Paul Pogba joined Manchester United for £89.3 million – but records exist to be broken. Dan Kilpatrick assesses the 10 likeliest candidates to become the world’s most expensive player next.
10. Harry Kane
Tottenham’s talisman may not be the most fashionable striker, but he is undoubtedly one of the deadliest and would improve almost any team in Europe. It’s a testament to his quality that he’s scored 19 league goals this season despite missing 10 weeks (and counting) through injury, and only really hitting top form around Christmas.
Kane signed a new contract in December, tying him to Spurs until 2022 – and at 23, his best years are ahead of him. Those factors alone are enough to ensure that only a world-record bid would convince Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to sell, but Kane’s emotional attachment to the club makes him near enough priceless.
Spurs would probably only sell if Kane was determined to leave. However he has spoken of staying at White Hart Lane “forever” and has set his sights on Alan Shearer’s Premier League goals record. For all his quality, he’s therefore an outside bet to surpass Pogba.
9. ROMELU LUKAKU
The only player with more Premier League goals than Kane this season looks likely to change clubs in the summer after publicly saying he won’t sign a new contract at Everton. Judging by Lukaku’s comments about the Toffees’ lack of ambition, he will only join one of Europe’s biggest clubs and Everton can demand top whack for a player who has, at times, been unstoppable on his way to 21 goals in 27 league starts.
Lukaku is only 23 and should keep getting better, despite having already scored a dizzying amount of goals in his career. Top strikers sell at a premium – Juventus’s £76 million deal for the then-28-year-old Gonzalo Higuain proves that. Everton’s problem is that Lukaku only has one year remaining on his contract, making a world-record fee unlikely – this summer, at least.
8. PAULO DYBALA
Every promising Argentine footballer gets compared to Diego Maradona, Juan Roman Riquelme, Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero – and Dybala is no exception. The Juventus forward is one of the few who is talented enough to be a superstar in his own right, however.
Real Madrid want a Galactico signing in the summer and Dybala is an early frontrunner, while Barcelona’s technical secretary has already admitted an admiration for 23-year-old. A bidding war between the La Liga giants would surely go beyond £100m – even if the brilliant forward is yet to agree a new deal with the Old Lady. His current contract runs until 2020.
However, it’s hard to see a place for the tricky forward at the Camp Nou unless Neymar leaves, while Real Madrid will be confident of catching an even bigger fish. What’s more, Dybala has said he is happy at Juve. For now.
7. OUSMANE DEMBELE
The 19-year-old winger arrived in the summer as part of a youth recruitment drive at Borussia Dortmund but he is already among the best players in the Bundesliga and indispensable to his club.
Judging by his first handful of appearances for France, he will prove equally important for his country. Capable of playing across midfield or the frontline, Dembele is destined for the very top and Dortmund have been forced to sell their stars in the past, often to rivals Bayern Munich.
Dembele has already said he wants to play for Barcelona and it seems a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ he will leave BVB for a monstrous fee. If he continues his current trajectory, that could be sooner than expected.
6. PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG
The man finishing Dembele’s crosses has made no secret of his desire to be Real Madrid’s next Galactico. Aubameyang’s not-so-subtle hints about joining the Spanish club have even led to senior figures at Dortmund to tell him to zip it. In fairness, the speedy Gabon international might have outgrown Dortmund, where he has scored 30 goals in 33 appearances this season.
If Madrid don’t grant his wish, there will be no shortage of other suitors, with PSG and Manchester City expected to be among them. Aubameyang has a contract until 2020 and he is a deadly finisher – but he turns 28 in June, which means a fee below Pogba’s £89.3 million benchmark seems more likely.
5. Antoine Griezmann
Griezmann’s performances for France in Euro 2016 and for Atletico Madrid this season have led some to describe him as the best of the rest: the finest player on the planet behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The 26-year-old has indicated he is unlikely to sign a new contract at Atleti and Manchester United are frontrunners for the forward who’s scored 22 goals this season.
However, Griezmann’s release clause stands at £85.5 million – just below the world transfer record. There is little doubt that he is good enough to surpass his international team-mate Pogba’s fee, but – unless a bidding war breaks out – he would need to sign a new deal for that to happen this summer.
If all of the player’s on this list really were up for sale, Neymar would undoubtedly fetch the highest fee. Any club wanting to sign the Brazilian will have to smash the world transfer record by shelling out £173m just to meet the release clause in his Barcelona contract. There are few clubs who could afford to do it – PSG perhaps, or a Chinese team – but Manchester United are among them and are reportedly keen on a deal.
The Brazilian is worth the money. His performance in Barcelona’s remarkable Champions League comeback against PSG underlined his status as the ultimate clutch player; a man for the big occasion. His stunning return at international level, where he has 52 goals in 77 games for Brazil, have him on target to break countless records.
However, the big question here is simply why would he leave Barcelona? Particularly as he is destined to be the king when Messi (who turns 30 this summer) and Luis Suarez (who’s already that age) eventually decline.
3. KYLIAN MBAPPE
Being the most wanted player at a resurgent Monaco is impressive enough, but being the most-wanted player in Europe, aged just 18, is another thing altogether. Mbappe is both after a series of remarkable performances in the Champions League and Ligue 1 this season. There is next to no chance Monaco will be able to keep the Frenchman, who earned international honours last week, and the only questions are where he will go and for how much.
The principality club have already indicated they will demand more than the £57.5 million that Manchester United paid for Anthony Martial, but there is still a big jump to become the world’s most expensive player. It might take a stepping-stone move before the classy forward commands such a fee, but if the 18-year-old fires Monaco to the Ligue 1 title and Champions League glory, it could yet happen.
2. Eden Hazard
In a two-horse race with team-mate N’Golo Kante for the Premier League’s end-of-season awards, Hazard has returned to form spectacularly after his almost year-long sabbatical last season. The Belgian is driving Chelsea to the title and it has not gone unnoticed. Judging by the rumours beginning to appear daily in Spanish daily Marca – an ominous sign for the Blues – Hazard is top of Real Madrid’s summer shopping list.
It’s difficult for any club to say no to Real Madrid indefinitely, but Chelsea couldn’t be in much of a stronger position. They could finish the campaign with the Premier League and FA Cup double in Antonio Conte’s first season, and they are under no financial pressure to sell Hazard, who is expected to be offered a huge pay rise.
If Madrid do continue their pursuit of Hazard it will therefore take an offer that even Roman Abramovich cannot refuse to take the skilful winger to the Spanish capital.
1. Dele Alli
The Tottenham man’s rise from League One prodigy to Premier League superstar is continuing apace, and he is now developing from a productive midfield player into a deadly second striker. Alli, 20, has scored 17 goals and counting this season and he is getting better with every game.
In common with many Tottenham players, Alli has a long-term contract (until 2022 in his case). However, that didn’t deter Real Madrid from signing Gareth Bale from Spurs and it won’t stop Europe’s biggest clubs from pursuing Alli when the time is right.
As a hugely marketable England international, it’s unthinkable right now that Alli would leave Spurs for anything below £100 million – particularly while Daniel Levy is the chairman. Unlike Kane, the 20-year-old didn’t come through the ranks in north London, so while he is happy to continue his development at Spurs under Mauricio Pochettino right now, the youngster could well choose to take another upwards step in the future.
Alli might not be the best player on this list right now, but he is as good a bet as anyone to eventually take Pogba’s crown.