When Gareth Bale came to Real Madrid in the summer of 2013, reports suggested that the Welshman could become the first player signed for a fee in excess of £100 million. In the end, the two sides settled upon a fee of a little over £80 million, according to Transfermarkt.
It was a historic moment, with Bale's move equalling that of Cristiano Ronaldo as the largest transfer in football history. However, the fee remained short of what would have been a landmark figure at £100 million.
It was only in 1992 that Jean-Pierre Papin became the first player to move for a fee in excess of £10 million. Just two decades later, we are talking about a figure of 10 times that magnitude. Football finances have exploded in the intervening time period.
The question is, then, when will that record be broken and which player's transfer will set a new milestone in the history of the game.
Current status of the world transfer record
The current world-record transfer fee stands at approximately €94 million, per Transfermarkt.com, with the mantle of most expensive player ever currently belonging to either Ronaldo or Bale, depending on which publication you believe. The exact figures remain unclear.
At the time, the Daily Mail's Sam Cunningham reported Bale's fee as standing at £86 million, while the Guardian's Daniel Taylor and Jamie Jackson placed the Ronaldo fee at closer to the £80 million mark.
Either way, the current world record stands somewhere in the region of £15 to 20 million short of the magical nine-figure barrier that has appeared so close.
According to the figures available, the current top 10 transfers in football stand as follows:
|Top 10 Transfers in World Football History|
|1=||Gareth Bale||24||13/14||94,00 Mill. €|
|1=||Cristiano Ronaldo||24||09/10||94,00 Mill. €|
|3||Luis Suarez||27||14/15||81,00 Mill. €|
|4||James Rodríguez||23||14/15||80,00 Mill. €|
|5||Angel di Maria||26||14/15||75,00 Mill. €|
|6||Zinedine Zidane||29||01/02||73,50 Mill. €|
|7||Zlatan Ibrahimovic||27||09/10||69,50 Mill. €|
|8||Kaka||27||09/10||65,00 Mill. €|
|9||Edinson Cavani||26||13/14||64,50 Mill. €|
|10||Radamel Falcao||27||13/14||60,00 Mill. €|
While the record may not have increased in the five years since Ronaldo arrived in the Spanish capital, such fees have become more and more commonplace in recent seasons.
Of the top 10 fees, only Zinedine Zidane's 2001 switch to Real Madrid came prior to the summer of 2009, while the vast majority of the fees involve either Real or their rivals Barcelona. With their enormous television rights revenue and ability to entice star names, both are at the forefront of football's biggest deals.
However, with massive investment flowing into the likes of PSG and (until recently) Monaco, it is not just the Spanish pair who can part with enormous money. Financial Fair Play rules may fall in their favour given their significant revenue streams, but it also brings the likes of Manchester United back to the top table as they have shown with their transfer activity this summer.
Financial Fair Play may limit fees rising to some extent, but the big teams' turnover will continue to allow transfers to increase, especially as sponsorship and broadcasting revenue continue to go up.
The leading contenders to break £100 million
When it comes to players who could command a £100 million fee right now, four names come to mind: Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Bale and Neymar.
Messi, Bale and Ronaldo have all been linked with moves touching such a figure over the past two years, while the 22-year-old Neymar is undoubtedly the most marketable and sought-after player of his age. All four remain tied to contracts in Spain, however, making a move appear unlikely.
The Daily Mail's Pete Jensen reported last year that talks took place over a move that would have seen Chelsea meet Messi's £210 million transfer clause, aided by sponsors Adidas. Similar reports have resurfaced in recent weeks from Spanish television station TV3 (h/t Daily Star).
What is undoubted, though, is that Messi would be a major transfer target for any top club if he were to signal a desire to depart Camp Nou. Thus far, there is little indication that may occur.
The same, however, could not be said of Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Rumours have surrounded the Portuguese star for some time regarding a return to Manchester United, and it cannot be said that either player or agent has sought to quell the flames.
In September, Spanish football expert Guillem Balague reported on Sky Sports that everything was "in place" for a return to Old Trafford. Given Real's undoubted reluctance to sell and the Portuguese's continued excellence, any deal could easily touch £100 million if completed.
He dreams of going back to Manchester United and Manchester United have got all the finances in place to get him.
When will that be? It depends, of course, on a lot of things. It depends on Real Madrid and on Cristiano himself.
I have a pretty good idea of when he wants to go. It won’t be this month or next month, but he wants to go back to Manchester United and everything is in place for him to return to Old Trafford.
In the cases of Bale and Neymar, it is a little more complicated. Both players are tied down to long-term deals with Real and Barcelona, respectively, having only moved just over 12 months ago.
However, given the limited number of players who could potentially command a £100 million fee, both remain real contenders to become the first to break that mark in the years ahead.
While neither would seem too likely to agitate for a move in the near future, both will almost certainly remain among the game's leading talents for the best part of the next decade. The opportunity for either player to smash the existing record remains large for as long as they remain at the pinnacle of the sport.
The next generation?
As ever in football, players' stocks will rise and fall, with the next player to break the world transfer record perhaps still en route to the top of the game.
These candidates could come from anywhere, with new youth stars emerging all over the world. After all, at the time when Ronaldo broke the world record, it was virtually inconceivable that Bale or Neymar would challenge that mark.
However, there are rising stars in the game for whom a big-money transfer in the future would seem a virtual certainty. The question is, just how big will that fee end up being?
Leading the charge to the very top of the game is powerful France midfielder Paul Pogba, already a star at Juventus at the tender age of 21.
Such enormous transfer fees are generally reserved for forwards, with consistent goalscoring seen as the most valuable commodity in football. Besides, it tends to be the forwards who are put on a pedestal and therefore represent the best value in marketing terms. Pogba may be an exception.
The Express' Anthony Chapman linked the Mino Raiola client with a £60 million transfer to Chelsea at the end of this summer, but the Blues represent simply the tip of the iceberg as far as potential Pogba suitors are concerned. PSG would doubtless love to take him back to France, former club Manchester United are constantly linked with his services, while any player of such quality will always be on Barcelona and Real Madrid's radars.
The same logic applies to Chelsea winger Eden Hazard, who is frequently linked with a move to the French capital. Hazard is not likely to leave Jose Mourinho's setup at Stamford Bridge anytime soon, but he is fast developing into one of Europe's most feared and feted wingers.
His potential, as demonstrated so vividly in success over Arsenal recently, is frightening. However, it is now a case of influencing big games on a consistent basis. Links to PSG refuse to go away, as Metro's James Phillips detailed, but it would require a massive bid to pry him away from England for the time being.
As he continues to develop and strengthen as a player, the offers will keep increasing until perhaps a record fee is agreed upon.
The third such player is perhaps England's Raheem Sterling, already based at a club challenging for honours who would be reluctant to sell, but potentially good enough to attract the attention of Europe's biggest and most wealthy sides. For Liverpool, a huge offer would be difficult to resist.
Like Hazard, there is still some work to be done before Sterling can place himself among the game's very top bracket of players, but the ability is there. The impression is that he is very much bound for the top.
The "English premium" that has seen England's top players sold at above-regular-market value for many years will come into play, as would his appeal to advertisers in the English-speaking world. Liverpool would be loath to part with his services, but the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona rarely take no for an answer.
Sterling, though, has the potential to play for sides challenging for European titles year after year and, if Liverpool are not that club, he could well get impatient.
How long will it take?
With the transfer record now within touching distance of a nine-figure sum and such enormous deals increasingly common, logic would suggest that it will not be too long before the moment occurs.
However, given that none of the top candidates would appear too likely to move in the next 12 months, it may not be too quick a process.
Were a transfer of such magnitude to occur next year, Real Madrid's Ronaldo would appear to be the only player who could command such a fee who would be open to a move.
However, while Europe's biggest sides continue to feel the need to sign global stars in their quest for the Champions League title, it is surely only a matter of time before Ronaldo and Bale's mark is bettered. Any improvement on that figure could well be the moment when the £100 million mark is hit.
Given the current environment and the quantity of high-value transfers seen in the past five years, logic would suggest that the next half-decade will continue in a similar manner. When the 10th anniversary of Ronaldo's move to the Bernabeu arrives in 2019, it would be a major surprise if it's still a world-leading figure.
Football is increasingly maturing as an area of business, and top clubs are continually finding new revenue streams to boost their coffers. As their bank balances have increased, so have player wages and transfer fees over the same time period.
The pressure to remain at the top is now intense, with income heavily dependent on participation in the final stages of the Champions League in particular. So long as that remains the case, the competition to sign football's biggest names will only continue to increase.