The transfer value of soccer stars has risen ten-fold since 1990 and isn’t slowing down

The Argentinian Lionel Messi is the best player of his generation.
The Argentinian Lionel Messi is the best player of his generation.
Image: Reuters / Albert Gea
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In 1990, Italy’s Roberto Baggio was the world’s most expensive soccer player having been bought for $11.6 million by Juventus from Fiorentina. Since then, the transfer value of soccer stars has shot up more than tenfold. With the increased revenue streams in the sport, clubs post record revenues and can now afford to pay more for the services of the world’s best players.

Today, were a club to buy Lionel Messi, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner who plays for Barcelona, it would cost around $273.7 million. This is according to the CIES Football Observatory’s list of the world’s top 100 players with the highest transfer values. Based in Switzerland, CIES Football Observatory  research group within the International Centre for Sports Studies affiliated to the University of Neuchâtel. Its bi-annual list of the top 100 players with the highest transfer values takes into account key performance indexes and personal attributes of players as well as economic determinants such as contract duration. The list is calculated by a CIES Football Observatory research team which analyzes of over 1,500 paid transfers since 2010.

Even though Messi, 29, ranks highest on the list, analysts suggest the Argentine has already reached his peak transfer value. On the up however, is Messi’s Barcelona teammate Neymar. The Brazilian has enjoyed success since moving to Europe in 2013 and has been shortlisted for this year’s Ballon d’Or award. Already one of soccer’s most marketable stars, reports suggest Neymar could become the first soccer player to get the iconic Air Jordan sneakers typically reserved for basketball stars.

While boardroom wins such as lucrative television rights deals and sponsorship have increased the spending power of clubs, the rise in transfer values can also be traced to a 1990 court case and ruling which changed the economics of the game.

The ‘Bosman’ landmark ruling ensured players could move clubs freely at the end of their contracts without being forced to accept unfavorable contracts. It also forced clubs to do business or risk of losing their players for nothing at the end of their contracts. The impact was immediate as the world transfer record was broken eight times within the first six years of the ruling.

The rise of transfer values has not shown signs of stopping. In the 2015 summer transfer window, clubs in Europe’s biggest leagues spent a record $2.4 billion on buying players. As the sport continues to grow commercially at breakneck speed, so will the transfer values of the soccer stars who deliver on the pitch.