When Willie Groves joined Aston Villa from West Brom for £100 in 1893, little could the Scot have known that 120 years later, a lineage would be traced directly from him to a Welsh winger joining Real Madrid for £85 million.
The Spanish media are reporting that the Bale deal is not a world record but Tottenham have briefed British journalists saying that it actually does break the record.
Groves was the first player to be transferred for £100 – a fee Villa were ordered to pay their Midlands rivals by the Football Association having been found guilty of tapping up – and since then the transfer record has been broken a further 42 times, culminating in Bale’s monumental move from Tottenham to Real Madrid.
Real Madrid are without question football’s pre-eminent financial power having broken the transfer record on the past five occasions when recruiting Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo.
But in football’s formative decades it was Britain where the money was being thrown around, with a steady increase up until 1932 when River Plate paid Tigre £23,000 for Bernabe Ferreyra in the first record transfer outside of these Isles.
It was not until 1952 that Italy entered the debate – Hans Jeppson moving from Atalanta to Napoli for £52,000 – and Serie A enjoyed an unbroken line of succession until 1973, when the magisterial Johan Cruyff signed for Barcelona for £922,000.
Italy continued to dominate the scene – save deals for Bryan Robson, Alan Shearer, Denilson and Diego Maradona, who has the distinction of being the only subject of two world record transfers – until Real Madrid wrested control of the market with the shocking acquisition of Barcelona’s Luis Figo.
As you can see from our graph below, the transfer record has grown rapidly over the past 20 years, player prices going hand in hand with the financial explosion seen throughout the game thanks to the influx of TV money.
Our second graph shows Italy and England have been the two main financial powerhouses in the history of football, but the huge fees paid by Real Madrid mean Spain are catching up fast. Scotland’s sole entry in the list of record transfers – Syd Puddefoot’s move from West Ham to Falkirk for £5,000 back in 1922 – is a relic of a bygone age.
England’s early prolificacy in terms of breaking records means they still have the most players who have been subject to record transfers. However, since 1952 only two Englishmen have set new marks: Bryan Robson (West Brom to Man Utd, £1.5m, 1981) and Alan Shearer (Blackburn to Newcastle, £15m, 1996).
The Bale deal also sees Real Madrid draw level with Italian giants Juventus on five world record transfers, with Milan and Inter not far behind with four.
Curiously, Sunderland boast three – more than Barcelona – having concluded record deals in 1922, 1925 and 1950. The last of those – Trevor Ford, signed from Aston Villa – was the only other Welshman to have broken the record.