Indeed, after failing to fully ignite at the Emirates over the past four years, the wiry winger has joined Turkish Super Lig outfit Trabzonspor for a fraction of that initial price tag.
In Pepe leaving for pastures news, the Gunners have certainly suffered one of the most embarrassing financial forfeitures in recent top flight history, but how does their worst ever transfer return compare to the rest of the Premier League — a league that is hardly famed for its financial prudence?
Here we examine the biggest losses made on players by all 20 clubs (in alphabetical order) currently playing in the elite division of English football and include those players who arrived in hefty deals only to have since left the team in question on a permanent basis (i.e. not currently out on loan).
Signed for £72m (Lille, Aug. 2019), moved for £3m (Trabzonspor, Sept.. 2023)
Pepe offered up just 16 league goals and seven assists in 80 Premier League appearances for Arsenal across three seasons. The French winger even scored 10 league goals during his much-improved second campaign (2020-21, so mostly behind closed doors) though it’s also worth noting that 4 of those goals came in the final two games of the schedule. After mustering just one solitary league goal in 20 games in his third season with the Gunners (2021-22), Pepe was sent out on loan at OGC Nice for the 2022-23 campaign before finally being freed up to move to Turkey on a permanent basis earlier this week.
2019: Arsenal purchase Nicolas Pepe for £72m 💰
2023: Arsenal sell Nicolas Pepe on a free transfer 👋 pic.twitter.com/sZN0uYdVa4
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) September 8, 2023
Signed for £22.5m (Club Brugge, June 2019), released on free (June 2023)
Wesley scored a passable five league goals in 21 games during his debut season at Villa then quickly fell completely out of rotation. He made just three appearances in 2020-21, then one appearance in 2021-22 and then none at all in 2022-23 while enduring unremarkable loan stints with Brugge, Internacional and Levante. After being released by Villa, the Brazilian striker was signed by Championship side Stoke on a free transfer in July 2023.
Signed for £25m (Aug. 2018), moved on free (Crystal Palace, July 2023)
The Cherries’ joint record signing played 176 league games in five seasons, scored 12 goals and was part of the squad that was both relegated from the Premier League in 2019-20 before winning promotion back to the top tier two seasons later. The Colombian international midfielder has since joined Crystal Palace on a free.
Signed for £5.5m (July 2019), moved on free (Malmo, July 2023)
With a shrewd approach to transfers that includes strong focus on potential resale value while evaluating their targets, Brentford don’t tend to lose a lot of money when it comes to their market dealings. To date, the Bees’ heaviest net loss came with the free transfer granted to veteran centre-back Jansson — the club’s 12th most expensive signing of all time — who returned to his native Sweden with Malmo over the summer.
Signed for £17m (from AZ, July 2018), moved for £850,000 (Feyenoord, July 2021)
After proving himself a goal-scoring threat in the Eredivisie, Iranian international striker Jahanbakhsh failed to find a convincing foothold with Brighton and ultimately departed without fanfare having scored just two goals in a half-century of Premier League games. However, the second of his goals just so happened to be an outrageous overhead kick against Chelsea in January 2020 which was later voted Premier League Goal of the Month.
Signed for £13m (Norwich, Jan. 2017), moved on free (July 2021)
Republic of Ireland international Brady was signed for Norwich on deadline day in January 2017 for a then-club record fee. The winger spent five seasons at Turf Moor and contributed just four goals and three assists in 81 Premier League games before being allowed to leave on a free when his contract expired in July 2021, shortly after which he signed for Championship side Bournemouth on a free transfer.
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Signed for £50m (Liverpool, Jan. 2011), moved for £850,000 (Milan, Jan. 2015)
Chelsea broke the British transfer record by paying £50m to pluck Torres from Liverpool midway through the 2010-11 season, which also made him the most expensive Spanish player in history into the bargain. The striker struggled to maintain the red-hot standard he set at Anfield but did chip in with a humble flurry of goals for the Blues (45 in all competitions) including that last-minute effort against Barcelona in the 2011-12 Champions League semifinal.
Signed for £27m (Liverpool, Aug. 2016), moved on free (DC United, Aug. 2022)
Still Palace’s all-time record signing, Benteke arrived from Liverpool for £27m after falling out of favour under new manager Jurgen Klopp. While goals didn’t exactly flow freely (Benteke famously went almost a full calendar year without scoring for Palace between April 2018 and April 2019), the Belgian target man became something of a fan favourite during his six-year stint at Selhurst Park before being allowed to leave for MLS on a free in the summer of 2022.
Signed for £27.2m (Barcelona, Aug. 2018), moved on free (Fiorentina, Aug. 2023)
After catching the eye with Colombia at the 2018 World Cup, Everton managed to sign centre-back Mina from Barcelona shortly thereafter. The defender went on to make 82 Premier League appearances for the Toffees but struggled to recapture the magic of his international performances in Russia and eventually was allowed to leave for nothing after falling down the pecking order in his fifth and final season at Goodison.
Signed for £25m (OGC Nice, July 2018), moved on free (July 2022)
Having previously been linked with Barcelona, young defensive midfielder Seri was considered something of a coup for newly promoted Fulham despite being the club’s new record signing when he arrived from Nice in the summer of 2018. However, despite impressing during his debut season things soon went off the rails and following mediocre loans at Galatasaray and Bordeaux, Seri was released by the Cottagers in the summer of 2022, after which he dropped down into the second tier by joining Hull City.
After seeing his stature rise with a series of swashbuckling turns for RB Leipzig, Keita was signed by Liverpool as the perfect addition to Jurgen Klopp’s all-action midfield. Unfortunately, the Guinean international struggled to crack the first XI on a sustained basis and was mainly bench-bound or out injured for the majority of his five-season stint at Anfield. He left for Bremen having started just 49 Premier League games for the Reds.
Signed for £1.3m (HNK Rijeka, July 2019), moved for £492,000 (Ludogorets, Jan. 2022)
Croatian international goalkeeper Sluga joined newly promoted Championship side Luton Town for a club record fee ahead of the 2019-20 season. He duly proved to be a first-team regular for the Hatters for the next couple of years before the lure of the Bulgarian top tier saw him sign for Ludogorets for a nominal fee halfway through the 2021-22 season.
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Signed for £32m (Porto, Aug. 2014), moved on free (Valencia, Aug. 2019)
A Premier League winner as part of City’s victorious 2017-18 squad, Mangala was on the books at the Etihad for four years in whole but spent large portions of those out on loan at Valencia and Everton respectively, eventually joining the former on a free transfer before the start of the 2019-20 season.
Signed for £89.3m (Juventus, Aug. 2016), moved on free (Juventus, July 2022)
After finding himself on the brink of the first team at Manchester United only to be swept away by Juventus at the age of 19, Pogba returned to Old Trafford four years later on a wave of superstar hype. Alas, United fans were subsequently offered only glimpses of the French midfielder’s true talent as six inconsistent years passed by. With performances stuttering and his enormous contract dwindling away to nothing, it was announced Pogba would be returning to Juve again in the summer of 2022 — though this time the big news was largely met with little beyond mild indifference.
Signed for £16.9m (Real Madrid, Aug. 2005), moved on free (Manchester United, July 2009)
Some 20,000 eager Newcastle fans turned out at St James’ Park to welcome Owen to the fold after the prodigious England striker completed his grand return to the Premier League following a one-year sabbatical in Spain with Los Blancos. However, persistent injury woes soon began to limit Owen’s involvement with the forward seeing his popularity quickly plummet on Tyneside — a sour relationship that reached its nadir in 2019 when Owen openly admitted that he never really wanted to sign for Newcastle in the first place, instead preferring a return to boyhood club Liverpool.
Signed for £13.2m (Benfica, June 2018), moved on free (Olympiakos, Jan. 2022)
Signed in a club record deal with Forest still in the Championship, Carvalho made a modestly impressive start to life at the City Ground before going entirely off the boil in his second season which led to the Portuguese midfielder being loaned to Almeria for the 2020-21 season. He then returned only to be quietly moved onto Olympiakos, the Greek giants who just also happen to be run by Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis.
Signed for £22m (Genk, Jan. 2020), moved for £12m (Burnley, Aug. 2023)
Berge arrived in the Premier League with Sheffield United in 2019-20, who shelled out a club record fee to bring the Norway international from Genk during the January window. The industrious midfielder went on to make nearly 100 league appearances for the Blades before being sold at a loss to fellow newly promoted rivals Burnley ahead of the 2023-24 Premier League campaign.
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Signed for £42m (Ajax, Aug. 2017), moved for £9.5m (Galatasaray, Sept. 2023)
Coming as something of a sudden shock, erstwhile Colombian centre-back Sanchez brought an abrupt end to his seven-year association with Spurs recently by agreeing to join Turkish side Galatasaray at the tail end of the 2023 summer transfer window.
Signed for £38m (Lazio, July 2018), moved for £2.5m (Lazio, July 2021)
A shining creative light for Lazio who necessitated a club record fee to sign, Anderson continued the noble tradition of many of West Ham’s modern-day virtuosos by being sporadically magical for the briefest period before swiftly fading into mediocrity. The Brazilian returned to Lazio in the summer of 2021 in an undisclosed deal (reportedly worth just £2.5m) after spending the previous season on loan at Porto, where he played in just five league games.
Signed for £38m (Benfica, July 2019), moved for £5.5m (Fulham, July 2023)
After a successful first year spent on loan during which he scored 13 Premier League goals, Wolves activated their option to sign Jimenez on a permanent deal from Benfica in the summer of 2019. The Mexican international striker duly bettered his goal return in 2020-21 with 17 Premier League goals. However, a dreadful head injury sustained the following November saw Jimenez miss almost the entirety of the 2020-21 season. After nine months in recovery, he made his return to action but the injury had taken its toll and goals began to dry up as a consequence. After fives years at Molineux, the fan-favourite forward was allowed to leave over the summer in order to sign for Fulham.