Why £89m Pogba transfer fee is both ridiculous yet irrelevant at the same time.

It’s now been a few days since Manchester United unveiled the world record transfer fee for Paul Pogba in what was one of the summers worst kept secrets, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be “is he worth the money?” My question is, does and should any football fan really care?

 

Back in 2012, Paul Pogba had a steady following of clued up United fans who were well aware of his potential given his performances in the reserves.  Along with Ravel Morrison, the fans saw a beacon of hope for the United youth academy aiming to follow in the footsteps of the class of ‘92 to carry the club into a new era.

Very few fans however saw the ludicrous £800k transfer to Juventus coming, along with the demise of Morrison, and even fewer fans would have expected the club to buy him back for a world record fee of $89m 4 years later, 111 times that of which he was sold. However, four managers later (if you include Giggs) with a host of players come and gone, it is a position the club and fans now find themselves in.

 

Many have laughed at the fact that, just four years prior, the club let Pogba leave and have had to break the world record transfer fee to get him back.  A player who won’t necessarily win you games single-handedly like Ronaldo or Bale but, when all the dust settles, will any Man Utd fan really care?

 

Much has been made of the astounding £89m fee, a price for which you could buy 74 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport super cars, 8 Beckingham Palace’s or could even pay for 1 and a half of India’s Mars Orbiter missions. You could even comfortably build 2 non academy schools in the UK for the price paid for the 23 year old French midfielder, but does that really matter?

It has long been known that the world of football is a false economy not only in the fees paid for most players in top flight football but the wage structures and agents’ fees that all contribute to a glut of riches not affected by economic turbulence, not impacted by the Brexit vote nor global recession. It is an industry seemingly on its own island, completely unrecognisable from the reality of most people’s lives.  This is not a new thing.

15 years ago in 2001, Zinedine Zidane was signed by Real Madrid for £47m.  In the same year Juventus paid £33m for a goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon.  The ever shy and retiring Zlatan Ibrahimović moved to Barcelona for a fee of £61m in 2009. Granted these were true world class players, some of the best in their position at the time, but the fact remains that crazy transfer fees are not a new phenomenon.

Even if you look back 12 years to 2004, Man Utd were shot down by many for spending £27m on a young 18 year old striker in Wayne Rooney, a fee that now looks a bargain given what he has achieved at the club.

 

Whilst high transfer fees are not a recent problem, the value and quality clubs get for the fees paid these days are generally much less than that of the early 2000’s. For example, the £47m paid for Zidane 15 years ago would not be enough to secure Raheem Sterling as Man City found out last season when paying a massively overinflated price of £50m for the young attacker.

The £33m fee paid for Buffon is just enough to cover Christian Benteke’s move from Aston Villa to Liverpool last season, so it seems quite common for clubs to pay high fees for relative mediocrity compared to 15 years ago. With that said, it’s only rational that one of the best players from Serie A, one of the best young players, and one of the most marketable players in world football would cost a fee proportionate to that of the top players from 10 to 15 years ago.

 

Opposing fans, in particular Arsenal fans, feel the need to sift through the financial nuances of the deal claiming Pogba is not worth the money and United are crazy for agreeing such a high price. However, in terms of the current market place, that is the price you have to pay so the club can choose to either pay it or not.

The football market is similar in a way to the UK housing market, in particular the London housing market. We all know that a small 2 bedroom flat on a quiet road in Balham in south London is not worth anywhere near its £700,000 price tag, but that is the market; if you want that property, you need to pay that price. As an alternative, you could of course buy a 2 bedroom flat outside of London at a third of the price, but you still won’t be getting the property you actually wanted. To an extent, that is how Arsenal have been operating for some years, refusing to pay top dollar for top players, missing out and reverting to a sub-standard alternative; a scenario that has once again reared its head with them being unwilling to pay the fee demanded for Higuaín.

Arsenal fans for years have complained that Arsenal don’t compete with the top teams in terms of transfer fees, yet mock other English clubs when they do pay the fees for the type of players Arsenal fans have been crying out for. Pogba fits that mould.

 

The way football fees are calculated today are also different from the early 2000’s with the game ever more global and much more a commercial venture than ever before.

Top players are no longer just bought for what they can bring to the team in terms of footballing ability, the pace they possess, the shooting accuracy or the range of passing but also for what they bring to the club off the pitch from a commercial standpoint.

When a top transfer goes through, the manager and team are getting a brand new player to excite the fans and give them hope for what could be. For the owners and chief execs however, they are buying an asset. As with any asset, you have a finite length of time to maximise the return on investment.

 

Manchester United as a footballing entity are a commercial juggernaut.  Whilst Chief Executive ‘uncle’ Ed Woodward receives a fair bit of criticism from fans, what he has done on the commercial front should be commended. Post-Fergie was always going to be a tough time for United, but that hasn’t stopped Woodward pulling off some massive commercial deals, whether it be the monumental £750m (over 10 years) Adidas sponsorship, the naming rights of the ‘Aon’ training ground (said to be worth £150m) or deals with Chevrolet, 20th Century Fox, DHL and Tag Heuer to name just a few.

The signing of Paul Pogba from a commercial standpoint makes absolute sense to the money men at United with a wide portfolio of commercial partners.  Securing the third most marketable player on the planet, behind Messi and Ronaldo, means that he can and will be used to rack up yet more high value deals for the club whilst also satisfying the current commercial partners. The potential revenues that Pogba could bring in shirt sales and other endorsements as well as commercial deals shows that the policy for transfers has changed along with the size of the game.  £89m over a 5 year deal works out at under £18m per year which is more than manageable for a club expected to break the half a billion pound revenue barrier in the next year. It seems even more convenient when you consider Pogba is the new poster boy of Adidas.

 

With all that can be said about the commercial impact Pogba will have at United, let’s not forget he is also one of the top midfielders in the world, and at 23 has a lot of room for further development.

Pogba is just the kind of signing on the pitch that United need.  A massive void is still felt from the retirement of Scholes and Keane and has not been successfully filled up until now.

Pogba is a complete all round midfielder who has a great engine, fantastic range of passing and the will to become the best in the world.  He is just the kind of character to have around the United dressing room amongst the egos of Jose and Zlatan.

No player in Serie A recorded more assists last season than Pogba who created 12 goals for Juventus, double that of Wayne Rooney who was top of United’s assists charts in LVG’s ill-fated season.

In comparison to the other United midfielders from last season, Pogba scored more goals, had more than double the assists and was also 3 times as successful with take-ons when compared with Mata, Herrera, Carrick and Schneiderlin.  He played some of his best football on the left hand side of a midfield 3, benefitting from the surging runs of ex-United fan favourite Evra and could have similar benefit from Luke Shaw if used in the same way.

But Pogba gives more than just a direct attacking threat that United need; he also has the abilities to win the ball and break up play.

Morgan Schneiderlin was the only midfielder in the Utd squad who made more interceptions than Pogba last season, with Pogba also boasting an impressive tackling rate. He won more than double the aerial duels than any other United midfielder, also winning over 50% of total duels compared to 35% for Schneiderlin.

 

Jose Mourinho has to decide how best to use Pogba.  Martial has secured the number 11 shirt on the left hand side, Zlatan is likely to play up top and the right hand side is likely to be occupied by either Mkhitaryan or Jesse Lingard.  Pogba could be used in the playmaker role, with the ability to defend from the front.

 

The world record fee for Paul Pogba is more than Manchester United accepting a costly mistake from 4 years ago.  It is more than a club desperately seeking to secure its first premier league title post-Ferguson. To Manchester United, it is Woodward and the club once again flexing their financial muscle, beating off Real Madrid in the past 2 transfer windows (keeping David De Gea last season being the first). It is not only Manchester United who are benefitting from this deal, it is a massive boost to the Premier League as whole.  The most watched league around the world can once again start to boast some of the worlds truly world class players that in recent years have all too often ended up playing in Spain.

This is a statement by United, a statement by Woodward, a statement by Mourinho.  When all is said and done if a successful spell at United follows for Pogba, much like the Rooney transfer from 12 years ago, no one will be talking about the fee.

 

By Michael Thatcher

 

Advertisements