The 10 most expensive English footballers of all time

After Raheem Sterling sealed a £49 million switch from Liverpool to Manchester City, much of the talk around the United Kingdom was about whether or not the Englishman was worth such an enormous amount of money.

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At just 20 years of age, Sterling has become the most expensive English footballer of all time , but he – like many big-money Premier League summer signings before him – will be under intense scrutiny when he begins life at his new club.

Even if Sterling does manage to break into the side ahead of some formidable teammates, if he fails to perform he could still find himself on the wrong side of public opinion about history’s most famous transfers.

Here is a look at the brand new top 10 most expensive English players in history – a list that arguably contains just as many disappointments as successes.

1. Raheem Sterling, Liverpool to Manchester City, 2015

It is a little over three years since Sterling made his Liverpool debut, and although he has since enjoyed two excellent seasons (2012/13 and 2013/14), along with one reasonable season (2014/15) and a brief-but-brilliant appearance for England at last summer’s World Cup, he is seen by many as a player with everything to prove in his new role at the Etihad Stadium.

Sterling will face a battle to break into City boss Manuel Pellegrini’s starting line-up, as the Chilean seeks to mount a campaign to challenge for the Premier League title in the 2015/16 season.

Signings like Sterling will be a key consideration for football followers as they eye up the close-season when looking for sides to back to become the new season’s champions, as well as players and teams to add to those all-important pre-season accumulator bets.

A repeat of his 11 goals in 52 appearances for Liverpool last season would be a welcome return at City, but whether he will get quite so many opportunities to impress remains to be seen.

2. Andy Carroll, £35 million, Newcastle to Liverpool, 2011

One imagines Andy Carroll will be somewhat relieved to have seen Sterling claim his title of ‘Most expensive English footballer of all time’.

Following his ill-fated stint as a Liverpool player, Carroll has been more commonly referred to in conversations discussing the most unsuccessful transfers of all time, and Sterling will be determined not to let a hefty price tag hang quite so heavily around his neck as Carroll’s did at Liverpool.

Gateshead-born Carroll had only just turned 21 when Kenny Dalglish took him to Anfield , hoping he could spearhead the revival of a team that had wilted under the short managerial reign of Roy Hodgson.

His pedigree at that point was, like Sterling’s, impressive if not overwhelmingly convincing. His 17 goals in 39 appearances had helped haul Newcastle back to the Premier League after their one-season exile in the Championship, and his overall strike rate of one goal every two-and-a-half games for the Magpies suggested he had the potential to be a huge hit at Liverpool.

Despite scoring a winning goal in a 2012 FA Cup semi-final, and another in Liverpool’s eventual defeat to Chelsea in the final, Carroll left the club in May 2013 with only six domestic league goals to show for his 44 Premier League appearances – meaning the Reds effectively paid £5.8 million for every goal Carroll scored.

3. Rio Ferdinand, £29.1m, Leeds to Manchester United (2002)

Leeds United had just finished fifth in the Premier League and were in the process of appointing Terry Venables as the club’s new manager when Rio Ferdinand departed for Manchester United for a record-breaking fee.

The move would signal a parting of ways not only between Ferdinand and Leeds, but also between Manchester United and their old Yorkshire rivals, whose descent out of the Premier League and into the darkest days of their history began – some might argue – with the departure of the England centre-back.

Then Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale argued the sale of Ferdinand represented good business for the club, who had signed him for £18 million less than two years earlier.

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A product of the prodigious West Ham football academy, Ferdinand had coped admirably with the title of ‘World’s most expensive defender’ during his time at Leeds, helping the Whites to a Champions League semi-final in his first season, and few in football were in any doubt that he would go on to be a roaring success at Old Trafford.

In his 13 years as a Manchester United player under Sir Alex Ferguson, Ferdinand made 453 appearances, and won six Premier League titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups, one Champions League and one FIFA Club World Cup.

If only every player on this list could have repaid the investments of their clubs quite so handsomely.

4. Wayne Rooney, £27m, Everton to Manchester United (2004)

Another player who can claim to have repaid his record-breaking transfer fee is Wayne Rooney, and if Sterling is looking for an example of how to move from Merseyside to Lancashire successfully, he could do a lot worse than to have a glance at the career of his England team-mate.

Rooney was just 18 when Sir Alex Ferguson persuaded Rooney to make the switch to Old Trafford on a six-year deal worth £27 million, but this came as no surprise to anyone who had watched the precocious Croxteth youngster spend the previous two years making an explosive start to life as a Premier League footballer.

After becoming the youngest Premier League goalscorer of all time with a match winning, last minute screamer against Arsenal on October 19th 2002, Rooney continued to wow crowds around the country, netting further winners away at Leeds United and at home against Blackburn Rovers.

After picking up the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award in 2002, Rooney continued his development during two seasons at Everton, before handing in a transfer request.

Ferguson made Rooney the most expensive player under 20 years of age in football history, but if there were any raised eyebrows amongst the Old Trafford directors or supporters, they were promptly lowered as Rooney plundered a hat-trick on his United debut in a 6-2 home win over Fenerbahce in the Champions League.

Having moved to Lancashire just as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team were about to enjoy a spell of domestic dominance, Rooney’s had to wait three seasons before he collected his first Premier League winners’ medal at Manchester United, but since then the honours have been flowing almost non-stop, both on a team level and an individual level.

5. Luke Shaw, £27m, Southampton to Manchester United (2014)


Hoping to follow in Rooney’s footsteps is Manchester United team-mate, Luke Shaw.

Shaw took the first step to emulating Rooney when he displaced him as the world’s most expensive teenager by signing for United for a fee of £27 million (rising to £31 million depending on his performance) at the age of just 18.

Like Rooney, Shaw had earned his record-breaking transfer by putting in two excellent seasons at his previous club, Southampton, and while the fee was somewhat huge, there was no doubting the talent of the south coast club’s academy graduate.

His first season as a Red Devil yielded just 16 Premier League appearances, after a hamstring injury kept him sidelined for the first month, and further injuries coupled with the form of Dutchman Daley Blind made life tricky for Shaw in 2014/15.

But the likes of United legend Denis Irwin are backing Shaw to be a big hit at Old Trafford in the long term.

6. James Milner, £26m, Aston Villa to Manchester City (2010)

It seems hard to believe that it’s only five years since James Milner became a £26 million signing, and this summer he moved to Liverpool on a free transfer.

It also seems hard to believe that Milner will be 30 next year, given that the memory of him becoming the Premier League’s youngest goalscorer in 2002 still seems so fresh.

Upon signing for Liverpool, Milner himself said that City never really got the full value out of him , as they tended to employ him as a winger, rather than as a central midfielder – the position he feels is his strongest suit.

It seems likely Milner will be asked to fill the sizeable gap left by Steven Gerrard in the Liverpool squad, but if the Yorkshireman can reproduce the dynamic, ball-winning, creative displays he has shown in central midfield for Aston Villa and England in the past, Anfield could have a new hero to worship.

7. David Beckham, £25m, Manchester United to Real Madrid (2003)

Though undoubtedly the most famous English footballer of all time, David Beckham has slipped to number seven on the list of most expensive exports from these shores.

Beckham was 28 when Real Madrid signed him from Manchester United for £25 million, pipping rivals Barcelona at the post to secure his signature.

During four seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu, Beckham played alongside some of the best players of his generation, including Raul, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, and Luis Figo.

Despite being one of the ‘Galacticos’, Beckham departed Real in 2007 with only two honours: the 2003 Supercopa de Espana and a 2006/07 La Liga title.

However, Beckham’s global fame is such that Real may well have recouped their investment through merchandising if they didn’t feel they got a return on the pitch.

8. Adam Lallana, £25m, Southampton to Liverpool (2014)


Having been part of a Southampton team that rose from League One to the Premier League, Adam Lallana was always going to find it difficult to leave the south coast club.

But as the Saints underwent a fire sale of their talent in summer 2014, and Lallana travelled to the World Cup with England, it seemed only natural that the midfielder would make a big-money move to one of the Premier League’s giants.

Since then, it is fair to say that Lallana is one of the Englishmen who has struggled to cope with life under the weight of a huge price tag.

In a stop-start season that was marred by injuries and stuttering performances, Lallana made only 26 Premier League appearances for Liverpool. At 27 years of age, time is perhaps running out for Lallana to prove that he was worth the fee Brendan Rodgers paid to bring him to Anfield.

That said, a combination of Lallana and Milner in midfield for both England and Liverpool could bode well for club and country, if the two can hit form together.

9. Darren Bent, £24m, Sunderland to Aston Villa (2011)

Like Milner, Darren Bent is another player who was a marquee Premier League transfer in the last few years, only to find himself released on a free this summer.

Unlike Milner, Bent has had to drop down a division to find a new club, having joined Derby County in the Championship , but at 31 he will probably admit his days as a top-level marksman are drawing to a close.

But Bent can be rightly proud of a career and goal record that speak for themselves: 21 league goals in 61 appearances at Villa followed 32 in 58 at Sunderland, 18 in 60 at Spurs, and 31 in 68 for Charlton.

A loan switch to Derby last season yielded 10 goals in 15 games, so it is little wonder that the Rams were keen to make the former £24 million man a permanent signing at Pride Park.

10. Joleon Lescott, £22m, Everton to Manchester City (2009)

The spending power of clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City sometimes has a strange effect on the way players are valued.

Joleon Lescott has always been a very good centre-back, and rightly earned plaudits during his six years at Wolverhampton Wanderers and three years at Everton.

He also gave City five good years and 107 league appearances whilst at the top of his game and playing regular football for England.

However, you will struggle to find many clubs who would spend £22 million on a central defender – a position that rarely commands such an exorbitant fee – and it could be argued that Lescott never quite delivered the kind of return on investment that City’s Manchester rivals got from Rio Ferdinand.