A strong pair of centre-backs is often what separates a great team from a world-class team.
Having a strong defensive core allows the team to breathe more, allowing midfielders to focus on assisting forwards without having to constantly think about their defensive responsibilities.
Some centre-backs can also play the role of creators or auxiliary scorers from time to time, and impact the game in a way few expect.
In this hyper-inflamed market, it is not easy to obtain a competent central defender without putting a strain on your wallet. We have seen many record transfers for centre-backs over the past few years.
Now, without further ado, let’s find out the five most expensive centre-backs of all time and see whether or not they managed to live up to their bill.
Stats via: Transfermarkt
#5 Ruben Dias (Benfica to Manchester City) – €68m
Coming from Benfica’s training system, Ruben Dias made his senior debut for the club in the 2017-18 season.
A season later, he helped his team win the Portuguese title, setting an example for his teammates. He stayed at the club for one more season (2019-20), after which Manchester City brought him to the Etihad Stadium for a fee of 68 million euros.
Despite arriving from another league, the Portuguese centre-back had no trouble adapting to the hectic pace of the Premier League.
He appeared in 32 league games for City in his first season, helping to the English league title. Dias was voted ‘Premier League Player of the Season’ thanks to his excellent debut season.
The 25-year-old, who helped City defend their title last season, has so far played 90 games for the Citizens in all competitions, registering three goals and five assists.
He won a League Cup (2020-21) and two Premier League titles with City.
#4 Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich) – €80m
Bayern Munich don’t like to splurge on players. They usually reserve their cash for players who have a chance to add value to their team, for players who truly deserve it.
The Bavarians were looking for a strong centre-back in 2019 and Lucas Hernandez emerged as the perfect option.
Having played 110 games for Atletico Madrid, Hernandez had the experience and quality to help Bayern, who unhesitatingly paid 80 million euros to bring him to Munich.
Hernandez missed many games in his first season due to an ankle injury, but he was impressive in the games he appeared in.
The 26-year-old has made 25 appearances in all competitions for Bayern, who are on course to claim the treble. The Frenchman has played a total of 71 games over the past two seasons, registering one goal and five assists.
His expertise helped Bayern win back-to-back Bundesliga titles in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, among other honours.
#3 Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool) – €84.7m
Signed for €84.7million from Southampton in the winter of 2018, Virgil van Dijk has easily been one of the most important members of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
The Dutch centre-back was already a sensation at Southampton, but he became arguably the best in the field at Liverpool.
Buoyed by the solidity he introduced at the back, Liverpool went on to the 2017-18 Champions League final. Although Real Madrid won that match by a 3-1 margin, Van Dijk performed well in his first-ever European final appearance.
A season later, he again helped the club reach the final. This time the Reds managed to win it for the first time since 2005, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the summit clash.
During the 2019-20 campaign, Van Dijk produced a defensive masterpiece to help the Reds win their first ever Premier League title. With him at the head of the line, Liverpool have conceded just 33 league goals, making them the best defensive unit in the division.
His 2020-21 campaign was blighted by injuries but he bounced back again last season, helping the Merseyside giants to a domestic cup double.
Van Dijk has so far played 181 matches for Liverpool, scoring 16 goals and providing 11 assists.
The 31-year-old, who was named ‘UEFA Player of the Year’ in 2019, helped the Reds win a Premier League title, Champions League trophy and FA Cup, among other accolades .
#2 Mathhijs de Ligt (Ajax to Juventus) – €85.5m
Ajax graduate Matthijs de Ligt was one of the highlights of the club’s memorable 2018-19 campaign.
Despite being only 19 at the time, the centre-back established himself as an undisputed leader, doing everything in his power to help the Dutch club clinch trophies.
With him in charge of defence, Ajax won the Eredivisie and the Dutch Cup that season. The club also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they were finally beaten by Spurs.
At the end of the season, Serie A giants Juventus paid 85.5 million euros to bring him to Turin.
The adaptation in Italy proved more difficult than expected, with the 22-year-old often struggling to live up to his potential. Although not at his best, he helped the club win the Serie A title in his first season, thanks to his defensive discipline and his four goals in 29 appearances.
Juventus have missed out on the Serie A title for the past two seasons but managed to win a Coppa Italia and a Coppa Italia (both in 2020-21).
After making 117 appearances for the Bianconeri, De Ligt left Juventus for Bayern Munich.
Joining the Bavarians for a staggering €67m, he became the sixth most expensive defender of all time.
#1 Harry Maguire (Leicester City to Manchester United) – €87m
The world’s most expensive defender, Harry Maguire, is one of the most criticized figures in football.
The England international, who joined Manchester United from Leicester City for €87million in 2019, was a rock-solid defender for the Foxes. Unfortunately, he failed to bring his unflinching assurance to Old Trafford.
Maguire, who has scored five goals in 76 appearances for Leicester, has had a decent start to life at Manchester United. However, due to its exorbitant price, reviews were never far from a small mistake. His confidence seems to have plummeted with each derogatory comment, and he has yet to find his way back to success.
Over the past three seasons, Maguire has played 144 games in all competitions for the Red Devils, scoring seven times and providing five assists. He made many mistakes along the way, which often cost his team valuable points.
The Englishman is still seen as a capable leader and will continue to captain the club under Erik ten Hag. However, his performance needs to improve by leaps and bounds if he is to avoid criticism.