With more clubs than ever now capable of shattering transfer records, there is destined to be a spate of eye-watering deals over the next 12 months
Neymar’s €222 million (£198m/$247m) move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 has been widely regarded as the point of no return for football transfers. Since then, the fees exchanged between top European sides have risen to previously unimaginable levels, with 14 other players switching clubs for a fee over €100m since.
Will the bubble burst any time soon? It doesn’t seem likely, particularly as the Saudi Pro League has now emerged as a genuine payer in the transfer market. Even the conventional wisdoms about which positions are most expensive no longer hold true. In the past, it was strikers and occasionally playmakers who fetched the big bucks. However, three of the players who’ve broken the €100m mark in recent times (Declan Rice, Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo) are primarily deep-lying midfielders.
Will this trend continue? Or will attacking players return to their place at the top of the transfer tree? Below, GOAL predicts who’s in contention to become the next €100m+ player in 2024…
Evan Ferguson (Brighton)
Ferguson is already showing signs that he could turn out to be one of the greatest Irish footballers of all time. It’s a bold claim, but at 19 years old he’s already starting – and scoring – regularly in the Premier League.
Strikers as well rounded as him tend to cost a pretty penny too, with Brighton reportedly valuing him at around €137m (£120m/$147m). He’s recently signed a new, long-term deal at the Amex Stadium and is said to be in favour of staying on the south coast to aid his development.
Carry on improving on his current trajectory, however, and he’ll surely move on to a bigger club, with Manchester City apparently earmarking him as a long-term Erling Haaland replacement. When he does leave the Seagulls, expect him to easily fetch over €100m.
Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)
After an ACL injury threatened to stunt Wirtz’s development, the German wonderkid has played the best football of his career under Xabi Alonso for free-flowing Bayer Leverkusen this season. The outrageously-creative attacking midfielder has registered a glut of goals and assists playing behind Victor Boniface and is being linked with a host of top European clubs, including Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Contracted at the BayArena until 2027, it will take a monster bid to prise him away from the Bundesliga upstarts, but he might just be worth the financial risk. Players as inventive as Wirtz do not come around often. Let’s just hope his career does not go the same way as Kai Havertz when he does depart Leverkusen…
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Thirty-one-year-olds rarely command €100m+ transfer fees, but the Saudi Pro League’s rise over the past few months has changed everything. After tempting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar to the Middle East, Salah is the next high-profile name on the SPL’s wishlist. Several massive offers were submitted in the summer, and reports suggest that this interest will be renewed in January.
Liverpool are likely resigned to losing their talisman for free in summer 2025 anyway, so they might be tempted to sell while his value is as high as it’s ever been and reinvest in the squad.
Victor Osimhen (Napoli)
In typically Neapolitan fashion, things have unravelled quickly since Osimhen and Co led Gli Azzurri to a shock Scudetto last season. After successfully batting away offers for the free-scoring Nigerian in the summer, the club managed to inflame tensions with a series of ill-advised social media posts. This was followed by two confusing club statements which seemed to suggest the the striker had changed his mind over signing a new contract.
Amid all of this off-field turmoil, Osimhen has continued to score at a impressive rate, and the 24-year-old remains one of the alluring centre-forwards on the market. Even without the new deal, Osimhen cannot leave for free until 2025, and a string of clubs are likely to test Napoli’s resolve over the next few transfer windows.
Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
The one that got away for the England national team, Musiala is one of Germany’s biggest hopes heading into a Euro 2024 tournament on home soil. He registered an extremely impressive 29 goal contributions in 47 appearances for Bayern Munich in 2022-23, only narrowly missing out on the Kopa Trophy to the imperious Jude Bellingham at the 2023 Ballon d’Or awards ceremony.
Recent reports have suggested that although Bayern would be remiss to let him leave, Real Madrid have identified Musiala as a potential alternative to long-term target Kylian Mbappe. He would fit Madrid’s recent recruitment strategy, though how he and Bellingham would function together in the same starting XI is less obvious. Regardless, if Musiala does leave Bavaria, it will be for a huge chunk of change.
Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord)
Plenty of Premier League sides have had their fingers burnt by recruiting from the Eredivisie in the past, but it can still be a breeding ground for top players. Gimenez might be the next superstar to emerge from the Netherlands, with the Mexican sensation dominating for Feyenoord recently.
Kicking off the campaign with a goal per game domestically as well as proving himself in the Champions League, the 22-year-old won’t be in Rotterdam for long if he carries on producing at his current rate.
Players of his profile would normally head to a ‘stepping stone’ club before joining the very top sides, but Gimenez just might be good enough to bypass this step and head straight to European football’s top table.
Rafael Leao (AC Milan)
For a long time, Leao’s San Siro departure seemed inevitable, which made his decision to pen a new, long-term contract rather surprising. The Portugal international has been Milan’s offensive talisman for ages, scoring a host of spectacular goals during his four-year stint in Italy. Publicly, Leao has made clear his desire to stick around, boldly claiming the he feels he can win the Ballon d’Or without departing the club.
How realistic is this ambition, though? Chelsea are long-time suitors of the explosive wideman and they would be far from the only club interested should he decide to move on. Milan would be able to command a giant fee, with his new deal not expiring until summer 2028.
Lautaro Martinez (Inter)
Martinez is a legend at Inter. Barely missing a game over the past four years and now club captain, he is on track to record his best-ever seasonal goal tally this campaign.
Last summer was an unusually quiet one for Martinez, with few clubs showing serious interest, but his recent form will likely lead to some of his previous suitors coming back in for him. These include Real Madrid, Barcelona and most of the Premier League’s big boys.
The most recent date on his future came from agent Alejandro Camoano, who said: “Lautaro doesn’t want to hear anything other than Inter. Saudi Arabia is a market full of temptations, and he has had many proposals, but not only from there. When I tell him about these possibilities he tells me: ‘Inter, Ale. Inter’.”
Things can change quickly in football, though it’s difficult to see Martinez bailing on Inter’s fierce title race in January. If he does, it will likely take a monumental bid and contract offer.
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United)
Normally, the Manchester United captain would be considered unsellable. But no player is off the table once the Saudi Pro League gets interested. Recent reports have suggested that Fernandes might be the next European superstar to be tempted over to the Middle East.
United will not have to make a decision on the Portuguese’s future until the summer at least, with SPL clubs not expected to test the Premier League giants’ resolve in January. It’s been said that any initial offer would be worth €99m (£87m/$121m), though if the Red Devils do sell, that number will surely have to creep over the €100m mark.
Yes, Fernandes has been criticised at times, but he’s still one of United’s most pivotal performers.
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal)
“I’m just really happy. There’s been a lot of talking and it’s been a while, but I’m here now. I think this is the right club, the right place to make the next step. It’s a beautiful club,” Saka said after signing a new Arsenal contract recently.
It was exactly what Gunners fans wanted to hear. Few players have done more to turn the club’s fortunes around since he burst onto the scene with three goal involvements in a Europa League clash against Eintracht Frankfurt back in 2019.
Saka has gone from strength to strength under Mikel Arteta in recent seasons, rarely missing a game and establishing himself as an England regular. In short, he is one of the best wide forwards in the world, so it would not be surprising if one of the state-owned clubs sounded him out over a blockbuster transfer over the next few years.
Arsenal would be remiss to let him go, but if they can’t prove to Saka that they can satisfy his desire for regular silverware, his eyes could start wandering.
Ivan Toney (Brentford)
Prior to his suspension in May, Toney was in the form of his life, netting 20 times in just 33 Premier League appearances for Brentford. It’s a quite remarkable record, especially considering the relative financial might of the Bees compared with the top half of the division and the fact that the 27-year-old was playing in the third tier as recently as 2020.
Things could get even better for the one-cap England international when he’s permitted to return to action in January, too. Toney has been strongly linked with both Chelsea and Arsenal as the London clubs desperately try to increase their threat in the final third.
Bees boss Thomas Frank has always openly admitted that the club won’t stand in his way should a suitable offer be submitted, and the most recent reporting suggests that around €114m (£100m/$124m) might be the magic number in terms of convincing Brentford to let their prized asset walk away.
Kylian Mbappe – again! (PSG)
No player has ever moved for €100m+ twice in their career, but if anyone is going to do it, it’s Mbappe. One could already write a novella summing up the various off-field twists and turns the forward has experienced during his career so far – and there are few signs that things will calm down any time soon.
After announcing that he would not be signing a new PSG contract in the summer – an action that saw him exiled by manager Luis Enrique – reports have since suggested that Mbappe could in fact be convinced to pen fresh terms in the French capital, perhaps even for as long as 10 years!
Even if that does happen, it’s unlikely that speculation surrounding his long-term future with subside. Real Madrid remain interested – though they apparently want Mbappe to ‘make the first move’ – and Thomas Tuchel has seemingly added Bayern Munich to his list of suitors too. Liverpool might enter the race as well, should Salah complete his long-awaited Saudi Pro League switch.
Regardless of who’s lucky enough to sign the generational talent, it’s hard to imagine a world where he doesn’t move for €100m or more at some point before hanging up his boots.