Money has been an integral part of modern day football. In recent years, it has had a prime role in shaping a club’s performances at both domestic and international levels. Football clubs are not only just ‘clubs’ these days; they are multi-million-dollar businesses. With the money they have, football clubs, especially European, attempt to buy any players of their choice during the transfer sessions. Besides contracts, money has been luring many managers and high-profile players, of all ages and playing in any position, to rich clubs over the years.
When you look at the most expensive transfer fees in football history, the list is dominated mainly by players aged between 23 and 27. The top ten players with the highest transfer tags have an average age of nearly 26 years. Looking further down the list, you will find the top 45 reveal the same pattern, and the youngest transfer in the top 50 comes in at number 46. This number 46 is the most expensive U-20 player in our list and in football history. The transfer market does not give much importance to U-20 footballers who have not yet reached the prime of their career as much as they give to those around 25 years old who are in the peak of their performance.
Our list details the ten teenagers with the highest transfer fee tags. All the transfer fees are obtained from reliable sources and converted into Euros as well as the US dollars. The list features one African, four European and five South American youngsters. At the age they were transferred from one club to another, they were already some of the world’s best footballers, highly rated and amongst the most expensive at their positions. So, here are the ten most expensive U-20 transfers of all time.
10. Sergio Agüero (18) – Independiente to Atlético Madrid – €21.7M ($30.1M)
Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero started playing in the youth academy of Independiente at the age of nine. In July 2003, he made his senior debut for the club and became the youngest player to debut in the Argentine Primera División at 15 years and 35 days, breaking the record previously held by Diego Maradona in 1976. Agüero spent four seasons at Independiente from 2002-03 to 2005-06, scoring 23 goals in 53 appearances. In May 2006, he joined La Liga club Atlético Madrid at the age of 18 for a fee reported to be €21.7 million – a then club transfer record. The 25-year-old currently plays in the Premier League for Manchester City.
9. Alexandre Pato (17) – Internacional to AC Milan – €22M ($30.51M)
Alexandre Pato was only 16 years old when Internacional signed him in the summer of 2006 to play in Brazil’s U-20 national football competition. Finishing as the top scorer and helping Internacional win the final of the tournament saw Pato soon make his senior debut for the club. He was amongst the Internacional players who won the FIFA World Club Cup in 2006. Pato spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons at the club, scoring 12 goals in 27 competitive matches, and was regarded as one of the most talented young strikers in the domestic league. In August 2007, AC Milan reached an agreement with Internacional for the signing of the then 17-year-old on a transfer fee of nearly €22 million.
8. Romelu Lukaku (18) – Anderlecht to Chelsea – €22M ($30.51M)
Romelu Lukaku made his professional debut for Belgian First Division club Anderlecht while still at school at the age of 16. He spent four seasons (from 2008-09 to 2011-12) at the club, scoring 41 goals in 98 competitive appearances. In the 2009-10 season, he was the top scorer in the league as Anderlecht won the Belgian Pro League. Lukaku won the Belgian Ebony Shoe in 2011, and in the summer that year he signed with Premier League club Chelsea for an undisclosed fee which is estimated to be a little over €22 million. He was just 18 years old back then, and his five-year contract with the London club now sees him play for Everton on loan.
7. John Obi Mikel (19) – Lyn to Chelsea – €23.6M ($32.73M)
John Obi Mikel’s transfer to England was a controversial one. In April 2005, a few days after he turned 18, Manchester United announced that they had struck a deal with the Norwegian club Lyn for £4 million (initial worth) on a four-year contract. However, rivals Chelsea later issued a counter-claim suggesting they had an agreement of their own with the club and the player. Mikel had already expressed his delight at joining United in a hastily arranged press conference, where he was pictured holding up a Manchester United shirt, which bore the squad number 21. But, later on Mikel traveled to London with his agent; Chelsea paid an estimated €23.6 million for the services of the then 19-year-old Nigerian footballer. Mikel had spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons at Lyn, scoring 1 goal in 6 appearances.
6. Sergio Ramos (19) – Sevilla to Real Madrid – €27M ($37.45M)
Born in Camas, Sevilla, Sergio Ramos began his career at local side Sevilla FC, emerging from the club’s youth system. He made his La Liga debut in February, 2004 against Deportivo de La Coruña. He spent three seasons at the club, scoring 3 goals in 49 appearances. Ramos was named the “La Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year” in 2005. In 2004-05, he appeared in 41 games as Sevilla finished sixth and qualified to the UEFA Cup. In the summer of 2005, 19-year-old Ramos was purchased by Real Madrid for €27 million, a transfer fee record for a Spanish teenager. Also, he was the only Spanish player brought in during Florentino Pérez‘s first stint as Real’s president.
5. Antonio Cassano (19) – Bari to Roma – €28.5M ($39.53M)
Antonio Cassano is an Italian attacking midfielder well-renowned for his dribbling, trapping skills and short-pass accuracy. Born and bred in Bari, he began playing football at an early age, and was soon scouted by A.S. Bari through the youth system. He made his Serie A debut for the club in 1999, and spent two seasons at the club, scoring 6 goals and contributing 2 assists in 50 appearances. At the age of 19, Cassano signed with the reigning Serie A champions A.S. Roma, for a transfer fee of 60 billion Italian lire (€28.5 million). His first season at the club saw him make 30 competitive appearances, scoring 6 goals. He was named the “Serie A Young Footballer of the Year” in 2001 and 2003. Cassano is currently 31 years old and plays for Internazionale.
4. Marquinhos (19) – Roma to Paris Saint-Germain – €31.4M ($43.55M)
Marquinhos (Marcos Aoás Corrêa) started playing for the Corinthians ranks in Brazil at the age of eight in 2002. He was considered one of the most promising youngsters during his tenure there. He was called up by the Brazil U-17 squad in 2010, and made his senior debut for the club in 2012. In July of that year, Marquinhos was signed by Serie A side Roma. He made 30 appearances in competitive matches for Roma in the 2012-13 season. On July 19, 2013, the 19-year-old was signed by Paris Saint-Germain on a five-year deal for a fee of €31.4 million. Upon joining the club, Marquinhos was quoted saying, “I am delighted to be joining Paris Saint-Germain, a club where so many Brazilians have played and helped write the club’s history.”
3. Anderson (19) – Porto to Manchester United – €31.5M ($43.69M)
Anderson began his footballing career with Grêmio, joining the youth team before rising through the ranks in 2004. He scored 9 goals in 31 appearances during his two-year tenure at the club. He joined Portuguese side FC Porto before the start of 2005-06 season. There, he spent two season, winning the Primeira Liga twice (2005-06 and 2006-07), and making 25 competitive appearances. On May 30, 2007, Manchester United announced the signing of the then 19-year-old Brazilian from Porto for an undisclosed fee on a five-year contract. Later, Porto announced that the transfer fee was negotiated at €31.5 million. Anderson currently plays for Italian club Fiorentina on loan from United.
2. Javier Saviola (19) – River Plate to Barcelona – €35.9M ($49.79M)
Born in Buenos Aires, Javier Saviola made his debut for River Plate at the age of 16 during the 1998-99 season. He went on to become a prolific goalscorer for the club, scoring 45 goals in 86 matches. Still only 18, he gained a reputation as one of the most promising young footballers by winning the “South American Footballer of the Year” award in 1999. In 2001, aged 19, Saviola was signed by FC Barcelona for a transfer fee of €35.9 million. His first season at the club saw him score 17 goals in 36 La Liga appearances, finishing tied for fourth top scorer in the league. The now 32-year-old currently plays for Olympiacos F.C. in the Superleague Greece. Saviola was the youngest player on Pelé’s FIFA 100 list of the 125 greatest living footballers.
1. Wayne Rooney (18) – Everton to Manchester United – €37M ($51.32M)
Wayne Rooney joined the youth system of Everton at the age of nine, and made his professional debut in 2002 at the age of 16. He spent the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons at the club, scoring 17 goals in 77 matches. He was named the “BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year” in 2002, and won the “Bravo Award” in 2003. Rooney was already one of the most expensive youngsters in the transfer market back then. In the summer of 2004, Manchester United signed the prolific English striker for a fee of €37 million. It was and is still the highest fee ever paid for a player under 20 years old; Rooney was still only 18 when he left Everton.