When Juventus made Gianluigi Buffon the world’s most expensive goalkeeper for a reported €53.5million in 2001, high expectations certainly accompanied the promising 23-year-old.
But few, if any, would have dared to predict he would still be at the peak of his powers some 17 years later.
Yet the 40-year-old appears to have lost very little – if any – of the command, agility and leadership he has shown throughout his immense career.
Buffon is not sure he will stop just yet, either, having confirmed he has had offers to continue playing after he leaves Juve at the end of the season, although he will fall short of Paolo Maldini’s record of 647 Serie A appearances if he moves abroad.
Nevertheless, he will go down as one of the greats and may well retain his transfer record after retirement, as we examine who else would line up with him in an XI of the most expensive players ever by position.
Goalkeeper – Gianluigi Buffon, €53.5m
The fact Buffon remains the most expensive goalkeeper of all time – almost 17 years after leaving Parma for Juve – highlights what a remarkable player he is. Perhaps he would have earned even more recognition had he won the Champions League, but otherwise he has enjoyed immense success throughout his career. Eight Serie A titles and the 2006 World Cup are chief among them, while his longevity and general ability should also be considered two major accomplishments. The finest goalkeeper of all time? He is certainly among them.
Right-back – Kyle Walker, €51m
Acquired from Tottenham at the start of the season, Walker fitted seamlessly into Pep Guardiola’s side as they marched relentlessly to the Premier League title with a record points haul of 100. Eyebrows were definitely raised when City paid Spurs so much for the England international, but he is going about his business in solid fashion, meaning questions about his pricetag have since eased off.
Centre-back – Aymeric Laporte, €65m
Guardiola has insisted he cannot spend “£100m on one player, or £90m or £80m” but the Premier League champions do have the most second-most expensive defender in the world. Aymeric Laporte joined from Athletic Bilbao in the January transfer window for €65m (£57m), triggering the centre-back’s release clause. Remarkably, Laporte remains uncapped at senior level, but he may yet get a place in France’s World Cup squad due to Laurent Koscielny’s injury. He made only nine Premier League appearances as City romped to a record-smashing title success but the 23-year-old is likely to play a more pivotal role in the 2018-19 season.
Centre-back – Virgil van Dijk, €80m
When Liverpool announced they had agreed a deal with Southampton for Van Dijk on December 27, they had also committed to making the Dutchman the most expensive defender of all time. The 26-year-old has regularly impressed in the Premier League since he joined Saints from Celtic in August 2015, striking a balance between physical and technical ability. His start at Anfield was a little up-and-down, with a debut winner over Everton in the FA Cup followed by another injury and an error which ultimately allowed rock-bottom Swansea City to beat Liverpool, but he has been a key part of their run to the Champions League final.
Left-back – Benjamin Mendy, €58m
A key cog of the swashbuckling Monaco side which claimed the Ligue 1 title and reached the Champions League semi-finals last term. Mendy’s rampaging runs from the left-back spot became a staple of Leonardo Jardim’s side, with his crossing ability also forcing many to take notice. It was hardly surprising they failed to keep hold of him, as City – on a major defensive recruitment drive – threw the big bucks Monaco’s way and brought him to England. He made an encouraging start, looking sharp on the pitch and capturing the imagination of fans off it, with his engaging social media personality. But he suffered a serious knee injury in just his fourth Premier League game and did not return to the first team until April.
Midfield – Paul Pogba, €105m
France star Pogba had the honour of being the most expensive player ever for a season after returning to Manchester United in a huge deal from Juve. It could certainly be suggested he struggled to fully live up to his billing during his first season, but the 25-year-old has looked much more comfortable and influential this term, despite an apparent falling-out with manager Jose Mourinho. He will surely only get better and better, while he will also be hoping to play a key role as his country aim for a first World Cup triumph since 1998 in Russia.
Midfield – Zinedine Zidane, €79m
Luis Figo may have been the first of the ‘Galaticos’, but Zidane was the most expensive and arguably the most influential in a Real Madrid shirt. After just a month as Buffon’s team-mate at Juve, Madrid broke the world transfer record to sign the Frenchman and he went on to win the Champions League in his first season – a success made all the more memorable by his remarkable volley in the final. His sending off for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final – his last game before retirement – was a rare blemish on otherwise brilliant career. He has taken to coaching just as well, winning the Champions League in each of his first two seasons in charge of Madrid and reaching the final again this year.
Midfield – Philippe Coutinho, €122m
The subject of a long charm offensive from Barcelona, Coutinho eventually got his way and moved to Catalonia in early January. The Brazilian had been linked with a switch throughout pre-season and reportedly tried to force it through himself, resulting in Liverpool publicly stating their intent to keep him. Back came Barca around the turn of the year, however, and this time they landed their man, who will likely be their ‘heir’ to Andres Iniesta. It might be slightly too soon to determine whether he will relish being the club’s record signing, however.
Right wing – Ousmane Dembele, €105m
After forcing an acrimonious departure from Borussia Dortmund by going on strike at the start of the 2017-18 season, Dembele endured a far from ideal start to life at Camp Nou. The Frenchman was forced to undergo surgery on a hamstring injury sustained in his first LaLiga start in September. A similar issue soon after his return in January led to another spell on the sidelines, meaning he was limited to 23 appearances in all competitions and scored just four goals. More will be expected of him next term.
Striker – Cristiano Ronaldo, €95m
Although Ronaldo’s record as the world’s most expensive player was broken when Gareth Bale joined him at the Santiago Bernabeu for €102m in 2013, his transition to a central role in the latter stages of his career effectively makes him the priciest striker. And perhaps only Buffon can come close to Ronaldo in terms of value for money since his transfer from Manchester United in 2009. He has only failed to get past 40 goals in all competitions for a season once – his first year – and has won four Ballons d’Or in Madrid. He also captained Portugal to a Euro 2016 triumph, giving him something perennial rival Lionel Messi has not; success with his senior international side. He started to show signs of decline after a difficult start to the season, but the 33-year-old discovered his best form once again to lead his team to the Champions League final.
Left wing – Neymar, €222m
The world’s most expensive player after his part in a transfer which shook football in August. Paris Saint-Germain left Barca utterly helpless as they paid Neymar’s €222m release clause and secured his signature. He took like the proverbial duck to water after joining the Ligue 1 club, winning the domestic quadruple and being named the top flight’s player of the season. It is said his decision to leave Barca – and the shadow of Messi – was to enhance his Ballon d’Or chances. But, if you believe certain media reports, he might just find himself back in Spain with Madrid as Ronaldo’s ‘heir’ sooner rather than later.