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World Records: Tracking the evolution of soccer’s transfer mark

Sep 1, 2013, 10:20 PM EDT

File photo of Tottenham Hotspur's Bale reacting after winning their English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent Reuters

Gareth Bale’s $132 million move to Real Madrid makes the former Tottenham Hotspur the world’s most expensive purchase, marking the fifth time in a row the Spanish titans have raised that bar. From Figo to Zidane, Kaka to Ronaldo, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez seems to be competing with himself to make sure his record keeps climbing, with 13 years having passed since another club held the mark.

Here’s the evolution of the world transfer record over the last 20 years – 10 transfers that have led to Bale’s new mark:

Note: Because of how the deals were reported and how the record is tracked, we’ve kept the values in British pounds.

Alan Shearer, Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United, £15 million (1996)

In four years at Blackburn, Shearer averaged 28 league goals per season, leading Rovers to a Premier League title in 1994-95. At the end of the 1995-96 season, Kevin Keegan and Newcastle United surprisingly won a bidding war against Manchester United, luring the then 26-year-old to Newcastle. Though he’d score 25 goals in his debut season, the English international would only average 14.8 goals per season during his decade at with the Toon.

Ronaldo, Barcelona to Internazionale, £19.5 million (1997)

The Brazilian superstar never settled at Barcelona, and after one year in Catalonia, Inter Milan came in and paid his buyout. In his first year in Italy, Ronaldo scored 25 league goals, but injuries prevented him from playing another full season with the Nerazzurri. Over the next four years, Ronaldo would score 24 league goals in 35 appearances, eventually leaving to become one of Perez’s Galaticos.

Denílson, São Paulo to Real Betis, £21.5 million (1998)

The one name that stands out as a relative bust, Denílson was plucked from Brazil at 21 but never fully established himself in Spain. He’d make 186 La Liga appearances for the Seville-based club, scoring only 13 goals. After seven seasons, the winger moved to Bordeaux then Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia before briefly playing for Dallas in Major League Soccer. In 2010, after four more stops, Denílson finally retired, having played with 10 clubs in six different countries.

Christian Vieri, Lazio to Internazionale, £32 million (1999)
Hernán Crespo, Parma to Lazio, £35.5 million (2000)

After one year at Lazio, helping the Aguile to the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, Vieri was scooped up by Massimo Moratti, who increased the world transfer record by nearly 50 percent. Vieri would go on to score 103 goals over six years for the Nerazzurri.

A year later, Lazio took their Vieri money and bought Argentine international Crespo, who went on to lead Serie A with 26 goals during his first year in Rome. After one more season, though, Crespo was off to Inter Milan, the start of a journey that would take him to Chelsea, AC Milan and back to Inter before finishing his career with stints at Genoa and Parma.

Luís Figo, Barcelona to Real Madrid, £37 million (2000)

One of the more controversial transfers of all time (certainly, the most angst-inspiring on this list) the Portuguese star elected to cross the world’s greatest rivalry, leaving the Nou Camp for the Santiago Bernabeu. He was Florentino Perez’s first Galactico, the acquisition beginning a three-year run where Real Madrid won La Liga, Champions League, and La Liga consecutively. Barcelona fans, however, have never fully forgiven him for moving to Real, even though you will occasionally see the former Ballon d’Or winner taking in games at Camp Nou.

Zinedine Zidane, Juventus to Real Madrid, £46.6 million (2001)

The second Galactico was Perez’s most dramatic swoop, tabling what was then an irresistible offer, increasing the world transfer record by over 25 percent. In his first year at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zidane hit his memorable match-winning volley in the 2002 Champions League final. In 2006, Zidane retired while with Real Madrid, having won one league, one European title with the club.

Kaka, Milan to Real Madrid, £56.6 million (2009)
Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United to Real Madrid, £80 million (2009)

After a brief time away from the club, Florentino Perez returned to Real Madrid’s presidency in 2009. How did he ring in his new tenure? By embarking on a second Galacticos run.

Kaka, signed in early summer, leaving as Milan felt compelled to cash in on another irresistible Perez offer. Later in the same window, Real crushed their own transfer record to pull Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United.

Despite all the spending, the Merengues would end the season trophy-less.

Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, £85.3 million (2013)

It took four years and a slew of new television and commercial revenue being injected into the game, but Real Madrid finally broke their own record. Again. As the history of the record shows, the most expensive player isn’t necessarily the world’s best; rather, he’s often a reflection of circumstance, demand, and in the case of the Galactico-crazed Merenques, prestige.

In Bale’s case, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy undoubtedly played a part, with the notoriously shrewd negotiator helping Real and Bale make history on Sunday.

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