The 2010s have been one of the most happening decades in football history. A lot has transpired over these ten years. While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo remain the top two players in the world, there have been changes elsewhere in the sport, especially in terms of player market value.
We have witnessed the rise of two clubs - Manchester City and PSG, from mediocrity to European stardom. On the other hand, we have also seen clubs like Manchester United and AC Milan slump and struggle to live up to their high standards. Real Madrid have pulled clear as the most successful European club.
However, one most prominent change has been the surge in prices of players in the transfer market. At the start of the decade, a £50 million fee for Fernando Torres was enough to break the British transfer-fee record. Today, one would have to shell out four times that amount to break the world record. Paris St. Germain's £198 million fee to bag Neymar was perhaps the main catalyst behind this monumental inflation. But regardless of the reason, it is obvious that a good player now would command a much higher fee than he would've ten years back.
Who were the five most valuable players in the world in 2010, and how do they compare to the ones currently in 2020? It's time to find out.
5 most valuable footballers in 2010 vs 2020
#5 Ricardo Kaká (€ 60 million) and Mohammed Salah (€120 million)
The fact that the fifth-most valuable player in 2020 would cost twice as much as his counterpart in 2010 is a testimony of the fact that the football market has gone berserk in recent times.
Real Madrid paid AC Milan €67 million way back in the summer of 2009 to acquire the services of the brilliant Brazilian Kaka. Aged 27 then, Kaka was expected to play his prime years at the Santiago Bernabeu. Unfortunately, everything did not go according to plan for the midfielder in Spain, as he struggled to find his rhythm.
However, Kaká was still easily one of the best players in the world ten years back, and his market value was always on the higher side. He would go on to retire in December 2017 - a few months after Liverpool would pay a now paltry € 42 million for Mohammed Salah.
Salah burst into life on his return to England, breaking the goal-scoring record in the Premier League in his very first season. It didn't take him long to make people forget about the modest fee that was paid to bring him back to England.
The Egyptian has since established a consistency to his game that has helped propel his market value to well over nine figures. At 27, Salah continues to be one of the best wingers in the world, and it is no surprise to see him valued at a whopping € 120 million.
#4 Andres Iniesta (€ 60 million) and Sadio Mane (€ 120 million)
A 26-year-old Iniesta was one of the most sought-after players in the world in 2010. He would surely have commanded a huge price tag if he had ever wished to leave Barcelona then. Scoring the winning goal at in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final is bound to boost your value manifolds, as Iniesta experienced that year.
Iniesta was perhaps the most wanted midfielder back in the day, and for obvious reasons. Aged 36 now, Iniesta continues to amaze fans now at Vissel Kobe in Japan.
However, it is understandable that Salah's partner-in-crime at Liverpool, Sadio Mane makes more headlines than the Spanish play-maker Iniesta.
Mane is playing the best football of his career at 28, and tabloids can't stop linking him to Real Madrid. Like Salah, he is one of the best wingers in the world, and many believe that Mane is perhaps even better than the Egyptian.
The Senegalese has everything you can ask for in a winger, starting from blistering pace to sublime finishing. In fact, even a € 120 million bid might not be enough to lure Liverpool into selling their superstar, such is his importance.
#3 Xavi (€ 65 million) and Neymar (€ 128 million)
Although Xavi was already celebrating his 30th birthday at the beginning of the decade, his value was at an all-time high.
Coming off of a successful FIFA World Cup campaign in 2010, Xavi was arguably the best midfielder in the world back then. His vision and presence left everyone awestruck and he was showing no signs of slacking off.
A € 65 million offer for Xavi would surely have been rejected by Barcelona. Xavi was always more of a footballer than numbers could ever portray. Even at the age of 35, he helped Barcelona win a treble - although with ample support provided by one of his best ever teammates, Neymar Jr.
At the start of the decade, one of the most hyped young players was Santos' Neymar. So much so, that Barcelona decided to pay a humongous € 88.20 million fee for the Brazilian.
Needless to say, Neymar has lived up to the hype. After enjoying many trophy-laden seasons in Spain, Neymar moved to PSG who deemed him worth a world-record € 222 million.
Although his market value never hit that mark, it is no secret that Neymar's value remains sky-high. The Brazilian definitely does not have a lack of critics, but when he hangs up his boots, his ridiculous numbers will speak for themselves. Undoubtedly, he is one of the best players to have played in the 2010s.
#2 Cristiano Ronaldo (€ 90 million) and Raheem Sterling (€ 128 million)
If there is one footballing aspect common to both 2010 and 2020, it is Cristiano Ronaldo putting up video game numbers in real life.
Although he was in the middle of a four year long Ballon d'Or drought, Ronaldo was developing into a goal-scoring machine in this phase. He was bagging hat-tricks almost every other week. Obviously, a € 90 million valuation was only acceptable on paper since Real Madrid themselves paid more than that to sign him from Manchester United in 2009.
Ronaldo's consistency over this 10-year period has been astounding, to say the least. The Los Blancos actually made a profit after selling him to Juventus for well over € 100 million. For a player to maintain his extremely high valuation over ten years is simply mind-boggling.
Raheem Sterling has followed a somewhat similar path that Ronaldo has. He went from being a skillful winger to a lethal goal-scorer, just like Ronaldo.
In football, goal-scorers have more value than any other player, as they are the ones who generally win you matches. So it is barely a surprise to see Sterling warrant such an enormous market value.
The Englishman is a complete package - he can dribble, score, and set up his teammates just as well. He's 25, just like his Portuguese counterpart was in 2010, and if he can have a career half as good as Ronaldo's, Sterling will retire as one of the modern-day greats.
#1 Lionel Messi (€ 100 million) and Kylian Mbappe (€ 180 million)
Back in 2010, a 22-year-old Lionel Messi became the first player to have his value hit the €100 million mark, having won his first Ballon d'Or in 2009 He would go on to win the next three Ballon d'Ors as well, so one can guess how sharp the rise of his market value would have been in that period.
Arguably the greatest to have ever touched a football, Messi is essentially priceless. In fact, Barcelona are said to have rejected a 'blank cheque' for Lionel Messi more than once. Many players have come and gone in this decade, but Messi has been a constant. His value, even at 32, hasn't dropped a cent below the € 100 million mark during the 10-year period between 2010 and 2020.
Having won a record sixth Ballon d'Or award in 2019, Messi continues to defy any signs of ageing or slowing down. To be the most valuable player in the world at just over 20 was unheard of before Messi came into the picture. To have the same feat repeated ten years later by another player was unthinkable before a new sensation came to town.
Kylian Mbappe, quite like Messi, became the first player to hit the € 200 million mark at the tender age of just 21. He has won the league title in all of his professional seasons so far, and has a FIFA World Cup (2018) to go with it.
Mbappe has a CV at 21 most footballers don't have at the end of their careers. Even five years ago, it was difficult to picture someone matching the numbers Messi and Ronaldo put up. But now we have a youngster doing the same in the duo's very presence!
It would be stupid to put a ceiling on the Frenchman's market value right now, because one can only speculate what he would be like in his prime.