Transfers review of the decade: FIFA report shows how Neymar, Man City shaped the 2010s

FIFA this week published a definitive report that stands as a comprehensive review of the last decade's international soccer transfers, and the trends and statistics revealed make for fascinating reading.

The report takes into account every single transfer to have taken place worldwide in the men's senior professional game in the decade between 2011 and 2020 -- 10 years during which the world transfer record increased by almost 150%.

The period in question saw unprecedented growth for football, especially in terms of finance as more and more clubs spent more and more money on transfers.

The report confirms that transfer market activity increased fairly consistently since 2011, when 11,890 transfers took place around the world. This swelled to a peak of 18,079 transfers in 2019. Overall, a total of 133,225 international transfers and loans have been completed during the span taken into account as part of FIFA's 10-year report.

All international permanent transfers and loans between 2011 and 2020 are included in the figures, though returns from loans -- while technically logged by FIFA as a separate transfer -- are excluded from the analysis so that any individual loan move is only counted once.

Here are the key things we learned from scouring through the report (in which FIFA expresses all transfer fees in U.S. dollars, so we've followed suit, using Transfermarkt for consistency).


1. A total of $48.5 billion was spent on transfer fees between 2011 and 2020 (approximately €40.9bn/£35.1bn).

2. A grand total of 200 FIFA member associations were involved in international transfers, which is all the more impressive given that there are only 211 member associations in total. Should you be curious, the 11 member associations that did not release any players for international transfers were American Samoa, Anguilla, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Liechtenstein, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Cook Islands and Sao Tome & Principe -- all small territories with very small populations.

3. Of the 133,225 international transfers and loans to take place, a total of 8,264 different clubs have been involved. The top 30 clubs (in terms of transfer fee expenditure) are all European and hail from just 7 FIFA member associations: England (12 clubs), Spain and Italy (five each), Germany (three), France and Portugal (two each), and Russia (one). Those 30 clubs alone spent a total of $22.8bn (roughly £16.5bn) on transfer fees, which represents 47% of the global total over the decade in question.

The Clubs

4. Manchester City have spent more money on transfer fees than any other club in the world between 2011 and 2020, spread over 130 international transfers made in that period. Kevin De Bruyne ($83.6 million from Wolfsburg), Ruben Dias ($74.8m from Benfica), Joao Cancelo ($71.5m from Juventus), Aymeric Laporte ($71.5m from Athletic Bilbao) and Rodri ($68.9m from Atletico Madrid) are the biggest international arrivals on City's books, but there are lots more nestled around the $40-60m mark.

5. Premier League rivals Chelsea are second despite having only made 95 international transfers, of which Kai Havertz's $88m arrival from Bayer Leverkusen is the most expensive, ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga and Alvaro Morata (both $88m, from Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid respectively). The top 5 is fleshed out by Barcelona (79 transfers), Paris Saint-Germain (59) and Real Madrid (55).

6. There are a total of five Premier League clubs -- City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur -- inside the top 10, with Liverpool (14th) Leicester City (20th), Southampton (21st), Wolverhampton Wanderers (25th), Everton (27th), West Ham United (28th) and Newcastle United (30th) all making the top 30.

7. Manchester City have also sent more players out on loan (232) than any other club in the world, narrowly ahead of Chelsea and their fabled loan army, who have allowed 207 players to leave the club on non-permanent transfers. A whopping 19,826 international loans of professional players were conducted between 2011 and 2020, equating to an average of 14.8% of transfers in total.

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8. Four of the top five spending clubs outside of Europe hail from the Chinese Super League, with Guangzhou Evergrande topping the list. Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia are the only non-Chinese club in the top 5. Evergrande have outspent their CSL rivals by bringing in the likes of Paulinho (twice: $15.4m from Tottenham and $46.2m from Barcelona) and Jackson Martinez ($46.2m from Atletico Madrid) with significant fees in recent years. That said, Shanghai SIPG's deals for Brazilian pair Hulk ($61.38m from Zenit St Petersburg in 2016) and Oscar ($66m from Chelsea in 2017) are the only two transfers involving a Chinese club that are big enough to make it into FIFA's top 70 biggest international transfer fees of the decade (more on that below).

9. The number of clubs prepared to spend more than $50m on transfers per year more than trebled between 2011 and 2020, from just nine to 28. In the same period, the average number of international transfers made by a club stands at roughly 4 per year (3.9 to be precise).

10. The average annual international transfer fee fluctuated from a low of $300,000 in 2010 to a record high of $410,000 in 2018 -- the year Cristiano Ronaldo moved from Real Madrid to Juventus for $128.7m. The average annual transfer fee paid by clubs in the top 30 (in terms of transfer fee spent) is considerably higher, ranging from a decade low of $7.4m in 2012 to a peak of $17.8m in 2018.

11. Benfica made more international transfers than any other club in the Top 30, with 167 such deals struck. The Portuguese giants also recouped more money than any other club having overseen 311 outgoing international transfers and loans. Joao Felix ($139.92m to Atletico Madrid) and Renato Sanches ($38.5m to Bayern Munich) are the two biggest fees received by Benfica in the last decade, while Ruben Dias' move to Man City ($74.8m) also makes the top 70. Staying in Portugal, fellow compatriots Sporting Lisbon are second on the list (226 outgoing transfers) of total fees recouped while Barcelona (106 transfers) are third despite the financial quagmire they currently find themselves in.

12. The top three clubs to end the decade with a positive net balance from international transfer fees paid and recouped are all Portuguese. Sporting top the list, while Benfica are second and Porto are just behind in third. The highest non-Portuguese club on the list is Ajax in fourth (thanks to the departures of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong in particular), while French side Lyon complete the top 5. Together, Portuguese clubs made more international transfer fee profit ($2.95bn) in terms of positive net balance than any other country between 2011 and 2020. How much of that is directly due to the influence of Portuguese "super agent" Jorge Mendes, we can only speculate.

13. In terms of individual FIFA member associations and their international transfer spending, nobody has spent more than clubs affiliated to the English FA. English clubs have spent $12.4bn on players between 2011 and 2020, more than double the total outlay of the next nation on the global list -- Spain with $6.7bn. Italy ($5.6bn) are third, Germany ($4.4bn) are fourth, and France ($4bn) are fifth as Europe's "Big Five" leagues dominate proceedings. However, it is perhaps surprising to find China and Russia (both $1.7bn) are joint-sixth in the overall FIFA list.

14. The most English clubs spent in a single calendar year was $1.95bn in 2018; the year in which Christian Pulisic ($70.4m) and Kepa Arrizabalaga ($88m) joined Chelsea, Fabinho ($49.5m) and Naby Keita ($66m) arrived at Liverpool, and Fred left Shakhtar Donetsk for Manchester United ($64.9m), among other similarly expensive transfers. On the opposite side of the equation, some 6,500 English players were released for international transfer between 2011 and 2020 -- a total only topped by Brazil, who saw 7,300 players leave for foreign clubs.

15. Teams affiliated with the Spanish FA have recouped the most total money ($6.2bn) from international transfer fees in the same time, a considerable wedge of which was raised by Neymar's world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, which saw Barcelona receive a $244.2m transfer fee for the Brazilian. Real Madrid have had their fair share too, with high fees received for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo ($128.7m to Juventus) and Angel Di Maria ($82.5m to Manchester United), while Atletico Madrid have also benefitted from transfers involving Lucas Hernandez ($88m to Bayern Munich) and Rodri ($68.97m to Man City). Elsewhere, the English FA are second on the list ($5.2bn) of member associations, just above France ($4.9bn), Portugal ($4.3bn) and Italy ($4.2bn).

16. The two member nations to see the highest amount of players move between them was the prolific stream between Brazil and Portugal (1,556 transfers), though only 934 players moved back the opposite way.

The Players

17. A grand total of 66,789 players have been involved in international transfers around the world between 2011 and 2020. The majority have been Brazilian nationals moving to foreign clubs (15,128 transfers) which represents 11.4% of the total number of players transferred over the decade. Argentine players (7,444 transfers) are second in the breakdown, while British players (5,523) are third. U.S. players are ranked 20th overall with 1,825 transfers, just below German (1,916 transfers) in 18th and Italian (1,891 transfers) in 19th. All in all, a total of 204 different nationalities are represented among the players transferred.

18. FIFA have compiled a Top 70 biggest international transfers (ranked by total transfer fee) which sees Neymar lead the way thanks to his $244.2m move between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in 2017. The fee was more than double the previous world record for a transfer, set the previous year when Paul Pogba left Juventus for Manchester United, and the result has been the marked upturn in total transfer spending we saw the following summer and the years since.

19 . Angel Di Maria features twice in the top 10 thanks to his hefty back-to-back transfers between Real Madrid and Manchester United ($82.5m, 2014) and Manchester United to Paris Saint Germain ($69.3m, 2015). Several other players feature twice inside the Top 70, for instance James Rodriguez ($49.5m from Porto to Monaco, $82.5m from Monaco to Real Madrid), Leroy Sane ($57.2m from Schalke to Man City, $49.5m from Man City to Bayern Munich) and Alvaro Morata ($72.6m from Real Madrid to Chelsea, $38.5m from Chelsea to Atletico Madrid).

20. Kepa Arrizabalaga ($88m from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea, 2018) is comfortably the most expensive goalkeeper in the Top 70 and ranks 16th overall, nine places above Alisson ($68.75m from Roma to Liverpool, 2018), his closest rival. The most expensive defender on the list is Lucas Hernandez (19th) courtesy of the French left-back's $88m transfer between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in 2019.

21. More cumulative transfer fees ($7.1bn) have been spent on Brazilian players between 2011-2020 than any other nationality. Of course, Neymar ($97.02m from Santos to Barcelona in 2013, and $244.2m from Barca to PSG in 2017) has accrued more individual fees than any other Brazilian, though Philippe Coutinho ($148.5m to Barcelona), Arthur ($79.2m to Juventus) and Alisson Becker ($68.75m to Liverpool) have all made sizeable contributions of their own. French players are second ($4.5bn) and Spanish players are third ($3.7bn) while British players are down in 10th with a total of $1.3bn.

22. Of the Top 70 most expensive international transfers, almost half of the transfers involved (32) were players signed by Premier League clubs. The chasing pack are as follows: Spain (18 transfers), France (7), Italy (6), Germany (4), China (2) and Turkey (1, which was Bruma's move from Sporting to Galatasaray in 2013). When it comes to clubs releasing players for international transfers, Premier League teams were only involved in 12 of the Top 70 transfers between 2011 and 2020.