Long gone are the days when central defenders used to just sit back and look for potential danger. Football, over the years, has made significant headway, which has seen the defenders being a pivotal part of the team’s attack from the back.

This is a role which has shaped up from being just a guard to being a distributor across the field; a trait which a certain Virgil van Dijk has mastered to mere perfection.

The Liverpool defender, who began his professional career with the Eredivise side Groningen, has gone from strength to strength to become one of the best in the sport. Rising to prominence during his two-and-a-half-year spell with Southampton, the towering centre-half has turned 29 today, and on this occasion, we look at five of the most expensive defenders of all time.

Aymeric Laporte – Joined Manchester City from Athletic Bilbao for £57m

Pep Guardiola’s surge of acquiring a ball-playing centre-back for Manchester City took him to Aymeric Laporte back in 2016. However, it took one-and-a-half years for the Spanish coach to convince him to sign for the Cityzens.

In January 2018, Laporte finally landed in England, signing a five-year contract with City for £57m, making him the club’s most expensive signing. Since arriving, the 26-year-old has constantly struggled with injuries, but when fit, he is duly capable of delivering what is expected of him.

Matthijs de Ligt – Joined Juventus from Ajax for £67.5m

A season after guiding Ajax to their first-ever UEFA Champions League semi-final since the 1996-97 season, defender Matthijs de Ligt found himself in the midst of a sheer tug of war between the likes of Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain. It was, however, the Turin club who managed to convince him.

Handing in a five-year contract, Juventus paid £67.5m to Ajax for the prodigy, who now has a buyout clause of €150m (£135.6m) included in his contract, which will come into effect after June 2022.

Arriving at the club with much fanfare, the Dutch centre-back has endured a rather difficult start to his new life. Recent improvements, however, have been a huge sigh of relief for the Old Lady.

Lucas Hernandez – Joined Bayern Munich from Atletico Madrid for £68m

A year after winning the coveted FIFA World Cup with France, defender Lucas Hernandez moved from Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich for a club-record fee of £68m, making him one of the most expensive defenders of all time.

A versatile defender who can play as a left-back and also as a centre-back, Hernandez has found it hard to break into Bayern’s first team, having been limited to just 19 league appearances in the 2019/20 Bundesliga season. Ankle and knee injuries have further played its part in dislodging him from the starting XI, with make-shift centre-back David Alaba and Jerome Boateng acquiring the spots.

Virgil van Dijk – Joined Liverpool from Southampton for £75m

Liverpool and Southampton were involved in an ugly spat while dealing with the transfer of Virgil van Dijk. His move to the red half of Merseyside was imminent when he handed in a transfer request in August 2017, but the move fell through before Liverpool issued a public apology for making an alleged illegal approach for the then 26-year-old.

In December 2017, however, Liverpool announced that they have reached an agreement with Southampton for van Dijk. The Reds paid a then world-record fee of £75m, making the Dutch the most expensive defender of all time.

Their investment has been duly paid off as van Dijk has not only improved Jurgen Klopp’s defence but has also guided them to the UEFA Champions League as well as Premier League glory in two years. His brilliance has gone to an extent that he went an incredible 64 games in the 2018/19 season without being dribbled past.

Harry Maguire – Joined Manchester United from Leicester City for £80m

In August 2019, defender Harry Maguire became one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first Manchester United signings, arriving from Leicester City for a record £80m fee.

And regardless of what has been said about the fee, Maguire has well and truly improved a lacking Manchester United defence. Playing every single minute of the Premier League this season, his presence has made the Red Devils one of the finest defensive units, having conceded just 33 goals in as many league games. Only champions Liverpool (25), Manchester City (34) and Leicester (31) have conceded fewer goals than United.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Paul Ellis