The 10 most profitable transfers of all time, including Ronaldo at Man Utd and Coutinho at Liverpool
While fans want to keep hold of their star players, football is a business and Europe’s biggest sides are always looking to make money.
The likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham have all made some astute signings before then selling the players on for huge profits.
Using data from transfermarkt, we’ve taken a look at the 10 players who have been sold for the biggest profit.
Note: this list only players who were bought for a fee before being sold on so that rules out any free transfers or academy graduates.
10. Cristiano Ronaldo – €75m profit
After embarrassing John O’Shea in a pre-season friendly in August 2003, Ronaldo left Sporting and joined Manchester United in a deal worth a reported €19m.
He then went on to win three Premier League titles, an FA Cup and the Champions League with the club, as well as becoming United’s first Ballon d’Or winner since George Best in 1968.
His incredible displays at Old Trafford unsurprisingly attracted interest from Real Madrid, who relentlessly pursued the winger for over a year.
While Sir Alex Ferguson publically vowed he “wouldn’t sell a virus” to the Spanish giants, United’s resistance was broken in the summer of 2009 as Real came up with a then-world record transfer offer that was just too good to resist.
📅—April 15, 2009
Ronaldo scored from the parking lot then won the Puskás for it 🚀
— B/R Football (@brfootball) April 15, 2023
9. Enzo Fernandez – €76.75m profit
Fernandez was a relatively unknown midfielder when he signed for Benfica in a €14m deal in the summer of 2022, but he has since enjoyed a meteoric rise.
The Argentina international impressed in the Portuguese top flight and then shot to international prominence at the 2022 World Cup, where he won the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Benfica had hoped to hold on to Fernandez for more than six months but Chelsea triggered the €121m release clause in his contract in January 2023.
The Portuguese side made a huge profit but did have to pay €30.25m to River Plate, who included a 25% sell-on clause in the contract when they sold the midfielder.
8. Dusan Vlahovic – €78.4m profit
Vlahovic came through the ranks at Partizan Belgrade and his €3.2m move to Fiorentina in 2018 was greeted with very little fanfare.
He later blossomed into one of the best strikers in the world and scored 33 league goals in 2021, equalling Cristiano Ronaldo’s Serie A record for goals in a calendar year.
The Serbia international completed an €81.6m move to Juventus in January 2022 but has struggled to find his best form in Turin, much to the delight of Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso.
“He has exactly half [the number of goals] of our two forwards,” Commisso said in March 2023. “And amidst all of this, we earned €70m. The [Arthur] Cabral and [Luka] Jovic deals are very good for us, unlike the Juventus deal for Vlahovic.”
7. Antony – €79.25m profit
Antony joined Ajax from Sao Paulo in a €15.75m deal in 2020 and went from strength to strength under the tutelage of Erik ten Hag.
Ten Hag moved to Manchester United in 2022 and was determined to seal a reunion with the winger but Ajax weren’t prepared to offer their former manager any discounts.
United had to dig deep into their pockets as the Eredivisie side rejected two offers before finally accepting a €95m bid.
“We would have liked to keep him here one year longer,” Ajax chief executive Edwin Van der Sar told The Athletic. “There was not a dire need to sell him, we had money in the bank — but the fee got so high.
“We challenged United to go as far as possible. They have a potential world star.”
6. Eden Hazard – €80m profit
Having established himself as one of the most exciting prospects in European football during his time at Lille, Hazard completed a €35m move to Chelsea in 2012.
The mercurial winger thrived at Stamford Bridge, winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two Europa Leagues, a Carabao Cup and a host of individual accolades.
But he made no secret of his boyhood ambition to join Real Madrid, who shattered their transfer record to sign the Belgian in a €115m deal in 2019.
The Blues certainly cashed in at the right time as the 32-year-old has endured an injury-laden spell in the Spanish capital.
5. Gareth Bale – €86.3m profit
Tottenham fought off competition from Manchester United to sign Bale from Southampton in a €14.7m deal in the summer of 2007.
Initially used as a left back, the Wales international had a slow start to life in north London and was linked with a £3m move to Birmingham City in 2009.
But he remained at White Hart Lane and his incredible performances in a more advanced position saw his valuation dramatically increase.
After Bale won the Premier League Player of the Year award in 2012/13, Real Madrid came calling and splashed €101m to secure his services.
The streets won't forget Gareth Bale's 2012/13 season 😍#GoalOfTheDay // @SpursOfficial pic.twitter.com/8VtRj8cy9f
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 2, 2021
4. Antoine Griezmann – €90m profit
After winning La Liga in 2013/14, Atletico Madrid bolstered their attacking options by signing Griezmann from Real Sociedad in a €30m deal.
He registered 133 goals and 50 assists in 257 appearances for Diego Simeone’s side, which convinced Barcelona to trigger the €120m release clause in his contract in the summer of 2019.
But the France international struggled to adapt to Barcelona’s style of play and was sold back to Atletico for just €20m in 2022.
3. Ousmane Dembele – €105m profit
Borussia Dortmund are renowned for unearthing talented young players and they signed Dembele from Rennes in a €15m deal in 2016.
The winger enjoyed a brilliant debut campaign at Dortmund, winning the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season award while registering 10 goals and 22 assists in all competitions.
His stock rose considerably in the space of 12 months and Barcelona identified Dembele as the ideal replacement for Neymar in the summer of 2017.
But Dortmund are tough negotiators and Barcelona had to part with a reported €140m to prize him away from Signal Iduna Park. Rennes then received another €20m payment due to their sell-on clause.
2. Philippe Coutinho – €122m profit
After struggling to make an impact at Inter Milan, Coutinho was allowed to join Liverpool for just €13m in January 2013.
That deal quickly proved to be a bargain as he developed into one of the best midfielders in the world during his five-year stint at Anfield.
Liverpool rejected three bids from Barcelona in the summer of 2017 but reluctantly agreed to part with the Brazil international in January 2018 after the Spanish side returned with a €135m offer.
While Coutinho failed to justify that price tag, the funds generated from his sale allowed Liverpool to sign Alisson and Virgil van Dijk.
You can always count on Coutinho for a moment of magic 👏#GoalOfTheDay | @LFC pic.twitter.com/jrXfU0D49W
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 15, 2022
1. Neymar – €134m profit
When Barcelona forked out a reported €88m to sign Neymar from Santos in 2013, they probably didn’t expect to make a profit on him.
But the Brazil international went on to realise his extraordinary potential at Camp Nou, registering 105 goals and 76 assists in 186 appearances.
He starred alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in an iconic front three before deciding to pursue a new challenge in the summer of 2017.
Barcelona were powerless to prevent the winger from leaving the club as Paris Saint-Germain triggered the €222million release clause in his contract, making him the most expensive player of all time.
READ MORE: Ranking every Premier League club by their wage bill in 2022/23: Man Utd above Liverpool and Arsenal