Chelsea recently paid a club-record fee of $126 million for Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku earned this reputation. The Belgian is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in Europe and already has a proven record against English opposition. In his career, he led Everton, Manchester United and Inter Milan in season-highs when it came to goals.

The only issue is that Chelsea had Lukaku on their books seven years ago. In August 2011, Chelsea paid Anderlecht an estimated $16.5 million for the striker — 109.5 million dollars less than what they handed over to Inter this month.

Sure, at the time in 2011, Lukaku underperformed at Stamford Bridge. He only played one season for Chelsea before being loaned out to two clubs and sold to Everton.

It can be hard for a young, inexperienced player to break into the elite squads of Europe. Oftentimes, the pressure to perform within the first couple of games can be overwhelming. Fans getting on players and applying pressure compounds the issue.

The trends in the transfer market force players out for lower transfer fees to make room for elite players. The whole pay-now, win-now mentality and the associated inflation of the transfer market can cause some teams and chairmen to look away from potential in favor of current ability or form.

Just because a player leaves a team, he does not lose his potential to be a star. In fact, when those players develop, their former clubs may come calling.

Only now, these players are not the couple of millions they sold them for. In recent years, these young players who departed clubs developed into world talents. The prices teams then must pay break records in terms of money involved in a transfer.

As discussed below, there are three very familiar players who actively play that are in their second stints at clubs. Their associated transfer fees come from the club’s hastiness to get them out, but then come crawling back at the player’s developed ability.

Romelu Lukaku returns to the Bridge

Lukaku’s rise to stardom is admirable.

In his first season at Stamford Bridge, Romelu Lukaku didn’t give Chelsea fans much to get behind. The 18-year-old appeared in 12 games across all competitions for the Blues, making one Premier League start. He didn’t score in any of those 12 games, and the Chelsea board established that Lukaku needed time to develop.

The next two seasons, Lukaku played on loan. First off, Chelsea sent the striker to West Bromwich Albion. Romelu Lukaku excelled at the Hawthorns. In 35 total appearances. 20 as a starter, Lukaku bagged 17 goals.

Romelu Lukaku playing for Chelsea in 2011.

Romelu Lukaku playing for Chelsea in 2011.

Romelu Lukaku playing for Chelsea in 2011.

Next season, Lukaku spent the season at Everton on loan. He produced a similar goal-to-game ratio. This was enough for Everton to pull the trigger on a full transfer, spending about $40 million on the Belgian.

Lukaku eventually transferred over to Manchester United for $94 million in 2017, where his goal output dipped slightly.

Inter Milan then swooped in, shelling out $82 million for his services. His astronomical value for Inter came from setting goal-scoring records for the club, including fastest to 50 goals. That marker took him just 70 games.

Chelsea, a striker away from competing at each competition, could not pass up the opportunity to get him back. The steep price was warranted. $135 million for the striker. Hypothetically, Chelsea’s spending could have remained steady if they simply held the player for development on their own terms. However, there is no guaranteeing that Lukaku would be the prolific player he is today without his travels throughout England and Europe.

Chelsea’s net loss between selling Lukaku then rebuying him: roughly $109.5 million.

Paul Pogba’s tumultuous relationship with Manchester United

One of the driving factors behind Romelu Lukaku and his transfer to Manchester United was Paul Pogba. The pair are great friends, with Pogba advocating on behalf of the Belgian while the pair were in Miami during the Summer 2017 transfer window.

By the same token, Paul Pogba is a player to leave a club only to return for an exponentially higher price.

Paul Pogba was a youth player at Manchester United’s prestigious academy during their two most recent Premier League triumphs. In the 2011/12 season, Pogba made three appearances. Although he did not contribute any goals or assists, he showed early glimpses of great potential.

READ MORE: Paul Pogba on the transfer rumor mill in 2021

However, Pogba sought more first-team playing time. Pogba’s relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson was complex. Pogba did not like his playing time, but Ferguson did not want to let the talent go. Eventually, Pogba agreed to a deal worth less than $1 million to transfer to Juventus. Sir Alex Ferguson was apparently happy to see Pogba, and his agent Mino Raiola, go.

“It’s a bit disappointing because I don’t think he showed us any respect at all,” Ferguson said following the transfer.

“To be honest, if they carry on that way, I’m quite happy that he’s away, from me, anyway.”

Still, Ferguson recognized the talent. Like his friend Romelu Lukaku, Pogba blossomed in Italian soccer. In 178 games for I Bianconeri, Pogba amassed 74 goal contributions. Even more useful, Pogba developed a play-style suitable for a variety of positions.

Like Chelsea with Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United decided to pay whatever fee Juventus desired for the midfielder. A then-world-record sum of $116 million went to the Turin-based club for Pogba’s services.

Manchester United’s net loss on Paul Pogba: $115 million.

Mats Hummels flips between rivals

Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba did not go back-and-forth between rivals. Sure, Lukaku played for both Chelsea and Manchester United, but they never conducted one-on-one business regarding the striker.

Mats Hummels is a player to flip between rivals. Hummels came up through Bayern Munich’s academy, appearing for the first-team squad once. After a year-long loan to rivals Borussia Dortmund, the Bavarians sold Hummels on a permanent deal to their biggest rival in 2009. The fee reached $4.6 million.

Mats Hummels at Bayern Munich training in 2019.

Mats Hummels at Bayern Munich training in 2019.

Mats Hummels at Bayern Munich training in 2019.

Despite failing to break through in Munich, Hummels established himself as one of the Bundesliga’s best defenders at the Signal Iduna Park.

Over his seven-year stint wearing black and yellow, Hummels appeared in 212 Bundesliga games. Additionally, he logged 21 Champions League games, aiding Borussia Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final in 2013. Borussia Dortmund lost that final to Bayern Munich. Hummels, whose boyhood club sold him for less than $5 million, came up just short.

Then, in 2016, Bayern Munich wanted their man back. As so often is the case in Germany, if Bayern Munich wants a player, Bayern Munich gets a player. Bayern Munich bought Hummels for roughly $39 million. A stark increase on the price they got for him, Hummels joined Jerome Boateng as the center-backs for the German giants.

Bayern Munich’s net loss after rebuying Mats Hummels: $33.9 million.

But, the fun does not stop there with Hummels. Bayern eventually resold the defender back to Borussia Dortmund for $33.55 million. In the end, both teams pretty much traded his services for a handful of years before giving him to their rival. Certainly a weird career for Hummels.

Free Transfers

The players listed above all shared one common trait. They were sold during their contracts to teams. There are instances where this is not the case.

Recently, FC Barcelona waited for defender Eric Garcia’s Manchester City contract to expire so they could get him for free. Manchester City acquired Garcia from FC Barcelona’s youth academy, La Masia.

On the other hand, players may wait till their contract expires. Gianluigi Buffon departed Parma to Juventus for an eye-popping $58 million. Twenty years later, Buffon returned to Parma on a free transfer to close out his career.

With transfers seemingly happening at increasing rates, it may be something to keep an eye out for. Teams may welcome the chance to bring back an old talent like Paul Pogba or Romelu Lukaku when the time seems right, even if the cost is astronomical relative to what they sold for.