Romelu Lukaku enters top three of 15 most expensive loan players in history

Romelu Lukaku’s return to Inter Milan makes the Chelsea flop the third-most expensive signing ever to be sent out on loan by short-changed clubs.

Here are the top 15 priciest players for whom their next move was a temporary one…


15) Tiemoue Bakayoko (£40m)
Most of us got Bakayoko wrong. When he signed for Chelsea from Monaco in summer 2017, just before Danny Drinkwater followed, it was widely expected that the all-action defensive midfielder would be a huge hit in the Premier League. And he made a decent start. But come October when N’Golo Kante picked up an injury, Bakayoko’s shortcomings were thrust into sharp focus.

The nadir came in February at Watford. Bakayoko was sent off for a couple of cautions inside 30 minutes and Antonio Conte’s side were beaten 4-1. The midfielder returned a month later against Leicester but received the half-time hook to escape another seemingly inevitable dismissal. Conte’s trust and patience were gone, and Bakayoko’s performances left Maurizio Sarri in no doubt what to do when he arrived.

Specifically, that was to ship Bakayoko off to AC Milan. After a ropey start, the midfielder offered some hope that he wasn’t a lost cause. Indeed, when he returned to Chelsea, Frank Lampard offered him a clean slate. But a couple of friendlies was all it took for Lampard to reach the same conclusion as Conte and Sarri, shipping him back to Monaco for the season.

They opted against making that move permanent, with the jet-setting Bakayoko now back at Milan via Napoli. He remains a Chelsea player.


14) Anthony Martial (£44.7m)
We think that’s the final bill after Martial’s move from Monaco to Manchester United in 2015. The Red Devils paid £36million up front with millions more potentially due in add-ons. The Telegraph reported that United owed Monaco another £8.7million after Martial scored his 25th Premier League goal but that is likely to have been the last increment.

The other add-ons were payable if Martial was nominated for the Ballon d’Or before the end of the 2018/19 season, and if he played 25 games for France in the same time-frame. He’s somehow got 30 caps up to now, but he failed to hit 25 in time for his former club to trouser another £8.7million. As for the Ballon d’Or stuff…

Whatever United paid, it was too much. After eventually giving up on the surly striker, Ralf Rangnick sanctioned a loan move to Sevilla. He stunk the place out there too and returns to Old Trafford this summer unsure what his future holds.


13) Fernando Torres (£50m)
Liverpool only ever paid £35million for Andy Carroll because Newcastle knew their pockets were about to swell. Chelsea paid a whopping then-British record £50million to sign Torres from the Reds in January 2011, and every club on the planet knew they could hold Kenny Dalglish’s side to ransom over his replacement.

Carroll fared poorly at Anfield, but his six goals in 44 Premier League games was a quick demise compared to the long, drawn-out death of a career that Torres’ 20 in 110 for Chelsea represented. But that truly is deciding which pile of animal faeces smells the least terrible. At least Carroll was loaned out within 18 months of his arrival; Chelsea clung on to Torres for three-and-a-half seasons before finally letting Milan borrow him in 2014.


Phil Jones and Neymar among top ten title winners available for transfer this summer


12) Radamel Falcao (£51m)
Most clubs spend an increased amount of money upon promotion, but Monaco went a little further than the norm. First they signed James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho in a combined £60million deal from Porto, then followed that by prising Falcao from Atletico Madrid for £51million.

Falcao continued his remarkable form in France, scoring 11 goals in his first 19 games. But the striker suffered a season-ending knee injury in January 2014, and would never be the same again. But Premier League clubs thought they could rehabilitate him with first Manchester United and then Chelsea signing him on loan in successive seasons. It did not go well, and Falcao ultimately proved that rarest of players: having been discarded on loan, he returned to make a success of himself at his parent club, scoring 70 goals in the next three seasons at Monaco before joining Galatasaray and then Rayo Vallecano.


11) Luka Jovic (£52.4m)
Eintracht Frankfurt have done extremely well out of Jovic. They initially borrowed the centre-forward from Benfica in 2017 for two seasons, in which time he scored 25 Bundesliga goals. So Frankfurt paid the necessary £5million or so to make his move a permanent one – then almost immediately sold him on to Real Madrid for 10 times that figure.

Jovic flopped hard in Spain. He scored two La Liga goals before Real gave up on him and returned him to Frankfurt midway through 2020/21. The Serbian scored three in his first 76 minutes back on the pitch for the Germans. Real kept him around last season, but only bothered to start him once in La Liga.

Reports suggest Jovic will be loaned out again this summer, to Fiorentina, with Real getting half his wages off their books.


10) Tanguy Ndombele (£53.8m)
It was a similar story for Ndombele. He starred for Lyon, got a huge move, flopped and then returned to his old club.

For Spurs, the France midfielder was their biggest splurge in the transfer market when he arrived in 2019. Mauricio Pochettino, Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason, Nuno and Antonio Conte all tried to tease some consistency from Ndombele but all failed.

Conte sent Ndombele back to Lyon for the second half of last season, but even being back in France didn’t inspire the midfielder; Lyon don’t want to extend the loan so Spurs are left looking for another taker.


9) Miralem Pjanic (£54.8m)
Pjanic’s switch to Barcelona in 2020 was one of the more peculiar deals of recent years. The midfielder moved from Juventus for €60m, at roughly the same time Arthur went the other way for €72m. Those figures seem steep, right?

It was a swap in which the fees exist in isolation from each other, part of a plan concocted between the two clubs to help them creep towards a profit on the balance sheet. Barca needed to find €60million before July 1 and Pjanic moved for that exact figure two days prior.

Pjanic never got close to justifying that ridiculous valuation but that was never the aim. The Bosnian played 19 La Liga games in his only season at the Nou Camp before being packed off to Besiktas on loan.


8) Zlatan Ibrahimovic (£57m)

“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari, you put premium petrol in the tank, you hit the motorway and you step on the gas. Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside.”

And to continue the laborious metaphor, Pep Guardiola then loaned the rather expensive Zlatan-mobile to a mate. Ibrahimovic’s move to Barcelona never sat quite right for any of the parties involved, particularly not when the Spanish side paid Inter Milan £40m and sent Samuel Eto’o the other way as part of the deal. As if that was not enough, Inter would dump Barcelona out of the Champions League in the semi-final that season, before going on to lift the trophy themselves.

Ibrahimovic, to his credit, hardly floundered in Spain. He scored 16 goals in 29 La Liga appearances, winning five trophies in 46 games before leaving after just one season. Italy would soon come calling again, with Inter’s bitter city rivals Milan offering him a loan lifeline. He’s back there once more after bossing it at PSG, Man Utd and LA Galaxy.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic


7) Alvaro Morata (£58m)
The Spain striker was very much Chelsea’s second choice in the summer of 2017, when Conte really wanted Lukaku to replace Diego Costa, but the Everton striker went to Manchester United instead. Morata never really offered the impression that he belonged at Chelsea, nor did he give the Blues much reason to make him feel as such.

The former Real Madrid and Juventus striker started well, netting six in six before the goals dried up. He managed just four more before the end of 2017 and only one in the new year.

Morata became more renowned for the chances he missed than those he put away. And his demeanour, like that of a permanently slapped arse, contrasted sharply with Costa’s no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach to goalscoring. When the chance came to return to Madrid with Atletico, initially on an 18-month loan, Morata jumped at the opportunity. And when Atletico suggested they might give Chelsea their money back, the Blues wasted no time agreeing to the deal either.

Then Atletico shipped him off to Juve. Who might buy him once more. Regardless, no doubt he’ll be on his way again soon enough.


6) James Rodriguez (£63m)
Gareth Bale. Cristiano Ronaldo. Luis Suarez. There concludes the comprehensive list of players who were more expensive than James Rodriguez upon his arrival at Real Madrid in the summer of 2014. The Colombian had shone at the World Cup; his reward was status as a Galactico.

Around two dozen players have since joined the above list, but Rodriguez remains damn expensive. Which made his two-year loan move to Bayern Munich with the option to buy seem a little weird.

When the time came in 2019 for Bayern to sh*t or get off the pot, the Bundesliga side pulled up their trousers and moved on. After making just eight La Liga appearances back in Madrid, he decided to team up once again with Carlo Ancelotti in the rather unlikelier surrounds of Goodison Park. After a good start, he faded badly and couldn’t wait to semi-retire in Qatar.


5) Gonzalo Higuain (£75.3m)
Higuain became the third most expensive player of all-time in 2016 when Juventus forked out the £75.3million required to buy him out of his Napoli contract. Few doubted it was a savvy move. The season before, Higuain notched 36 league goals in 35 games for Napoli.

Two years and 55 goals in 105 games for Juventus later, the then 30-year-old was deemed surplus to requirements. Harsh, perhaps. But that’s what happens when Cristiano Ronaldo rocks up to take your place.

Chelsea were heavily linked with a permanent move for Higuain but the ex-Real Madrid striker opted to stay in Italy with AC Milan on a try-before-you-buy deal. He tried; they didn’t buy. Instead, his loan to Milan was cut short and Higuain was dispatched to Chelsea mid-season on a similar deal with a similar outcome.

Having scored eight goals in 32 games back at Juventus in 2019/20, both parties agreed it was best to just knock it on the head. Now he plays for Pip Neville at Inter Miami.


4) Gareth Bale (£85m)
Spurs sold Elvis and bought the Bootleg Beatles in 2013, bringing in seven players with the world record £85m Real Madrid chucked their way for a player who had just proved himself the best in the Premier League with an astonishing season.

Seven years later, Elvis was back in the building on a season-long loan after a nightmare seven years in Madrid where he has scored only 105 goals and won just five Champions League titles. More damning still, Bale scored crucial goals in only two of those five Champions League finals he won, and in only one of them did he produce one of the greatest goals ever scored in a major final. It is, frankly, piss poor.

With injuries and ennui blighting his last years in Spain, Bale devoted his energies to golf and not socialising with his team-mates before deciding to cheer himself up a bit by popping back to England to play at Jose Mourinho’s Joy Factory at Spurs.


3) Romelu Lukaku (£97.5m)
Inter have pulled Chelsea’s pants down here…

The Italians signed Lukaku for around £73million, which seemed steep at a time he’d floundered badly at Manchester United. At Inter, Lukaku showed all the qualities his supporters know him to possess, bagging 47 goals in two seasons and winning Serie A in 2021.

Inter than made a profit of almost £25million by selling him to Chelsea, where Lukaku flopped even harder than he did at Old Trafford. By the end of the season, Thomas Tuchel could barely hide his disdain for the Belgian.

Inter are happy to take him back but they pleaded poverty. It worked. They will borrow Lukaku for a year for around £7million before returning him next summer as soon as he turns 30.


2) Antoine Griezmann (£107m)
After the stick Griezmann received for ‘The Decision’, you’d think the France star might have had a word with Paul Pogba to warn his mate about making The Pogmentary. Apparently not.

Griezmann used his TV show to tell the world whether he would sign a new contract at Aletico or accept a huge offer from Barcelona. He stayed. For a year.

Twelve months after ‘The Decision’, he made another, to belatedly move to the Nou Camp. It went as well as his TV production. Two years and 22 goals later, Griezmann was being returned to Atletico on loan so Barca could shift at least some of his wages off their books.

Even at Atletico, Griezmann has struggled to reassert himself in Diego Simeone’s XI. Griezmann wants to stay at Atletico next season, but the 31-year-old continues to be linked with moves elsewhere.


1) Philippe Coutinho (£142m)
‘He has played a total of 75 games as a blaugrana in which he has scored 21 goals and provided 11 assists,’ read the Barcelona statement announcing Coutinho’s year-long loan to Bayern Munich, thanking him for his ‘commitment and dedication’. That doesn’t really tell the whole story, does it?

Coutinho’s dream move to Barca quickly became a nightmare. The £142m price tag and the burden of expectation that came with being Neymar’s replacement proved too heavy for the Brazilian to bear.

The highlight of his Bayern career, and a perfect summary of the clusterf*ck that his Barca move has become, came when he scored the last two goals of an 8-2 spanking of his former club en route to Champions League glory.

Despite Barca’s best efforts to get rid, Coutinho stayed and played a dozen games last season and the same number last season before joining Aston Villa on loan. After a positive half-season, Villa slammed £17million on a table at the Nou Camp and told Barca to take it or leave it. They took it.

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