It has taken longer than most fans would have liked, but midfielder Declan Rice has finally completed his transfer to Arsenal with confirmation that the £100 million ($130m) deal, which could increase by up to £5m in add-ons, has now officially been done.
The midfielder had been on the books at West Ham United since the age of 14, when he first joined their youth academy. He broke into the first team at the age of 17 and ended up as captain of the side, winning both the club’s Young Player and Player of the Year award three times each, while making 245 total appearances. The last of those was in the Hammers’ victorious Europa Conference League final against Fiorentina, ending the club’s long wait for a trophy.
Now 24 and established as one of English football’s best midfielders, Rice moved across London to sign for Arsenal, becoming the second-most expensive signing by a British club (behind Chelsea’s Enzo Fernandez at £106.8m) in the process. He also becomes the seventh-most expensive signing in football history, joining some notable names at the top of the list.
Indeed, before add-ons are taken into account, Rice is now one of the two most expensive central midfielders ever, which earns him a place in the all-time XI when assembled on a position-by-position basis.
The XI has a combined transfer value of £1.139 billion and is presented in a 4-2-3-1 formation consisting of a goalkeeper, a traditional back four, two central midfielders, two wide forwards and an attacking midfielder playing behind an out-and-out centre-forward.
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Chelsea made Kepa the most expensive goalkeeper of all time when they signed him as a 23-year-old from Athletic Club in August 2018. After triggering the Spain international’s release clause, the Blues’ deal eclipsed the £67m that Liverpool had spent to bring in Alisson from AS Roma earlier that same summer, thus breaking the world record for the second time in roughly as many weeks. Things haven’t always been plain sailing for Kepa, who lost his first-team place to Edouard Mendy in 2020 only to regain it last season under Graham Potter’s management.
Hernandez has recently departed Bayern Munich in order to sign with Paris Saint-Germain in a £34m deal, but the transfer that first took him from Atletico Madrid to the Bavarians in the summer of 2019 was large enough to transform him into the most expensive left-back of all time. The second-most expensive left-back on record is Marc Cucurella after the Spanish full-back joined Chelsea from Brighton & Hove Albion for a fee of £56m last summer.
When Manchester United signed Harry Maguire from Leicester City for £80m in August 2019 it set a world-record fee for a defender. Sure enough, the England centre-back remains the most expensive defender of all time, with only Matthijs de Ligt (£67.5m) and Wesley Fofana (£70m) coming within vague proximity of matching his fee since then. However, despite being club captain, he has fallen down the pecking order since Erik ten Hag took over as manager last summer.
Prior to Maguire’s move to Old Trafford, Van Dijk briefly held claim to the record of being the world’s most expensive defender after the refined centre-back’s £75m switch between Southampton and Liverpool was made official in January 2018. The Netherlands international has since won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup while at Anfield.
While the fee isn’t high enough to see him crack the overall top 100 transfers of all time, Hakimi can still claim to be the world’s most expensive right-back after Paris Saint-Germain parted with £52m to sign the Morocco international from Inter Milan in July 2021.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is ranked second after signing for Manchester United from Crystal Palace for £50m. And to clear up any confusion about Joao Cancelo’s £55.2m switch from Juventus to Manchester City in August 2019, his transfer was valued at £27.6m and included Danilo, who moved in the opposite direction for £27.6m as well.
CM: Declan Rice (£100m)
After finalising his transfer to Arsenal, Rice can now form part of a big-budget double-pivot midfield in the “Most Expensive XI” that is valued at over £200m. Amazingly, the 24-year-old is still technically the “bargain” option in the engine room as he just so happens to be lining up alongside the most expensive footballer in the history of British football.
Along with Rice, Fernandez is one of only two central midfielders to have commanded an eight-figure fee, with the next-most expensive options on the list being Paul Pogba (£89.3m) and Jude Bellingham (£88.5m). The Argentina international was signed by Chelsea in January 2023, just weeks after winning the 2022 World Cup with his country, and penned an enormous 8½-year contract.
Narrowly pipping fellow Barcelona signing Philippe Coutinho (£105m) to the coveted attacking midfield berth, Griezmann set the Catalans back £108m when they triggered his release clause at Atletico Madrid in July 2019 — a deal eventually went through after several weeks of protracted and increasingly sour negotiations between the two camps. But after failing to fully settle at Camp Nou, the France international returned to Atleti two years later (initially on loan) for around £15m.
LF: Neymar (£198m)
The biggest, most expensive football transfer ever saw Neymar leave Barcelona in August 2017 when Paris Saint-Germain paid his release clause. The then-25-year-old Brazilian brought his four-year stint at Camp Nou to a slightly incongruous end (amid a hail of legal disputes between PSG and LaLiga) and switched his allegiance to the Ligue 1 giants.
Neymar’s eye-watering fee is almost double that of the next bona fide left-sided attacker on the list, with Jack Grealish of Man City (£100m, a British record at the time) representing the next-most expensive alternative.
Atletico Madrid gambled heavily on the future potential of talented Portugal forward Joao Felix when they went all-in to sign the 19-year-old from Benfica for a club-record £113m in July 2019 to make him the second-most expensive teenager of all time.
Atleti announced that Felix would be taking the No. 7 shirt that hadn’t even been officially vacated by Griezmann by that point, as he didn’t actually complete his big move to Barcelona until the following week.
Mbappe became the most expensive teenager of all time and the second-most expensive player overall when Paris Saint-Germain pushed through their enormous deal to sign the gifted striker from AS Monaco after a yearlong loan.
The then-18-year-old forward initially moved to Paris on loan in September 2017, one month after the Parisians broke the world record to sign Neymar from Barcelona. It was agreed as part of the terms that Mbappe’s transfer would be made permanent the following summer, with PSG forking out a hefty fee of £163m for the privilege.
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