Picking Every Major European Team's Best Transfer Since 2010

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterAugust 13, 2020

Real Madrid's Toni Kroos celebrates with the trophy after the Champions League final soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, May 28, 2016. Real Madrid won 5-3 on penalties after the match ended 1-1 after extra time.    (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
B/R

The summer transfer window is open, in full swing, and Europe's top clubs are already making their moves.

Barcelona have bought Miralem Pjanic, Juventus have signed Arthur, Borussia Dortmund have picked up Thomas Meunier, Tottenham Hotspur have sealed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's signature...the list is already a strong one, and it'll only get longer.

We'll need a year or two to see exactly how these moves pan out, but fans will cross their fingers and toes that the deals turn out as wildly successful as some of those we've seen in previous windows.

Over the last decade, we've seen clubs strike gold in the market, either working relative miracles on a budget or nailing their headline signings. They've set some standard to live up to.

Here, B/R selects a cluster of Europe's top clubs and picks the best signing by each since 2010. The criteria used to judge naturally involve price, longevity and in some cases the sell-on fee received, but all of those factors are trumped by the sheer impact a player has made if he's played a transformative role in a club's fortunes.


Arsenal: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Striker

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Cost: £57m, 2018

Adam Davy/Associated Press

We kick off with a genuinely difficult one, as Arsenal can point to a glut of players who have had a similarly strong impact on the club over the last 10 years.

Laurent Koscielny held the defence together for a long time, Santi Cazorla is a legend, Olivier Giroud and Mikel Arteta had profound impacts in silverware-winning seasons, and Alexis Sanchez was one of the best players in the Premier League during his time in North London.

But for this pick, we're going more recent: Aubameyang, signed in 2018, has a better than one-in-two goal ratio for the club—goodness knows where they'd be without his goals—and has made good on his substantial fee.

His brace in the FA Cup final led the Gunners to a record 14th victory in the competition, having scored a brace in the semi-final to get them there in the first place. He's the shining light, the big smile, the acrobatic entertainer and, most importantly, the deadly goalscorer that headlines Arteta's side right now.

Honourable Mention: Laurent Koscielny

            

Atletico Madrid: Diego Godin, Defender

Cost: £7m, 2010

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

For the best part of a decade (2010-19), Godin was the heart and soul of an Atletico side that terrified opposing attackers—yes, even the best.

His smashmouth approach to football suited Diego Simeone's tactical intentions perfectly, and he led the meanest defensive line in Europe season after season, inspiring them to a La Liga title and two Champions League finals.

He changed the culture, the expectation and the reputation of the club. Not bad for a modest fee of €8 million from Villarreal.

Honourable Mention: Filipe Luis

         

Bayern Munich: Robert Lewandowski, Striker

Cost: Free, 2014

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Lewandowski on a free? It might just be the best deal on this entire list, let alone the best deal Bayern Munich have struck in the last 10 years.

He's scored 244 goals from 286 games and counting, the Pole spearheading what is expected to be a convincing charge toward a Champions League title from Die Roten, and picked up all sorts of domestic silverware since signing in 2014.

Honourable Mention: Joshua Kimmich

          

Barcelona: Neymar, Forward

Cost: £71.4m, per the Guardian, 2013

Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

It's easy to forget how much drama surrounded this deal as a) it's been so long since it happened, and b) there's been so much more Neymar drama since that the brain barely has space for it all.

He arrived with huge expectations and took just a year to fully adapt, exploding into the 2014-15 season and playing a pivotal role in winning the Champions League. He went from that to outshining Lionel Messi on occasion—La Remontada being the obvious example to point to—and then left in 2017 for a world-record transfer fee of €222 million.

You know he was a roaring success when, three years later, Barca are still trying to replace him appropriately.

Honourable Mention: Jordi Alba

         

Borussia Dortmund: Shinji Kagawa, Midfielder

Cost: £280,000, per the Guardian, 2012

INA FASSBENDER/Associated Press

This was perhaps the toughest one.

Since 2010, Dortmund have signed Erling Haaland, Ilkay Gundogan, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Jadon Sancho, Shinji Kagawa, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lukasz Piszczek for £20 million or less. How do you pick just one from that list?

We asked Dortmund expert and fan Lars Pollmann for some help shredding this shortlist down, and after an afternoon grappling with the subject, he opted for Kagawa.

"His was a Cinderella story, arriving from Japan for not even half a million," Pollmann argued. The two Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012—to which he was key—help his case (as does the fact he didn't leave for free like Lewandowski did, we imagine).

Honourable Mention: Robert Lewandowski

          

Chelsea: Eden Hazard, Winger

Cost: £31.5m, 2012

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

On more than one occasion, Hazard was the driving force behind Chelsea achieving their objectives—be it Premier League titles, European titles or top-four charges.

The degree to which Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri leaned on him to achieve their own objectives over the years was astonishing, but he also presented, almost always showed irresistible form and was the Blues' best player for the entirety of his seven-year stay at the club.

They even managed to move him on for a massive profit once he'd decided to seek pastures new. A near-perfect transfer.

Honourable Mention: Cesar Azpilicueta

           

Inter Milan: Samir Handanovic, Goalkeeper

Cost: £13.5m, 2012

Petr David Josek/Associated Press

The first of two goalkeepers on this list, Handanovic is proof you can often do your best work in the transfer market when addressing the position between the sticks.

The Slovenian has been a Superman figure in goal for Inter since signing in 2012. During their darker years, he was the only thing stopping them from sinking lower, and now they're on the rise, he's rightfully being recognised as one of the best shot-stoppers in the world.

Give any team the chance to lock up their goalkeeping spot for eight years for just £13.5m, and they'll snap your hand off.

Honourable Mention: Marcelo Brozovic

          

Juventus: Andrea Barzagli, Defender

Cost: £270,000, 2011

Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

Yeah, you're reading that right. Juventus picked up a player who would go on to make close to 300 appearances for the club, win eight Scudettos and play in two Champions League finals for just two hundred and seventy thousand pounds.

Perhaps there's an argument for including a more imaginative player here, like Andrea Pirlo (who was free) or Paul Pogba (who came for compensatory costs and was sold for £100 million), but given Juventus were defence-first for most of that last decade, Barzagli feels the right pick.

Barzagli was rock-solid for the Old Lady, played whichever formation or role they asked him to without fuss, and marked himself out as a truly dependable presence for eight years.

Honourable Mention: Andrea Pirlo

           

Liverpool: Virgil van Dijk, Defender

Cost: £76m, 2018

Dave Thompson/Associated Press

In terms of raw value for money, Andy Robertson for £8 million from Hull City wipes the floor with any deal Liverpool have made over the last few years.

It looks an even bigger coup when you consider the Reds sent Kevin Stewart, a backup midfielder, back to them for about half the cost—meaning they essentially traded an unwanted asset and £4 million for the left-back who would help them win the Premier League.

But as alluded to above, in choosing the "best" deal, price isn't the only factor. If a player has completely and utterly transformed a club's outlook and fortunes, he's the worthy pick.

That's Van Dijk. Before his arrival, Liverpool were a potent attacking force but leaky at the other end; he changed that, gave them a sheen of invincibility and laid the foundations for the success that has followed.

He cost a lot, but he's proved great value even for £76 million. You'd pay that in a heartbeat for the best defender in world football.

Honourable Mention: Andy Robertson 

          

Manchester City: David Silva, Midfielder

Cost: £26m, 2010

Shaun Botterill/Associated Press

Silva has just completed a full decade at Manchester City. Fans are watching every single minute he plays on the pitch like a hawk right now, because the moment the club's Champions League campaign ends, so does his career at the Etihad Stadium.

For 10 long years, he's been a pillar of consistency in midfield, creating at great volume, chipping in with fine goals and free-kicks, and making City generally irresistible in attack.

Given what he's achieved and how good he's been, there's a very strong argument that Silva ranks as the greatest-ever player in Man City history.

Honourable Mention: Sergio Aguero

          

Manchester United: David De Gea, Goalkeeper

Cost: £18.9m, per BBC, 2011

Carl Recine/Associated Press

His form may have taken a dip over the last few months, but across De Gea's nine-year spell at Manchester United, the number of highs dwarves the number of lows. For a long, long time, he was their best player, their most valuable player, and has proved something of a bargain.

He's been named Manchester United's Player's Player of the Year three times (2014, 2015, 2018) and Fans' Player of the Year four times (2014, 2015, 2016, 2018). During that spell, he could lay a legitimate claim to being the best goalkeeper in the world.

This was the easiest selection on the list; no other signing came close.

          

Paris Saint-Germain: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Striker

Cost: £19m, 2012

Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Ibrahimovic signed for PSG in 2012 and led them to four straight Ligue 1 titles, their first since 1994. He gave the nouveau-riche project an attitude, a standard, a steel—all the things you're seeing at Milan right now since Zlatan joined them.

Along the way, he scored a ridiculous 156 goals in 180 games, making his £19 million fee look a real bargain and a mistake from Milan to let him go. No wonder they were happy to have him back in January, even at age 38.

Honourable Mention: Marco Verratti

         

Real Madrid: Toni Kroos, Midfielder

Cost: £22.5m, 2014

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Between 2013 and 2014, Kroos won a European treble in a sensational Bayern Munich side and won the World Cup with Germany. Real Madrid understandably liked what they saw and pounced with just a year remaining on his contract, signing him for £22.5 million.

From there he formed a platform for their own success, lifting Champions League after Champions League in a trophy-filled spell that's still going.

His 2019-20 campaign was particularly good, raising his level yet again to help Los Blancos to a La Liga title.

Honourable Mention: Luka Modric

         

Tottenham Hotspur: Christian Eriksen, Midfielder

Cost: £11.5m, 2013

Jon Super/Associated Press

The only one of seven players bought with the Gareth Bale money to genuinely succeed at Tottenham, Eriksen's £11.5 million fee looks a real bargain considering how he performed for the club.

A consistent starter and key man in midfield for seven years, he was inevitably central to any success Spurs enjoyed during the 2010s. Goals, assists and set-piece prowess all came from a variety of positions and roles.

His level was high enough for long enough to beat a crowd of contenders, including Hugo Lloris, Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son, to the pick.

Honourable Mention: Hugo Lloris

           

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All statistics and transfer fees via Transfermarkt.co.uk, unless noted otherwise