liga title – although it was a major event having been their first for 14 years – and one Copa del Rey trophy as a player, compared with four league titles, one Copa del Rey and one European Cup, amongst other accolades as a manager, it is clear that he was far more impactful in the hot seat; in trophies and in philosophy. However, it was during his time as a player for the club that he fell in love with Catalonia, and Catalonia fell in love with him.
So, it may be safe to assume that he never would have managed Barcelona had he not been signed by them 15 years prior to taking the manager’s position, and without Cruyff, modern-day Barca would likely look a whole lot different.
Kenny Dalglish (Pete Spencer)
Kevin Keegan was the poster boy of English football in the late 1970’s. One of the reasons I became a Liverpool fan. But at the beginning of the 1976-77 season he announced he wanted to move abroad. I was devastated.
His final match was their first European Cup win, then he was off to West Germany. How could Liverpool replace him? They went for a like-for-like replacement. Kenny Dalglish was the same age as Keegan (26), banging in the goals for Celtic and could provide a seamless transition.
Arguably, Dalglish was more successful than the man he’d replaced. Signed for a British transfer record (£445k) he scored on his debut at Middlesbrough, then on his Anfield debut. He then scored as they lifted the European Super Cup, beating Keegan’s Hamburg. Soon all worries about post-Keegan Liverpool had vanished. He finished the season with the only goal as Liverpool retained their European Cup crown.
He won six league titles at Liverpool. The sixth was achieved as he became the only man ever to win the league and cup double in England as a player-manager.
As a player he won 16 major trophies. As a manager, seven in two spells. He was Players’ Player of the Year in 1983, Football Writers Player of the Year in 1979 and 1983, voted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Dalglish became ‘Mr Liverpool’, possibly the most successful player/man in the club’s history.
Not bad for £445,000.
Steve Coppell (Rodney McCain)
Whenever the man who signed you later labels you as the “greatest signing of his entire managerial career”, then you know you’ve done alright. When that man was a notorious “wheeler-dealer” like Tommy Docherty, then you must have been one hell of a player!
Steve Coppell was signed by ‘The Doc’ from Merseyside minnows Tranmere Rovers for a mere £60,000 in February 1975, the Liverpudlian instantly displaced legendary United right-winger and crowd favourite Willie Morgan, establishing himself as an ever-present in Docherty’s exciting young Red Devils team.
As United returned to the top flight after their year of exile in Division Two for season 1975-76, Coppell and left-wing partner Gordon Hill destroyed many a hardened English full-back’s reputation as they helped the club storm to a top-three finish and reach the 1976 FA Cup final. Coppell had a startling turn of pace and sublime close-control abilities that often enabled him to “skin” his full-back before bombing pinpoint crosses into the area for the likes of Stuart Pearson, Sammy McIlroy and Joe Jordan to get on the end of.
You might call him the late 70s version of David Beckham. Almost always wearing United’s famous number 7 shirt, Steve Coppell was so consistently excellent that, all these decades later, he STILL holds the United club record for consecutive first team appearances, 206 games in a row. That he ended his club career with only a single winners’ medal is a travesty; that medal was won against Liverpool (ironically, his boyhood club) in the 1977 FA Cup final.
Capped 42 times by England, (which included appearing at the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain), it was whilst playing for his country in a qualifier for that Finals tournament (versus Hungary at Wembley in late 1981) that Coppell’s career was irretrievably shortened. The victim of a vicious challenge that ruined his knee ligaments, Coppell was never the same player afterwards, and retired, aged just 28, in October 1983 after three unsuccessful operations to repair the damage.If you look it up, £60,000 in 1975 is worth around £500,000 today… what a bargain!
Kevin Keegan (Pete Spencer)
The Holiday Inn at Chandlers Ford was the setting for one of the transfers of the 80’s. Various members of the press gathered as Southampton were to reveal a big new signing. This was 1980. Southampton had won the FA Cup as a Second Division club in 1976, promoted two years later but were still a mid-table side. Who could they possibly be signing? Nobody knew.
Then in walked one of the most famous footballers in the world at the time. Kevin Keegan.
In 1977 as he was reaching his peak, he left the European Champions Liverpool, to move to West Germany and Hamburg. He was voted European Player of the Year in successive seasons and won the Bundesliga.
He’d made it known he wanted to return to England, but no one knew which club. Liverpool had first option, but Kenny Dalglish was a huge success, so they didn’t need him.
To everyone’s surprise, he rocked up at The Dell owing to a crafty bit of ‘tapping up’ from manager, Lawrie McMenemy. A few months earlier McMenemy called Keegan on the pretext of asking about a lamp only available from a Hamburg warehouse. He then sold Keegan on what he was trying to build at Southampton, and when it came to it Keegan hadn’t received too many other firm offers. So off to the south coast he went, and took them into Europe.
Ally McCoist (Rodney McCain)
If you’re a manager who spends a club-record transfer fee on a striker who returns a measly nine goals in 65 appearances, chances are you won’t be in a job for long… that’s exactly what befell then Sunderland boss Alan Durban in 1983, having splashed £400,000 on a diminutive Scottish hitman called Ally McCoist. However, just before the axe fell on Durban, McCoist was offered a life-line in the form of a move back to Scotland, to join his boyhood heroes, Rangers.
He didn’t need to be asked twice! Signed by the legendary John Greig for just £185,000, what followed was the stuff of daydreams for a man who was later dubbed “Super Ally” by the Ibrox faithful, and for very good reason… McCoist spent 15 seasons at Ibrox, including the years leading up to the now-famous “Graeme Souness Revolution”, which wrote a glorious chapter in Rangers’ history.
By the time Souness arrived and began to transform the landscape of Scottish football to have a very ‘blue’ hint indeed, Ally had already endeared himself to the fans with a hat-trick in the 1984 Scottish League Cup final win over Celtic… well, that was always going to be well received in Govan! Partnered with hugely effective foils like Mark Hateley and Gordon Durie, and with immense talents like Davie Cooper, Iain Durrant, Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne providing the goalscoring chances, McCoist turned into the definition of a “goal machine”.
His final record at Ibrox reads 251 goals in 418 appearances… phenomenal by any standard you want to measure it against.Of course, all those goals meant that silverware was an ever-present for both McCoist and Rangers: he won ten Scottish League titles, a Scottish Cup (1992) and nine Scottish League Cup winners’ medals. He would comfortably make it into a Rangers all-time greatest XI as the penalty area poacher-supreme.Alan Durban must have often looked back and shook his head, wondering where ‘that’ McCoist was during his years on Wearside….
Alan Shearer (James Jackson)
Alan Shearer arrived on Tyneside for a hefty fee; a record-breaking fee, in fact. So my pledge of him being the greatest ever transfer can’t be based on the bargain of the deal – although when you divide his goals scored by the £15million he cost it works out at pretty good value!
He didn’t win even win any trophies so what did he bring? Shearer, the Premier Leagues all-time leading goal scorer, an icon for all; but his impact on Tyneside and its footballing culture is why for me it’s the greatest ever football transfer. I could fill the allocated word count to its maximum on the records he either set or broke wearing the number 9 at Newcastle United.
Wearing that number 9 he also inspired a whole generation of Geordies and beyond – even fans born after his retirement know that the city is Shearer’s and probably always will be. Shearer not only allowed Newcastle to keep fighting at the top end of the English game his heroics in front of goal kept Newcastle playing in Europe where he again showed his lethal ability to smash in goals, and I mean smash. The Geordie dialect is often hard to understand – but with a simple raising of the right arm – the iconic Shearer celebration will get you recognised worldwide without even saying a word. A transfer that galvanised a city and still does. It put Newcastle on the international map forever
Sergio Ramos (Joe Harvey)
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Two separate incidents in the 2014 and 2018 Champions League finals capture the two sides of Sergio Ramos. In 2014, a 93rd minute header to take the game to extra-time against arch-rivals Atletico. In 2018, leaving one on Mo Salah, Europe’s then hottest commodity, leading to the Egyptian’s first-half substitution. If ever a player personified the phrase ‘anything it takes’, it is Sergio Ramos. A man who is not only committed to the art of shithousery, but, after all these years, has perfected it. Sergio Ramos is a born winner and, by all accounts, the quintessential Madridista.
Having signed from Sevilla in the summer of 2005 at the age of nineteen, great expectations were placed on Ramos’ young shoulders. These expectations were multiplied by both the price tag, the 24.3 million paid by Madrid becoming a record fee for a Spanish defender, and the fact that Ramos inherited the number 4 shirt at the Bernabéu, previously assigned to the legendary Fernando Hierro.
669 appearances, 100 goals, 26 red cards and 1 dropped, and dented, Copa del Rey later, Sergio Ramos has certainly repaid the faith shown to him back in 2005. Having won five La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, four Club World Cups, four Spanish Super Cups, three European Super Cups and two Copa del Reys, Ramos is amongst the most decorated players in football history. A king amongst men, and the personification of a Madridista, the signing of Sergio Ramos remains one of football’s greatest, and the club from the Spanish capital have been dutifully repaid for the acquisition of its favourite adopted son.
Jamie Vardy (Elliot Brennan)
On 18th May 2012, Championship side Leicester City completed the signing of a striker. That striker became the first million-pound non-league player ever. That is, of course, Jamie Vardy. This is important to say when we look at Jamie Vardy: the Jamie Vardy we know today is not the same Jamie Vardy in 2012. Even though he got Leicester’s attention with his 34 goals in Fleetwood Town’s promotion to the Football League, his Leicester career had a slow start.
In his first 26 league matches, he scored only four goals.The following year however, the first signs of the modern Vardy in professional football were sighted. He scored 16 goals in the league which was invaluable to their promotion-winning campaign to the Premier League. In just two years, Vardy jumped from non-league to the Premier League. The fairy-tale continued into the top division when a miraculous seven wins from nine saw Leicester survive.
Vardy found the jump difficult. He recorded just the five goals this time around. With two seasons with goals below double digits, another mediocre season was anticipated. In fact, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester were 11-4 to be relegated. Instead, Jamie Vardy scored 24 goals in 36 league matches, broke the record for scoring in consecutive games (11) and consequently led them to the league title.
His pace and shooting accuracy became infamous. Since becoming a renowned elite striker, Vardy has maintained his consistency throughout. His lowest goal tally has been 18 and in 2019/20 Vardy even won the Premier League golden boot. In December of that season, he posed his best conversion rate of any striker in Europe (39%).As the time of writing, Vardy has 115 Premier League goals and 34 assists in 235 games. Leicester’s one million investment has to be one of the greatest transfers in history. Jamie Carragher has already thrown his name in the hat.
Andy Robertson (Jack Wills)
We all know the story, plucked from amateur Scottish team Queens Park in the summer of 2013. By 2018, he had played in the Champions League final, and a year on, he had a winners medal. Flash forward a year to 2020 and he had a Premier League title to his name. This is impressive, for sure, but Liverpool didn’t raid the Queens Park youth system to sign this lad from Glasgow. The Reds signed him from Hull City, who in turn signed him from Dundee United.
Admittedly, a Scottish Premiership team signed a Scottish amateur team player perhaps falters in comparison to the signing of Di Steffano or Alan Shearer, but this signing was a revelation.
Then Dundee United manager Jackie McNamara brought the exciting young fullback to Tannadice as an option. “One for the future” was the oft-quoted phrase. Yet the future was now for young Andrew Robertson.
He enjoyed a remarkable season for Dundee United, playing 44 goals for Dundee United in 2013/14, scoring an impressive five goals for their free-scoring team. His swashbuckling style helped the Terrors reach the Scottish Cup final – an unfortunate loss to St Johnstone, but it was a sign of things to come.
Robertson may have lost the 2014 Scottish Cup, but on reflection he has enjoyed a few titles since then. The transfer of Robertson from Queens Park to Dundee provided him with the springboard to which he moved down to Hull City and ply his trade in the Premier League, and from there, Liverpool came calling. Oh, and did I mention ‘wee Andy’ will be captaining Scotland at their first international tournament since World Cup ’98 this summer…?