The Champions League, formerly the European Cup, has been the pinnacle of club football for decades. Victory in the competition guarantees stardom, glory and sporting immortality. But it also earns clubs a huge financial prize. This year’s finalists Chelsea and Manchester City have faced waves of scrutiny over their finances and spending in the wake of their respective billionaire takeovers and attempts by them and other European giants to join a breakaway European Super League.Ahead of this weekend’s big game, we decided to calculate the transfer costs of each Champions League winning squad from the past 20 years and work out what their transfer fees would be in today’s football economy. When we compare the City and Chelsea squads of 2020/2021, in relative terms, is their reputation unfair? Or is their spending justified in order to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Champions League?
More information on the methodology and formula used can be found at the bottom of the page.
- The cost of a Champions League winning team has only dropped below £350 million once since Real Madrid’s 2014 title.
- The yearly spend of clubs has increased over the last 20 years. No first-time winner has spent less than £100 million in the previous window since 2013/14.
- The proportion of a winning side’s yearly spend has remained relatively consistent — 14 out of the last 20 winners have spent at least 25% of their squad costs that season.
- The only team to spend nothing in the year they lifted the trophy was Barcelona in 2005/06.
- Only three teams have individual players costing over 25% of their cumulative squad worth — Real Madrid 01/02, Porto 03/04, Barcelona 05/06, Barcelona 10/11 and Barcelona 14/15.
- In today’s money, Cristiano Ronaldo is the most expensive forward from the past 20 years to have won the Champions League (£195,166,553.00), Zinedine Zidane is the most expensive midfielder (£157,531382), Rio Ferdinand is the most expensive defender (£158,659,741) and Manuel Neuer is the most expensive goalkeeper (£71,765,554).
- The most expensive starting XI by today’s standards was Real Madrid 2013/14 (£835,955,553). The least expensive was Porto in 2003/04 (£49,691,170).
- A full copy of the squads, players and fees can be found here.
Real Madrid Domination Signals Rapid Increase in Spending
For the second decade of the 21st century, Real Madrid were undoubtedly the most dominant side in Europe, winning four Champions League titles across five season during a period in which Spanish sides generally dominated. Barcelona won their own Champions League titles in 2011 and 2015, while Atletico Madrid and Sevilla won the Europa League six times between them in the decade.
But Real Madrid’s dominance in Europe’s premier competition also ushered in a new era of high-cost squads. Chelsea were the first side to have a squad worth over £1 billion by today’s standards in 2012, but after their victory the cumulative cost of all Champions League-winning squads has only dropped below £300 million once, with Bayern (2013) having a real-time transfer cost of £217,755,000.
This rise can be partly put down to an explosion in player fees at the time. Within this period, eight players were sold for over £100 million. Neymar’s record-breaking £199.8 transfer from Barcelona to PSG in 2017 is the standout sale, while Kylian Mbappé, Cristiano Ronaldo, Philippe Coutinho, João Félix, Antoine Greizmann, Ousmane Dembélé and Eden Hazard all moved clubs for three-figure sums.
Another explanation could be the increase in prize money available to those competing in the Champions League. Between the 2017/18 and 2019/20 seasons alone, the maximum prize money for winning the Champions League rose from €57.2 million to €82.45 million, an increase of €25.25 million in two years.
Yearly Spend to Win
The cost of a Champions League-winning squad is likely to be huge. But while some players may have been at the club for some time, it can be the newest arrivals that have the biggest impact. By studying the non-adjusted year on year expenditure of each Champions League-winning side, we get a better idea of how much a team may have to spend in order to win the Champions League.
In 2013/14, Real Madrid became the first team to spend over £100 million on transfers and then win the Champions League, shelling out £157.95 million on transfers that season. Since then, it has cost first-time winners in this decade over £100 million to win the European title. Barcelona spent £113.4 million in 2014/15, Liverpool shipped in excess of £163.98 million to claim their sixth Champions League title in 2018/19, while Bayern Munich paid out £125.55 million in 2019/20. This year’s finalists follow the same high expenditure trend, with Chelsea spending £222.48 million and Manchester City £160.02 million over the course of the season.
While the yearly spend of each champion has increased over the last 20 years, the proportion that teams have spent each season has remained relatively consistent. 14 out of the last 20 winners added at least 25% of their squad costs that season. The biggest outlier was Barcelona in 2005/06 who spent nothing in the year they won the Champions League. They instead utilised academy products such as Carlos Puyol, Xavi and Messi as well as the prowess of Ronaldinho (signed in 2003) and Samuel Eto’o and Deco (both signed in 2004).
Based on this trend, Chelsea have the better chance of winning the Champions League than Manchester City. Guardiola may have the more expensive squad, but he has only added 18.9% of its costs this season. Whereas Chelsea’s summer spending spree in 2020 means that 38.1% of the squad’s cost was added this season.
Where there is some divergence in the data, however, is in the cost of retaining the title. After spending £157.95 million on the way to winning their first title of the 2010s in 2014, Real Madrid only spent £76.86 million on the way to their second two years later, before spending just £27 million and £36.45 million to retain the trophy in 2016/17 and 2017/18, respectively.
This impressive achievement of thriftiness can be partly put down to the phenomenal form of Cristiano Ronaldo in that era. The Portuguese forward scored a total of 49 goals across all four Champions League-winning campaigns. It can also be attributed to the misfires of their closest European rivals as the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United all underwent periods of drastic transition.
One Man Teams In the Minority
By far and away the biggest outlier in our data set was Porto’s astonishing victory in 2004, as a fresh-faced Jose Mourinho guided a squad worth just £95.61 million in today’s money to European glory. What is most stark is the fall in cost compared to the previous season’s winners, AC Milan, whose total squad would cost a massive £800.71 million today.
By drilling down into Porto’s squad in more detail, it can be seen that Deco, who cost £7.2 million then, made up over 25% of their squad’s costs. Compared to Liverpool, who were champions just the next year, no one player cost more than 14% of their total squad. Barcelona and Real Madrid are the only two other sides to have had one player dominate the cumulative transfer costs of their squad. On three occasions the Blaugranes have had one player’s transfer costs at over 25% of their squad worth in the shape of Ronaldinho (27.8%) in 2005/06, David Villa (25%) in 2010/11 and Neymar (25.5%) in 2014/15. Real Madrid, however, have only ever had one player cost 25% their squad worth in a Champions League-winning season, with Zinedine Zidane who was worth 30% of his squad’s transfer costs.
The costs of all other Champions League-winning squads are far more spread out. AC Milan in 2006/07 and Liverpool in 2018/19 are two prime examples of teams who have invested well in all areas of their squad with their most expensive players costing just 13.4% in the case of AC Milan in 2006/07 (Alessandro Nesta) and 14.1% for Liverpool (Virgil van Dijk).
MethodologyTo do this, we used transfer fee data from Transfermarkt, and a formula similar to that found in TotallyMoney’s Transfer Index which allowed us to calculate what the initial transfer fee paid at the time would be worth in the previous summer transfer window (2020). So for example, Real Madrid paid a transfer fee of £84,600,000 for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Using the TotallyMoney formula, this was calculated to be worth £195,166,553 in today’s football economy. It’s important to note that these adjusted figures only apply to players for whom a transfer fee was paid. So Lionel Messi’s adjusted transfer fee would be zero, because he was developed through Barcelona’s Academy La Masia. This is not looking at the hypothetical value of all players in a squad, but only those who were signed for a fee to focus on the spending of clubs and what it costs to compile a Champions League winning team. It does not take into account squad wages, agent fees, signing bonuses or anything other costs associated with the transfer – simply the recorded transfer fee.
- The formula used by TotallyMoney worked out the average transfer fee of the top 100 highest fees from the previous window.
- The average figure from the previous window was £30,300,000.
- So to work out what a fee in the 1980s would cost, you take the top 100 transfer fees from a year – for example, the top 100 transfer fees from the 1989-90 season total £106,557,000 – so the mean average fee for a player sold in the top 100 is £1,065,700.
- Next, you would divide the figure from the modern-day transfer window (£30,300,000) by the figure from the 1989 transfer window (£1,065,700) which equals 28.4320165.
- To then find the ‘modern-day transfer fee’ of any player from the 1989 season, you would multiply his original transfer fee by 28.4320165.