The £95m gamble set to double the world record

In the past 25 years the identity of the most expensive footballer has changed 13 times. But, as history shows, for every Zidane there is a Denilson
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The Independent Football

How the world record transfer fee has evolved over the past 25 years and what happened to the men saddled with the tag "the planet's most expensive player ever".

Zinedine Zidane – £46m

Juventus to Real Madrid, 9 July 2001

Age at move: 29; Games/goals for Real (league) 224/49; Trophies with Real: Champions League 2001-02, Intercontinental Cup 2002, Spanish Cup (twice), La Liga 2002-03.

ZZ was already tops in many senses before the move: a World Cup winner, a supreme stylist, an exemplary professional. At the Bernabeu, he became the galactico-in-chief at the heart of the strangest but most absorbing experiment in talent accumulation the game has known. Trophies were not as frequent as the club would have liked, but the tills rang and the stadium was packed for Zizou and Co's magic. Zidane's finest moment in a Real shirt was when he scored the best Champions League final goal ever, a stunning winner against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park.

Verdict: Hit. Worth every penny.

Luis Figo – £38m

Barcelona to Real Madrid, 24 July 2000

Age at move: 27; Games/goals for Real (league) 163/36; Trophies with Real: Champions League 2001-02, Intercontinental Cup 2002, Spanish Cup (twice), La Liga 2000-01, 2002-03.

His move between Spain's two biggest clubs was akin to swapping Anfield for Old Trafford or Celtic Park for Ibrox, but his immediate impact was the La Liga title, the Champions League semis, and Fifa's World Player of the Year award. The Champions League and another La Liga followed, then he waned, as did the galactico experiment.

Verdict: Hit. Sustained class under great pressure.

Hernan Crespo – £35.5m

Parma to Lazio, 12 July 2000

Age at move: 25; Games/goals for Lazio (league) 70/52; Trophies with Lazio: None

The Argentina striker moved to Europe at 21 to play for Parma. His prolific strike rate over four years helped them win the Uefa Cup and finish as Serie A runners-up. Lazio broke the bank to hire him and he held up his part of the bargain with 26 goals in his first season to make him Serie A's top scorer, but in his two seasons Lazio finished third, then sixth.

Verdict: A hit within a misfiring side.

Christian Vieri – £31m

Lazio to Internazionale, 10 June 1999

Age at move: 25; Games/goals for Inter (league) 144/103; Trophies with Inter: None

The Italian striker moved nine times in 10 years before Marcello Lippi, who had worked with him successfully at Juventus, signed him. Vieri and Ronaldo should have been a devastating partnership for Inter but injuries to both meant few games together. Vieri's 22 then 23 goals in 2001-02 and the following season were impressive, but Inter could do no better than second in Serie A. His star waned after falling out with his coaches.

Verdict: So-so. Great strike rate in a miserly league but no silverware.

Denilson – £21.4m

Sao Paulo to Real Betis, 14 July 1998

Age at move: 20; Games/goals for Betis (league) 186/13; Trophies with Betis: Spanish Cup 2004-05

Splashing out on a 20-year-old untested in Europe primarily because of decent form in the Copa America in 1997 was some gamble. Denilson not only failed to shine but Betis were relegated and the player went back to South America on loan with Flamengo to get into the 2002 World Cup squad. The winger returned to Seville after helping to win the World Cup but pulled up few trees before being sold to Bordeaux in 2005.

Verdict: Flop.

Ronaldo – £19.5m

Barcelona to Internazionale, 1 August 1997

Age at move: 20; Games/goals for Inter (league) 68/49; Trophies with Inter: Uefa Cup 1997-98

Almost 50 goals in fewer than 70 Serie A games looks good on paper, but not when you consider that Brazil's sporadic finest was at Inter for five years and ultimately proved himself more bothered about country – the 2002 World Cup – not club, and then about his next move, not loyalty to those who stood by him through years of injury.

Verdict: An expensive disappointment given the cash and patience invested.

Alan Shearer – £15m

Blackburn to Newcastle, 30 July 1996

Age at move: 25; Games/goals for Newcastle (league) 303/148; Trophies with Newcastle: None

You cannot put a price on a Messiah, which renders any attempt at a logical assessment of whether Shearer was worth the cash an irrelevance. Newcastle craved the homecoming of their Tyneside king and when he arrived he delivered at record levels over many years despite injuries threatening his career. So what if he was never better than a runner-up in league and Cup?

Verdict: Hit. Just ask anyone on the Bigg Market.

Gianluigi Lentini – £13m

Torino to Milan, 1 July 1992

Age at move: 23; Games/goals for Milan (league) 60/13; Trophies with: Milan Serie A 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, Champions League 1993-94, Italian Super Cup 1992-93, 1993-94

The winger's pace and creativity sparked a bidding war between Juventus and Milan. The fee was so massive it was deemed "offensive" by the Vatican. Nobody cared at Milan, who won Serie A in his first season, and six trophies while he was there, although he had bit parts after a bad car accident.

Verdict: Bright start, marred by crash.

Gianluca Vialli – £12m

Sampdoria to Juventus, 25 May 1992

Age at move: 27; Games/goals for Juventus (league) 157/48; Trophies with Juventus: Uefa Cup 1992-93, Serie A 1994-95, Italian Cup 1994-95, Champions League 1995-96

Vialli's strike partnership with Roberto Mancini at Sampdoria led to the most successful era in the club's history. It also persuaded Juve to break the world record and they were rewarded with two European trophies, the later with Vialli as captain, to bookend a period when they also did the league and cup double in 1995.

Verdict: Hit.

Jean-Pierre Papin – £10m

Marseilles to Milan, 1 May 1992

Age at move: 28; Games/goals for Milan (league) 40/18; Trophies with Milan: Serie A 1992-93, 1993-94, Champions League 1993-94, Italian Super Cup 1992-93

A phenomenal record with Marseilles (four titles in four years as captain and top scorer in the league) led him to become the world's first £10m player and the first high-profile Frenchman in Serie A since Michel Platini. But in two full seasons, he was injured, failed to settled and had a limited role in trophy wins.

Verdict: So-so. The gong tally looks good but he was not intrinsic to Milan.

Roberto Baggio – £8m

Fiorentina to Juventus, 20 May 1990

Age at move: 23; Games/goals for Juventus (league) 141/78; Trophies with Juventus: Uefa Cup 1992-93, Serie A 1994-95, Italian Cup 1994-95

"The Divine Ponytail" was so adored at Fiorentina that riot police were called to quell protests when he was sold to Juventus. "I was compelled to accept the move," he explained. His impact in Turin was huge, with heaps of goals and accolades (European and World Footballer of the Year for 1993 after Uefa Cup success). The scudetto of 1995 kick-started Juve's late-Nineties domination in Italy.

Verdict: Goals, silverware, personal glory. Hit.

Ruud Gullit – £6m

PSV Eindhoven to Milan, 1 June 1987

Age at move: 24; Games/goals for Milan (league) 117/35; Trophies with Milan: Serie A 1987-88, 1991-92, 1992-93, European Cup 1988-89, 1989-90, Intercontinental Cup 1989-90, 1990-91

The original sexy footballer joined fellow Dutchmen Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard to win Milan's first Serie A title in nine years in his first season, and two more later. In his second season they won the European Cup, then retained it. Hugely influential, then increasingly peripheral.

Verdict: Hit. The glory mattered more than the downbeat ending.

Diego Maradona – £5m

Barcelona to Napoli, 1 July 1984

Age at move: 23; Games/goals for Napoli (league) 259/115; Trophies with Napoli: Serie A 1986-87, 1989-90, Uefa Cup 1988-89, Italian Cup 1986-87

One of the greatest of all players hit his peak to inspire a club to heights it had never seen before and has not experienced since. With Maradona as the heartbeat, Napoli won the only two Serie A titles in their history, plus European and domestic cups to boot.

Verdict: One of the biggest hits of all time, despite departure after cocaine disgrace.

Diego Maradona – £3m

Boca Juniors to Barcelona, 1 June 1982

Age at move: 21; Games/goals for Barcelona (league) 58/38; Trophies with Barcelona: Spanish Cup 1982-3, Spanish Super Cup 1982-83, Spanish League Cup 1982-83

The stage seemed set for Argentina's bustling wizard to set La Liga alight. But despite a good strike rate and a few thrills, a domestic cup treble was as good as it got. Illness (hepatitis) then injury (a broken leg) spoilt his time at the Nou Camp, and then rows with the club's directors led to him demanding a transfer to Italy.

Verdict: Huge potential ended with a whimper.