Clubs spent huge amounts of money for generational talents but sometimes not being able to get out what they want from their premium signings. Many promising footballers have flopped and seen the downfall of their careers after transfers to top clubs. After Joao Felix’s Chelsea loan, we select the costliest mistakes ever made in transfers by top European clubs. Spending big money doesn’t always guarantee success. Here is the list of the top 5 players whose careers were ruined after moves to top clubs, where they flopped.
5. Ousmane Dembele
Transfer Fee: €140.00 million
Market Value: €60.00 million
Dembélé began his career at Rennes before joining Borussia Dortmund in 2016. He won the DFB-Pokal with Dortmund in the 2016–17 season, scoring a goal in the final. A year later, he transferred to Barcelona for an initial fee of €140 million, becoming at the time the joint-second most expensive footballer ever. He won two La Liga and Copa del Rey in an injury-riddled career in Spain.
The shock loss of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017 left Barcelona in a tight spot. Yes, they had received a world-record fee of €222 million for the Brazilian, but they never find a good replacement. Dembele has failed to justify his price tag, with the majority of his time at Camp Nou plagued by injury.
4. Antoine Griezmann
From: Atletico Madrid
Transfer Fee: €120.00 million
Market Value: €25.00 million
Griezmann began his senior club career with Real Sociedad, winning the Segunda División in his first season. In 2014, he joined Atlético Madrid for a then-club record €30 million and won the UEFA Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup, the Supercopa de España, and La Liga Best Player. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or and Best FIFA Men’s Player in 2016 and 2018. On 12 July 2019, Barcelona announced the signing of Griezmann to a five-year contract after activating his €120 million buy-out clause.
In the 2021 Copa del Rey Final, Griezmann scored the first goal in a 4–0 victory over Athletic Bilbao and won his first and only trophy with Barcelona. On 31 August 2021, Griezmann returned to Atlético Madrid on a one-year loan, with the option to extend the loan by a further year, and complete with a conditional permanent transfer clause worth €40 million to be activated by 2023. On 10 October 2022, Atlético Madrid reached an agreement with Barcelona over the transfer of Griezmann who signed a contract until 30 June 2026.
3. Joao Felix
To: Atletico Madrid
Transfer Fee: €127.20 million
Market Value: €50.00 million
Felix moved to Benfica in 2015 from rival Porto’s youth academy. He helped Benfica win the league title in his first and only season (2018–19) with them, and was awarded Primeira Liga’s Best Young Player of the Year and the Golden Boy award. In 2019, aged 19, Félix signed with Atlético Madrid for a club-record transfer worth €127 million, the highest fee for a Portuguese player leaving the domestic league. In his second season at the club, he helped Atletico Madrid win the 2020–21 La Liga, which ended the club’s 7-year league title drought.
Right from the start, this deal just didn’t look like a good fit, and so it proved, with Atletico agreeing to let Felix join Chelsea on loan for the remainder of the 2022-23 season, after just 25 goals in 96 La Liga appearances.
2. Philippe Coutinho
Transfer Fee: €160.00 million
Market Value: €18.00 million
He was signed by Italian club Inter Milan in 2008 for €4 million and loaned back to Vasco. He made his debut for Inter Milan in 2010 and was later loaned to La Liga club Espanyol in 2012. In January 2013, Coutinho joined the English club, Liverpool, for £8.5 million. In January 2018, Coutinho signed for Barcelona for a club record fee reportedly worth €160 million (making him the world’s second most expensive player at the time. However, he was loaned to German club Bayern Munich on a season-long loan ahead of the 2019-20 season, being a part of the team that won a treble including the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and UEFA Champions League.
Despite good performances, Coutinho never looked to be on his own. Injuries and playing out of position ruined his career. On 7 January 2022, Coutinho joined English club Aston Villa on a loan for the remainder of the season. On 12 May 2022, Aston Villa announced that they had signed Coutinho on a permanent deal for an undisclosed fee, reported to be £17 million, until 2026.
1. Eden Hazard
To: Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: €150.00 million
Market Value: €7.50 million
Hazard signed for English club Chelsea from Lille in June 2012. He won the UEFA Europa League in his first season and the PFA Young Player of the Year in his second season. In the 2014–15 season, Hazard helped Chelsea win the League Cup and Premier League, earning him the FWA Footballer of the Year and the PFA Player of the Year awards. Two years later he won his second English league title as Chelsea won the 2016–17 Premier League. In 2018, he won the FA Cup and was named to the FIFA FIFPro World XI. He won the Europa League again with Chelsea in June 2019.
He joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2019 in a transfer worth up to €150 million, making it one of the highest transfer fees ever. He signed a contract until 30 June 2024 for a reported fee of over £400,000 per week. Hazard went to Real Madrid to become a legend, but his body failed him. Injuries ruined his career.