All La Liga transfer gossip these days seems like it swirls around the usual suspects: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid. When it comes to the all-time La Liga transfer records, these rich clubs are not just the usual suspects -- they are the only suspects.

La Liga doesn’t have the same television-rights-sharing agreement as the Premier League. In Spain, the big fish get a bigger piece of the TV pie. As a result, smaller La Liga teams struggle to compete financially with the heavyweights.

This article, which looks at “the 10 most expensive La Liga transfers of all time” could easily be renamed “the 10 most expensive Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid transfers of all time.”

Who is the biggest transfer in La Liga history?

The biggest Spanish La Liga transfer deal of all time saw Brazilian attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho move from Liverpool to Barcelona during the 2018 winter transfer window. Coutinho wasn’t the highest-paid La Liga player at the time of the move -- that title belonged to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi -- but he certainly took a chunk out of Barcelona’s finances.

Ranking the Top 10 Most Expensive La Liga Transfers of All Time

  1. Frenkie de Jong

Movement: From Ajax to Barcelona
Transfer Fee: $96.3 million (€86 million)
Year: 2019
Position: Midfielder
Nationality: Netherlands

Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong was an Ajax wunderkind turned star who helped guide his team to the Europa League final as a 20-year-old in 2017. Two years later, he played on one of the most talented young teams in recent memory -- helping guide Ajax to an improbable UCL Semifinal run while also winning Eredivisie Player of the Season and UCL Midfielder of the Year.

Very much in the complete-player mold, De Jong was targeted by Barcelona and has played a variety of roles for the reigning La Liga champions since joining for an initial $84 million fee (that has since risen to $96 million). De Jong is at his best as a deep lying metronome with freedom to carry the ball forward. According to FBref, he ranks in the 97th percentile for progressive passes completed (9.27 per 90 minutes) and the 97th percentile for progressive carries (3.47 per 90) -- a rare combination.  

  1. Neymar Jr.

Movement: From Santos to Barcelona
Transfer Fee:  $112.6 million (€88 million)
Year: 2013
Positions: Forward, Winger
Nationality: Brazil

This listing is not a reference to any of Neymar’s more recent transfers, including his surprise move away from PSG to join the Saudi Al-Hilal club. This one is about his first stop in Europe, when he left his boyhood club Santos to join Spanish powerhouse Barcelona.

Barcelona was later charged with tax fraud for misreporting the fee paid to Santos. The club originally claimed the transfer was only $73 million (€57.1 million), which was close to $40 million short of the actual figure.

Ultimately, this didn’t matter much to Barcelona. Neymar went from talented youngster to immediate superstar at Camp Nou. Barcelona won the treble in 2015 and eventually sold the mercurial Brazilian superstar to PSG for a $250 million (€222 million) fee, which was a stunning profit.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Movement: From Manchester United to Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: $117.5 million (€94 million)
Year: 2009
Positions: Forward, Winger
Nationality: Portugal 

Ever heard of this guy? By 2008, when he was just 23 years old, Cristiano Ronaldo had practically done everything there was to do in soccer. He had just led United to a UCL victory (and scored in the final), was already a two-time Premier League einner, and had just won his first Ballon d’Or. He had also told United manager Sir Alex Ferguson that he wanted to join Real Madrid.

Fergie convinced the Portuguese forward to give United one more year. He did, helping the team three-peat as Premier League champions. Ronaldo then joined Real Madrid for a then global transfer record of $117.5 million (€94 million). His contract included a staggering $1.25 billion (€1 billion) release clause.

Ronaldo did pretty well at Madrid -- click here for one of the most decorated soccer resumes of all time.

  1. Gareth Bale

Movement: From Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: $129 million (€101 million)
Year: 2013
Position: Winger
Nationality: Wales

Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer record stood for four years … until Real Madrid broke it by signing a Welsh winger from Tottenham Hotspur. Gareth Bale had been a one-man show at Tottenham, winning Premier League Player of the Season and running what seemed like an isolation offense on the attack. 

The Welshman simultaneously dazzled and disappointed during his time in Madrid. He scored a stunning match-winning goal in his first year to beat Barcelona in the Copa del Ray final and scored perhaps the greatest goal in the history of the Champions League in the 2018 final vs. Liverpool.

Bale also once held up a flag that read “Wales, Golf, Madrid, in that order.” His four UCL titles speak for themselves.

  1. Jude Bellingham

Movement: From Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: $112.2 million (€103 million) (up to $146 million with bonuses)
Position: Central Midfield
Nationality: England 

The only 2023 entry on this list is English midfielder Jude Bellingham, who signed with Real Madrid on June 14, 2023, for a fee of €103 million, with the chance to rise to an eye-popping $146 million (€133.9 million) if performance bonuses are met. He debuted against Bilbao and not only dominated the game but scored and did his trademark two-arm-raise celebration.

Bellingham is part of Real Madrid’s midfield youth movement. Playing alongside Fede Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga, and Aurelien Tchouameni, Bellingham will enable Madrid to more easily move away from aging veterans like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

Bellingham is the most expensive La Liga transfer so far for the 2023-24 La Liga season. Given the league’s budgetary restrictions, it will likely stay this way.

Related: Here are the 10 biggest transfers in 2023-24 La Liga season so far

  1. Eden Hazard

Movement: From Chelsea to Real Madrid
Transfer Fee: $132 million (€115 million)
Year: 2019
Position: Winger
Nationality: Belgium

Every name on this list so far has been a successful acquisition and good value for the money (it’s actually too early to tell with Jude Bellingham, but signs are pointing in the right direction). Somewhat ironically, every name on the remainder of this list leaves a lot to be desired.

Eden Hazard’s move from Chelsea to Real Madrid might be the worst transfer of all time. Hazard had a staggering 31 league-goal contributions during the 2018-19 season with Chelsea while also guiding the team to Europa League glory. In four full seasons at Madrid, however, the Belgian has 11 total goal contributions.

There were rumors that Hazard originally showed up out of shape -- reports say up to 15 pounds (7 kg) overweight -- but nothing excuses his limited level of output.

  1. Antoine Griezmann

Movement: From Atletico Madrid to Barcelona
Transfer Fee: $138 million (€120 million)
Year: 2019
Positions: Forward, Striker
Nationality: France

Barcelona activated French striker Antoine Griezmann’s massive $138 million buyout clause in the summer of 2019. The diminutive forward had rejected the club in the summer of 2018 with a bizarre “decision” video along the lines of LeBron James’ “announcement” that he was going to the Miami Heat in 2010. The Blaugrana, still flush will cash from the Neymar sale in 2017, were longtime admirers of Griezmann.

It never quite worked. Griezmann played wide to accommodate Luis Suarez through the middle, and the forward trio of Griezmann, Suarez, and Lionel Messi offered little in terms of defensive help. The club had won La Liga in four of the five previous seasons but failed to win in either of Griezmann’s two years on the roster.

Bizarrely, the forward returned to Atletico Madrid in 2021 after scoring 35 goals in 102 games for Barcelona.

  1. Joao Felix

Movement: From Benfica to Atletico Madrid
Transfer Fee: $146 million (€127.2 million)
Year: 2019
Positions: Forward, Winger
Nationality: Portugal 

Portuguese forward Joao Felix made a name for himself during the 2018-19 season while playing for his nation’s powerhouse Benfica club. Atletico Madrid had just sold Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona, and it chose to reinvest the money in Felix.

The forward often clashed with Atletico manager Diego Simeone, and many suspect the South American’s inherently defensive style of play didn’t mesh with Felix’s talents. He went on loan to Chelsea for half of the 2022-23 season, only to come back and declare that he wanted to play for Barcelona. Atletico Madrid would be fortunate to recoup half of what they paid Benfica for him.

  1. Ousmane Dembele

Movement: From Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona
Transfer Fee: $162 million (€135 million)
Year: 2017
Position: Winger
Nationality: France 

After Neymar was sold in the summer of 2017, Barcelona had a lot of money and everyone knew it. That left the club both desperate and in a horrible negotiating position -- similar to what Liverpool experienced in the summer of 2023 while looking for a defensive midfielder.

Tifo Football outlined “The Neymar 4,” with the second-most expensive of those potential replacements being young French winger Ousmane Dembele. The winger had excelled in back-to-back campaigns for Rennes and Borussia Dortmund and was ready to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Barcelona went ahead and dropped a truly mind-numbing fee on Dembele. At the time, the reported $162 million was the second-highest total (behind Neymar) in world soccer history.

Dembele has flashed brilliance at times for Barcelona, but consistency issues and injury woes have made the transfer a bigger miss than a hit. He was recently sold to PSG at nearly a $90 million (€80 million) loss.

  1. Phillippe Coutinho

Movement: From Liverpool FC to PSG
Transfer Fee: $168.7 million (€135 million)
Year: 2018
Positions: Attacking Midfielder, Winger
Nationality: Brazil

Philippe Coutinho’s transfer to Barcelona is the ultimate cautionary tale of how a club can senselessly overpay for a player. During the summer of 2016, PSG bid $44 million (€40 million) for the mercurial Brazilian -- slightly less than where Liverpool valued him. He got off to a blinding 2016-17 season start for Liverpool, and his stock skyrocketed.

In the post-Neymar vacuum, Barcelona bid $92 million (£72 million) for Coutinho in August 2017. Liverpool had all the leverage (similar to the Dembele situation), and after the Brazilian handed in a transfer request, Liverpool rejected the bid. They held out until January, and while Coutinho played well, though not at an elite level, Barca returned with an initial $132 million (£105 million) bid that could rise to $178 million (£142 million) with add-ons.

How did the transfer go? Well, Coutinho was sold to Aston Villa in 2022 for $21 million (£17 million). For the most expensive La Liga signing of all time, that return on investment simply isn’t good enough.

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