A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time

A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time

December 26, 2023

When we talk of the most expensive signings, by the virtue of their position goalkeepers scarcely get any mention. 

In this article, therefore, I have decided to give them a dedicated, detailed look and write about the most expensive goalkeepers in the history of football. Here is a list of the top 10. Let’s see how they have fared.

Note: the ranking, the transfer fees, and the player stats have all been sourced from Transfermarkt. Content updated as of December 2023.

Also Read – A look back on football’s most expensive player transfers of all time

10. Jordan Pickford

Moved from Sunderland AFC to Everton FC in June 2017 for €28.5 million (deal reportedly worth £25 million at the time as per UK outlets, with potential to rise up to £30 million)

A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time
10. Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford was one of the few shining lights in the Sunderland side that, after years of turmoil, finally got relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016/17 season. Pickford was picked up by Everton immediately after the Black Cats’ relegation in a deal that made the then 23-year-old the most expensive British goalkeeper of all time.

As Sunderland plummeted down the English footballing pyramid, Pickford rose. After quickly establishing himself in the Everton side, he went on to become England’s No.1 goalkeeper in the senior international setup.

However, criticism for Pickford prevails soundly years after his big-money move. While a decent shot-stopper, his temperamental tendencies do render him prone to frequent and high-profile mistakes. Vociferous calls for him to be replaced at the top of the international pecking order persist, but Pickford remains the first choice of England manager Gareth Southgate.

These days, Pickford is one of the few shining lights in an Everton side that, after years of turmoil, has become prone to flirting with relegation year in, year out. Much like with Sunderland, there are many factors outside the Englishman’s control that have brought this about, and much like with Sunderland, Pickford can rest assured to be picked up by another topflight team if Everton do suffer the same fate that befell the Tyne and Wear side.

9. Robert Sánchez

Moved from Brighton & Hove Albion FC to Chelsea FC in August 2023 for €28.7 million (deal reportedly worth £20 million at the time as per UK outlets, plus £5 million in add-ons)

9. Robert Sánchez

Playing for a Brighton side with a perennial sense of upward mobility, Robert Sánchez earned a lot of plaudits as a solid modern-day goalkeeper. There were a series of mishaps in his performances, including a relationship breakdown with manager Roberto De Zerbi towards his final days with the Seagulls, but not enough to deter Chelsea’s interest in making him their new first-choice goalkeeper ahead of the 2023/24 season.

As has been the case with many of his peers who have arrived at the club alongside him in recent months, Sánchez’ performances have been promising but not without faults. Nevertheless, the fee Chelsea paid for him is a relatively modest one, making this an adequate move at the very least.

8. Manuel Neuer

Moved from FC Schalke 04 to FC Bayern Munich in June 2011 for €30 million

A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time
8. Manuel Neuer

Neuer is not only regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, he’s also considered the living embodiment of a modern-day goalkeeper. In his time with Bayern and the German national team, Neuer has been at the centre of the evolution of the goalkeeper’s role in a side, from being just a shot-stopper to a sweeper-keeper — one who comes out of their box to facilitate their side playing out from the back, and there are few (even today) who can do that better than Neuer.

Now 37, many have speculated if it’s time for Neuer to step aside and let someone else take the No. 1 spot for Germany, but the veteran continues to go from strength to strength and does not look at all interested in relinquishing his throne anytime soon.

7. Thibaut Courtois

Moved from Chelsea FC to CF Real Madrid in August 2018 for €35 million (deal reportedly worth £35 million at the time as per UK outlets)

7. Thibaut Courtois

Thibaut Courtois established himself as a reliable goalkeeper very early in his career and has been regarded as one of the best in his position for nearly a decade. After shining for Atlético Madrid during a three-year spell on loan from Chelsea, the Belgian continued building his reputation while playing for the Blues before making a switch to Atléti’s same-city rivals Real Madrid ahead of the 2018/19 season, where despite some teething troubles he soon found solid footing again, resuming business as usual.

Now in his sixth season with Los Blancos, Courtois is currently out for the majority of the 2023/24 season with a cruciate ligament tear. Given the eight trophies he has already picked up with them so far, however, I think it’s safe to call this move a success.

6. Jasper Cillessen

Moved from FC Barcelona to Valencia CF in June 2019 for €35 million

A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time
 6. Jasper Cillessen

There’s a lot that can be said about what has gone on at Valencia under the ownership of Singaporean businessman Peter Lim, most of which is not good, to say the very least. 

It’s particularly hard to say anything positive about spending €35 million on Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, who became not only one of the most expensive goalkeepers of all time but also the second-most expensive player in Valencia’s history when he arrived from Barça in the summer of 2019. He would go on to spend three seasons at the club, spending 305 days in total injured on the sidelines and accruing 4,995 minutes of club football spread across just 57 appearances.

Cillessen ended his Valencia chapter when he returned to his boyhood side NEC Nijmegen in 2022. Suffice it to say, his time with Los Ches was mostly disappointing.

5. Ederson Moraes

Moved from SL Benfica to Manchester City FC in June 2017 for €40 million (deal reportedly worth £35 million at the time as per UK outlets)

5. Ederson Moraes

Having left unimpressed by Claudio Bravo, who in turn was brought in for a deemed-underwhelming Joe Hart, Pep Guardiola turned to a young 23-year-old Ederson from Benfica. This time, there was no underwhelming the Spanish tactician.

In a way not too dissimilar to Manuel Neuer, Ederson has further led the progression of the evolution of what being a modern-day goalkeeper entails. His reflexes and positioning are right up there with the very best of his trade, and his passing range can put many high-end midfielders to shame. Because of his skillset, many reckon he can do just as well a job as an outfield player as he does in between the sticks.

Now in his seventh year with City, Ederson has picked up 16 trophies thus far. There’s no need to wonder any further how this transfer has fared, is there?

4. André Onana

Moved from FC Internazionale Milano to Manchester United FC in July 2023 for €50.2 million (deal reportedly worth £43.8 million at the time as per UK outlets, plus £3.4 million in add-ons)

4. André Onana

André Onana rose to prominence as a promising young goalkeeper at Ajax, picking up six trophies and being a key part of the young Erik ten Hag-coached side that almost made it to the UEFA Champions League final in the 2018/19 season.

In early 2021, Onana was banned from football for nine months after he was found to have consumed a banned substance called furosemide, which the Cameroonian claimed he ingested accidentally as it was prescribed to his then-pregnant wife. He returned to football the next year, moving on from Ajax in the summer as he signed for Inter Milan on a free transfer.

In the 12 months he spent in the Italy capital, Onana managed to successfully revive his reputation as one of the most reliable modern-day goalkeepers, picking up two trophies with the Nerazzurri and playing a crucial role in their Champions League run, particularly shining in a lost cause of a final that saw Inter lose 1-0 to Man City.

Onana’s performances for Inter convinced Man United to finally move on from David de Gea and bring in the Cameroonian on a €50m deal. As much as he fits the goalkeeping requirements of the manager with whom he achieved success at Ajax, however, Onana has so far proved to be the embodiment of United’s 2023/24 season — reliable in fleeting moments but erratic way too frequently. Many promising talents have come to Old Trafford only for their promise to disappear into thin air, so it remains to be seen whether Onana manages to find enough of a solid footing for this move to be called anything but another United failure.

3. Gianluigi Buffon

Moved from Parma Calcio 1913 to Juventus FC in July 2001 for €52.88 million

A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time 3. Gianluigi Buffon

Of all the names in this list, Buffon’s is the one that probably requires the least amount of exposition. After all, the “Superman” played senior football for longer than I have been alive.

Buffon was part of a big-money move long before big-money moves became a mainstream affair. A €50m+ move was quite a punt to take back in 2001. But two decades down the line, there isn’t one euro of that sum that doesn’t feel justified and then some. Buffon has gone on to play over 1,000 senior games for club and country, representing Italy as captain more than anyone else and racking up more than 500 clean sheets in the process.

Buffon finally called time on his career at the end of the 2022/23 season after a two-year stint back at Parma. A lot more can be said here of the veteran, but doesn’t need to be. His move to Juve back in 2001 was one of the great success stories of all time, as he went on to become one of the best, most decorated goalkeepers of all time.

2. Alisson Becker

Moved from AS Roma to Liverpool FC in July 2018 for €62.5 million (deal reportedly worth £66.8 million at the time as per UK outlets)

2. Alisson Becker

Alisson was one of the two big signings Liverpool made thanks to that sweet Philippe Coutinho deal that proved to be the final pieces of the jigsaw to take Jürgen Klopp’s side to serial silverware success. Much like his compatriot Ederson, Alisson took to the Premier League like a duck to water, and the two now rival each other for not just the No.1 spot in the Brazilian national team, but also for the spot of the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.

Although he doesn’t have the aesthetically pleasing long balls of Ederson, Alisson is sufficiently good with his feet, capable of swiftly dispatching the ball to his nearest defender. He has the reflexes and positioning to be one of the world’s very best, and has gone on to fully justify the amount Liverpool paid for him five-and-a-half years ago.

1. Kepa Arrizabalaga

Moved from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea FC in August 2018 for €80 million (deal reportedly worth £71.6 million at the time as per UK outlets)

A look back on football’s most expensive goalkeepers of all time
1. Kepa Arrizabalaga

If you’re a Chelsea fan, there’s no way this one doesn’t sting.

At 23 years of age, Kepa Arrizabalaga was being touted as the next big goalkeeper out of Spain. Then at Athletic Bilbao, he was being targeted by Real Madrid as a long-term replacement for Keylor Navas. Instead, Los Blancos went for a safer option in Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, so in turn Chelsea felt left with little choice and chose to activate Kepa’s release clause to get him out of Bilbao.

And how they wished they hadn’t done that! After one season under Maurizio Sarri where Kepa showed potential through his temperament and reflexes, the second season saw things go nowhere but downwards for the Spaniard. What started as a string of minor mishaps precipitated into weekly howlers that, piece by piece, drained every ounce of belief and confidence out of Kepa and his backline. Things had gone so bad, that by the end of the 2019/20 season then-manager Frank Lampard was picking Willy Caballero, a backup goalkeeper well in the twilight of his career, in the starting XI. At the start of the 2020/21 season, Petr ?ech, Chelsea’s technical and performance adviser who retired from professional football in 2019, had to sign up as an emergency backup goalkeeper, just in case.

Thankfully, as it turned out, ?ech wouldn’t be asked to don the gloves again. Chelsea went on to sign Édouard Mendy—very much at the Czech’s behest—and that solved the goalkeeping conundrum. Kepa was firmly relegated to the bench as the designated No. 2 as Mendy went about establishing himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the league.

Kepa’s situation was helped massively when Thomas Tuchel arrived at Chelsea. Keen to help the Spaniard with his confidence, the German chose to start him in relatively easy FA Cup matches that brought Kepa clean sheets, and with them, belief. Chelsea’s increased defensive solidity also went a long way to make Kepa feel comfortable between the sticks, and by the end of the 2020/21 season he had made eight appearances for Tuchel and kept five clean sheets.

Kepa never managed to dislodge Mendy while Tuchel remained in charge at Chelsea, however. As a change in club ownership eventually saw Tuchel move on, though, Kepa found another array of opportunities given to him by new manager Graham Potter, with Mendy’s dwindling form further helping his case. Ahead of the 2023/24 season, however, Kepa was interestingly picked up on loan by Real Madrid to fill in for the out-for-a-season Courtois, therefore bringing this arc to a full circle.

Of course, this does not absolve the Blues of spending that gigantic amount on Kepa in the first place, but nothing can be done about that now. Kepa’s contract expires at the end of the ongoing season, and the only thing he can do is take the opportunities that come his way, build upon his good performances, and retain some value that would either see him reintegrate into the Chelsea setup or get picked up by another topflight side.

Anshuman Joshi

Anshuman Joshi is a senior writer at SportsKhabri with special focus towards all things football. His other interests include languages, world history and some good fiction.

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