When one talks about player transfers and salaries these days, the French Ligue 1 is no longer in the shadow of other top leagues in the world. With the latest introduction of hyper-rich AS Monaco to big-spending Paris Saint-Germain, the French top football league is potentially leaving other domestic clubs, and even some European clubs to squabble over crumbs. In the 2013/14 season, Ligue 1’s total expenditure was about £380 million (about $632 million), while the total revenue was just £214 million (about $356 million).
A high tide, as they say, lifts all ships. Last season, backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, Paris Saint-Germain spent nearly €150 million on squad upgrades. In the 2013/14 season, PSG have spent €135.9 million and Monaco have spent an astounding €178 million to bring in new players. These clubs have altered the landscape of French football with their expensive signings, but they have yet to master it. Their financial advantage is obvious, but their performances in the domestic league and Europe will be more of a concern to their respective fans and football analysts.
Ligue 1 is one of the top national leagues, currently ranked 6th in Europe according to UEFA’s league coefficient rankings, behind the Spanish La Liga, the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga, the Italian Serie A and the Portuguese Primeira Liga. As French clubs like PSG and Monaco among others continue to grow as a global brand, they stand to gain a lot from the league’s aggressive spending habits. While the trend continues, prize money will be higher, rights contracts will be more lucrative, Ligue 1 clubs will continue to break transfer fee records by signing the most expensive footballers, players will be paid with higher salaries and overall, attention will be riveted on Ligue 1 like never before.
Our list below charts the highest expenditures in French Ligue 1 during the transfer periods. Although the aforementioned facts mostly talked about Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco, there are other clubs as well in the French football world which have linked themselves to high-profile transfers; transfer-exits, more appropriately. The most expensive signings in Ligue 1 have been dominated mainly by PSG and Monaco during the last few seasons. So, read on to find out the 10 most expensive transfers in Ligue 1 history.
10. Karim Benzema (Lyon to Real Madrid) – €35 million ($48.01 million)
Karim Benzema is a French international striker, and is well known for his vast goal-scoring rate, technical ability and powerful style of play. He was born in Lyon, joined the club in 1996 and began his senior career with the club in 2004. Benzema’s five-season stint at the club saw him score 66 goals and contribute 18 assists in 148 competitive matches. He was the “Ligue 1 Top Goalscorer” for the 2007/08 season, scoring 20 goals in 36 appearances. On July 1, 2009, Lyon and Real Madrid reached an agreement for the 26-year-old’s transfer. The tranfer fee, although many sources often indicate it to be as high as €41 million, was priced at €35 million, making Benzema one of the most expensive French footballers of all time. Benzema’s individual honors since joining Real Madrid include winning the prestigious French Player of the Year Award twice in 2011 and 2012. His current market value is estimated to be €34 million.
9. Didier Drogba (Marseille to Chelsea) – €37 million ($50.75 million)
Didier Drogba is the captain and all-time leading goalscorer of Côte d’Ivoire. He is best known for his physical strength, ability in the air, high goal-scoring rate, and his ability to retain possession of the ball. Drogba spent the 2003/04 season at Marseille, scoring 32 goals in 55 competitive matches, and winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Year Award. He was signed by Chelsea in the summer of 2004 for a then club record transfer fee of €37 million. His debut season at The Blues saw him score 16 goals in 40 appearances, and help the club win their first Premier League title in 50 years the next season. He won the Premier League Golden Boot Award in 2006/07 (20 goals in 36 apps) and 2009/10 (29 goals in 32 apps). The 35-year-old was named the African Footballer of the Year in 2006 and 2009. Drogba’s current market value is around €3 million, and he currently plays for the Turkish side Galatasaray.
8. Michael Essien (Lyon to Chelsea) – €38 million ($52.12 million)
Michael Essien was one of the best midfielders around the world from 2004 to 2008. He is renowned for being a box-to-box midfielder who can also play as a central defender and as a full-back. He moved to France in 2000 and played for Lyon in the 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons, making 94 appearances. Essien helped Lyon win back-to-back Ligue 1 titles those seasons, and was included in Ligue 1 Team of the Year in 2003 and 2005. In August 2005, the 31-year-old was signed by Chelsea for €38 million, making him the then most expensive African footballer of all time. At Chelsea, Essien helped the club win the Premier League title in 2006 and 2010, as well as one UEFA Champions League, three FA Cups and one Football League Cup. He was named Chelsea Player of the Year in 2007 and Ghana Player of the Year in 2008. Essien currently plays for AC Milan, and his current market value is estimated to be €7.5 million.
7. Lucas Moura (Sao Paulo to Paris Saint-Germain) – €40 million ($54.86 million)
Lucas Moura currently plays as an attacking midfielder or winger for the Brazil national football team and Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain. He played for Sao Paulo from 2010 to 2012 seasons, scoring 33 goals in 128 appearances. He was considered the best midfielder in South America in 2011. During the summer of 2012, both Inter Milan and Manchester United were reported to have been interested in signing the 21-year-old Brazilian. However, Paris Saint-Germain would later win the battle and sign Lucas in August 2012 for a transfer fee of €40 million. He was the then club record signing by PSG. Lucas has made 30 appearances for Brazil, and scored 4 goals. His current market value is €33 million.
6. Eden Hazard (Lille to Chelsea) – €40 million ($54.86 million)
Eden Hazard is one of the best players in this season’s Premier League. His creativity, speed, technical ability and dribbling skills have led football pundits and analysts to describe him as ‘a defender’s nightmare’, and draw comparisons to FIFA Ballon d’Or winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Hazard began his senior career at Lille in 2007, and his five-season spell at the Ligue 1 side saw him score 50 goals in 192 appearances. He helped Lille win the Ligue 1 in 2010/11 and was named the UNFP Ligue 1 Player of the Year for 2010/11 and 2011/12. In June 2012, Chelsea had their bid agreed for the 23-year-old Belgian on a transfer fee of €40 million, making him the most-expensive transfer exit in Ligue 1 history. At Chelsea, Hazard won the 2012/13 UEFA Europa League. His current market value of €45 million places him above Lucas Moura in our chart, although both players have the same transfer fee tags.
5. Javier Pastore (Palermo to Paris Saint-Germain) – €42 million ($57.61 million)
Javier Pastore currently plays for Argentina’s national football team and Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain. He began his footballing career with Talleres and Huracan in Argentina before moving to Palermo in the Seria A in 2009 for a fee of €4.7 million. Pastore made 79 appearances for Palermo during the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons, scoring 17 goals and contributing 12 assists. He was named the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year in 2010. The 24-year-old joined Paris Saint-Germain for a reported €42 million in August 2011. At PSG, Pastore scored 16 goals in 43 appearances in his debut season, and helped the club win the Ligue 1 title in 2012/13. His current market value is €20.5 million.
4. Thiago Silva (AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain) – €42 million ($57.61 million)
Thiago Silva is currently the captain of the Brazilian national team and Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain. Before joining PSG, he played for AC Milan in the Serie A from 2009/10 to 2011/12, making 119 appearances and scoring 6 goals overall, and helping Milan win the 2010/11 Serie A title. He was named the Serie A Defender of the Year in 2011, and Silva is currently regarded as one of the best defenders in the world. During the summer of 2012, he was strongly linked to big spenders Paris Saint-Germain, and he joined the club for an estimated fee of €42 million. Thiago Silva’s debut season at PSG saw him help the club win the 2012/13 Ligue 1 title. He was included in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013. His current market value of €40 million places him above Javier Pastore in our chart, although both players have the same transfer fee tags.
3. James Rodriguez (Porto to Monaco) – €45 million ($61.72 million)
Football analysts have described James Rodriguez as one of the best young players in the world, and perhaps the greatest play-maker from his generation. The 22-year-old Colombian played for FC Porto during the 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons, and helped the Portuguese side win all Primeira Liga titles those seasons as well as the UEFA Europa league in 2012/13. The 2012 Portuguese Golden Ball winner made 105 appearances for the club, scoring 32 goals and contributing 21 assists. In May 2013, Porto and Ligue 1 club AS Monaco reached an agreement for the transfer of Rodriguez for a fee of €45 million, making it the second most expensive transfer in Portuguese football. He signed a five-year deal with the club, and his current market value is €35 million.
2. Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid to Monaco) – €60 million ($82.30 million)
Falcao has been cited as one of the top strikers in the world for the past three or four years. He has played for three teams in Europe: FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and AS Monaco. He moved from River Plate to Porto in July 2009, and spent three seasons at the club, scoring 72 goals in 87 appearances. He helped the Portuguese side win the Primeira Liga and the UEFA Europa League in the 2010/11 season. In the summer of 2011, Falcao decided to join La Liga side Atletico Madrid. He made 91 appearances for the club and scored 70 goals in competitive matches, helping the club win the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League. On December 9, 2012, Falcao scored five goals in one game in a 6–0 home victory against Deportivo de La Coruña. It was announced in May 2013 that AS Monaco had signed the 28-year-old Colombian on a five-year contract for a transfer fee of €60 million, making him the most expensive footballer in the club’s history, and one of the most expensive players in world football. In 2012, Falcao was placed 6th in The Guardian’s list of The 100 Best Footballers in the World.
1. Edison Cavani (Napoli to Paris Saint-Germain) – €64.5 million ($88.47 million)
Edison Cavani is the most expensive player in French Ligue 1 history, and his transfer fee is the 6th most expensive in all of world football. In July 2013, he joined Paris Saint-Germain from Serie A side Napoli on a five-year contract, on an estimated fee of €64.5 million. Cavani had previously played in Italy for almost 8 years, spending four seasons at Palermo and three at Napoli. He scored 37 goals in 117 appearances for Palermo and 104 goals in 138 appearances for Napoli. The 27-year-old was the Serie A Top Goalscorer in 2012/13, and was included in the Serie A Team of the Year for three successive seasons: 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13. For the last few years, he has been well-known in the world as a very prolific goalscorer with impressive goal scoring ability and work ethic. Cavanis’ current market value is around €60 million. He was listed 10th in The Guardian’s list of The 100 Best Footballers in the World in 2012.
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