A solid centre-back pairing is often what separates a great team from a world-class one. Having a solid defensive core gives the team more breathing room, allowing midfielders to focus on helping the forwards without constantly thinking about their defensive responsibilities.
Some centre-backs can also act as auxiliary creators or goalscorers from time to time, impacting the game in a way very few expect them to.
In this hyper-inflated market, it is not easy to get a capable centre-back without putting a strain on one’s wallet. We have seen many record transfers for central defenders over the last few years.
Now, without further ado, let’s check out the five most expensive centre-backs of all time and see whether or not they have managed to live up to their billings.
Stats via: Transfermarkt
#5 Ruben Dias (Benfica to Manchester City) - €68 million
Having graduated from Benfica’s youth system, Ruben Dias made his senior team debut for the club in the 2017-18 season.
A season later, he helped his side to the Portuguese league title, leading his teammates by example. He remained at the club for one more season (2019-20), after which Manchester City brought him to the Etihad Stadium for a €68 million fee.
Despite joining from a different league, the Portuguese centre-back did not struggle to adjust to the frantic pace of the Premier League.
He featured in 32 league games for City in his debut season, helping them to the English top-flight title. Dias was adjudged the 'Premier League Player of the Season' on the back of his stellar debut campaign.
The 25-year-old, who helped City defend their title last season, has thus far played 90 matches for the Citizens across competitions, recording three goals and five assists.
He has won one League Cup (2020-21) and two Premier League titles with City.
#4 Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich) - €80 million
Bayern Munich do not like to unnecessarily splurge on players. They generally reserve cash for players who stand the chance to add value to their team, for players who genuinely deserve it.
The Bavarians were looking for a solid 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 unhesitantly paid €80 million to bring him to Munich.
Hernandez missed many games in his debut season due to an ankle injury, but he was impressive in the matches he played in.
The 26-year-old featured in 25 games across competitions for Bayern as they marched on to the treble. The Frenchman has played a total of 71 games over the last couple of seasons, recording one goal and five assists.
His expertise helped Bayern win consecutive Bundesliga titles in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, amongst other honors.
#3 Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool) - €84.7 million
Signed for an €84.7 million fee 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 has become arguably the best in the business at Liverpool.
Buoyed by the solidity he introduced at the back, Liverpool played in 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 once again helped the club to 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.
In the 2019-20 campaign, Van Dijk produced a defensive masterclass to help the Reds to their first-ever Premier League title. With him leading the line, Liverpool conceded only 33 goals in the league, making them the best defensive unit in the division.
His 2020-21 campaign was marred by injuries, but he bounced back again last term, 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 the 'UEFA Player of the Year' in 2019, has helped the Reds win a Premier League title, a Champions League trophy and an FA Cup amongst other honors.
#2 Mathhijs de Ligt (Ajax to Juventus) - €85.5 million
Ajax graduate Matthijs de Ligt was one of the club’s standout performers in their memorable 2018-19 campaign.
Despite being only 19 years at the time, the centre-back emerged as an undisputed leader, doing everything in his power to help the Dutch outfit clinch silverware.
With him leading the defense, Ajax won the Eredivisie and the Dutch Cup that season. They also reached the Champions League semi-finals, where they were eventually beaten by Spurs.
At the end of the season, Serie A giants Juventus splurged €85.5 million to get him to Turin.
Adjusting in Italy proved to be more difficult than anticipated, with the 22-year-old often struggling to live up to his potential. Despite not being at his best, he helped the club to the Serie A title in his debut season, pitching in with disciplined defensive displays and four goals in 29 matches.
Juventus missed out on the Serie A title in the last two seasons but managed to win one Italian Cup and one Italian Super Cup (both in 2020-21).
Having made 117 appearances for the Bianconeri, De Ligt has left Juventus for Bayern Munich.
Joining the Bavarians for a staggering €67 million fee, he has become the sixth-most expensive defender of all time.
#1 Harry Maguire (Leicester City to Manchester United) - €87 million
The most expensive defender in the world, Harry Maguire, is one of the most criticized figures in football.
The England international, who joined Manchester United from Leicester City for €87 million in 2019, was a rock-solid defender for the Foxes. Unfortunately, he has not managed to bring his unabashed, confident self to Old Trafford.
Maguire, who scored five goals in 76 appearances for Leicester, had a decent start to life at Manchester United. However, due to his exorbitant price tag, criticism was always only a small mistake away. His confidence seemingly plunged with every snarky comment, and he is yet to find his way back.
Over the last three seasons, Maguire has played 144 games across competitions for the Red Devils, scoring seven times and providing five assists. He has made numerous errors along the way, often costing his team invaluable points.
The Englishman is still seen as a capable leader and will continue to serve as the club captain under Erik ten Hag. However, his performances must improve leaps and bounds if he is to keep the criticism at bay.