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

9 mins read

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

 

10. David de Gea

Moved from Atlético de Madrid to Manchester United in June 2011 for €22m (then £18m).

David de Gea arrived at United with the big challenge of replacing club legend Edwin van der Sar aged just 20.

And replace him he did. Eventually. After a shaky start, de Gea would go on to establish himself as not only one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but also one of the best players at Manchester United in what has been the most turbulent period at the club in nearly three decades.

However, the recent seasons have seen de Gea’s star wane. The Spaniard had become prone to frequent high-profile errors, which finally culminated in him being toppled off United’s No. 1 spot by Dean Henderson, albeit only after he had to leave for Spain to witness the birth of his child.

Still only 30, de Gea has a lot of years left in him. While the last season saw him lacking confidence in big moments, it also saw some of the performances that gave de Gea his reputation of a great shot-stopper. For Manchester United, he has 155 clean sheets in 441 appearances, and amongst the goalies currently playing in the Premier League, de Gea has the second-most number of clean sheets (122), behind only Spurs’ Joe Hart (127).

 

9. Manuel Neuer

Moved from Schalke 04 to Bayern Munich in June 2011 for €24m (then £19m).

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 Germany’s national team, Manuel 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 35, many have speculated if it’s time for Neuer to step aside and let Marc-André ter Stegen (29) 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.

 

8. Bernd Leno

Moved from Bayer Leverkusen to Arsenal in June 2018 for €22m (then £19m).

Bernd Leno has had a tricky time in England thus far. His time in the Premier League has coincided with Arsenal’s most underwhelming period in nearly two decades, that has seen them slip from being a Champions League regular to a Europa League struggler and now out of Europe altogether. The German international himself has had some embarrassing moments between the sticks, with many speculating if the Gunners stuck with the wrong guy when they let Emiliano Martínez leave for Aston Villa.

Still only 29, Leno has enough years ahead of him to improve on his current standing. He’s also reportedly planning life away from the North London club amidst interest from Germany.

 

7. Emiliano Martínez

Moved from Arsenal to Aston Villa in September 2020 for €23.3m (then £20m).

Martínez came through the ranks of Arsenal’s youth setup, but for the most time never really managed to make a run for the No. 1 spot. Six different loan spells, most of them in the lower tiers of English football, left the Argentine constantly on the fringes.

That was the case until the 2019-20 season, when an injury suffered by Bernd Leno early in Project Restart led Mikel Arteta to trust Martínez between the sticks. The Argentine went on to capitalise on this opportunity by shining not only through his performances, but also his comportment. His attitude towards the club endeared him to the fanbase, as he left Wembley Stadium crying jubilantly after winning the FA Cup and finally able to make a mark for himself at the club he had been at for eight years.

The next season, however, Arteta had to make a tough call – choosing between Martínez and Leno; he went with the latter. Martínez was sold to Aston Villa, where he continued to build upon his newfound reputation, securing 15 clean sheets in 38 Premier League appearances, ending third in the Golden Glove race behind Ederson (19) and Édouard Mendy (16), leaving many to ponder whether Arteta chose the right goalkeeper to stick with in the end.

Still only 28, Martínez has the perfect platform to build upon as he moves into the prime years of his playing career.

 

6. Édouard Mendy

Moved from Stade Rennais to Chelsea in September 2020 for £22m.

Édouard Mendy’s fairy-tale rise from unemployment to Champions League glory is an inspiration for anyone whose career is going down the quagmire and needs a sliver of hope.

Mendy was released by AS Cherbourg, then a French third-tier side, in 2014. After spending almost 12 months without a club and with a young family to feed, he almost gave up on football entirely, before some timely help got him a backup gig at Olympique Marseille. From there, he was able to attract enough attention to get a move to the then Ligue 2 side Stade de Reims, with whom he came up to Ligue 1 in 2018. He moved to Rennais in the summer of 2019, but only remained there for one season before Chelsea came calling.

By 2020, Chelsea’s situation with Kepa Arrizabalaga had continued to worsen two years since his record-breaking arrival. The Spaniard’s increasingly frequent howlers meant Chelsea could no longer remain patient with him and needed to get a goalkeeper in. From a list of many high-profile names, what tipped the scales in Mendy’s favour was Petr Čech, a Chelsea goalkeeping legend and their current technical and performance adviser. The Czech had maintained a long-time connection with Rennes – having played there between 2002 and 2004 before moving on to Chelsea – and it was his vouching that played a key role in Chelsea landing Mendy.

As it turned out, in the Senegalese, the Blues got much more than what they had anticipated. Mendy’s cool, calm and composed attitude behind the defence line and a no-nonsense approach to the game quickly made him the safest bet to go in goal ahead of Kepa. What could otherwise have proved too big a jump from the modest mid-table Ligue 1 days ended up being a smooth transition, as Mendy finished his debut Premier League season with 16 clean sheets – second on the Golden Glove chart. Moreover, his season culminated in the highest of highs when he secured the Champions League trophy with Chelsea, finally penning the end to his coming-of-age story that began with him almost quitting the game altogether some six years ago.

Now 29, Mendy is a Champions League winner with the world at his feet. With his prime years yet ahead of him, he has well and truly arrived at the global stage.

 

5. Jordan Pickford

Moved from Sunderland to Everton in June 2017 for £25m.

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, Jordan has gone on to become England’s No. 1 goalkeeper in the senior international setup.

However, criticism for Pickford prevails soundly four years after his big-money move. While a decent shot-stopper, his temperamental tendencies does render him prone to frequent and high-profile mistakes. There are many voices calling for him to be replaced at the top of the international pecking order by the likes of Dean Henderson or Nick Pope, but regardless, still only 27, Pickford has ample potential and time to raise his game to the next level.

 

4. Gianluigi Buffon

Moved from Parma to Juventus in July 2001 for €51.65m (then £33m).

Of all the names in this list, Buffon’s is the one that probably requires the least amount of exposition. After all, the ‘Superman’ has been playing 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 1000 senior games for club and country, representing Italy as captain more than anyone else and racking up 493 clean sheets in the process.

Now, still only 43 years young, Buffon has left Juventus for a second and, probably, the last time to join his boyhood club Parma in Serie B. There’s no speculation whether this will be his last stint as a player, for trying to guess when Buffon will retire is as futile as counting the stars in the sky.

 

3. Ederson Moraes

Moved from SL Benfica to Manchester City in June 2017 for €40m (then £35m).

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, but his passing range can put many high-end midfielders to shame. Because of his skillset, may reckon he can do just as well a job as an outfield player as he does in goal, especially with penalties, which many Manchester City players do struggle to put away.

 

2. Alisson Becker

Moved from AS Roma to Liverpool in July 2018 for €75m (then £66.8m).

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, fully justifying the amount Liverpool paid for him three summers ago.

 

1. Kepa Arrizabalaga

Moved from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea in August 2018 for €80m (then £71.6m).

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

Three seasons ago, 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 Čech, 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, Čech wasn’t 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 sent to the bench as No. 2 as Mendy went about establishing himself as one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the league.

To be fair to Kepa, his 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 season he had made 8 appearances for Tuchel and kept 5 clean sheets.

Of course, this does not absolve the Blues of spending that gigantic amount on him in the first place, but nothing can be done about that now. Kepa still has four years left on his contract, and the only thing he can do now 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 top-flight side.

 

Numbers Source
Transfer fees – Wikipedia
Playing stats – Transfermarkt

 

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