Paul Pogba is now officially the most expensive player in football history – well, at least for a few years until another bright young talent forces a big club to break the bank for his signature. Popular reactions to this transfer are disbelief, excitement, shock, and even disappointment from some. Manchester United are about to spend an absolute fortune on a player who left the club on a free transfer to Juventus in 2012 – have they completely lost their minds? Possibly. But, while it may seem absurd on the surface, there are a number of good reasons why spending this amount on the 23-year-old Frenchman is possibly the most sensible thing United could possibly do, and we’ll jump into the most important ones right now.
He’s a Commercial Juggernaut
First off, let’s start with the price tag. £89m is an astounding amount of money. It’s probably the GDP of some small countries. You could probably start an entirely self-sustaining moon colony with it. It could probably buy enough solar panels to provide clean electricity to an entire continent. Okay, wait, that’s probably not true. But, it’s still an obscene amount of money. Simple question, is Paul Pogba worth that as a footballer? Simple answer: No, he isn’t. In terms of what he’ll add exclusively on the pitch Pogba is likely worth about £50m-£60m.
However, what he contributes on the pitch isn’t the only factor to consider, there are a few more reasons – few more important than the commercial power he adds to the club. Sponsors in football are big business, and at the top-level sponsors only care about one thing: exposure. How many people are going to see a brand’s logo, or Google their name as a result of being linked to a club like United? Well, a significant amount more when your brand sponsors the team with the most expensive player in the game’s history. Whether we like it or not marketing and exposure have enormous value in the modern football economy, and Pogba joining United’s Mourinho renaissance is big news. It’s going to be plastered all over everyone’s televisions and smartphones for weeks. If you’re one of United’s sponsors you’re likely willing to pay the club more for the increased exposure a star-studded team will bring to your brand, and increased sponsorship revenue is something that can offset Pogba’s transfer fee.
This touches on a related point about marketing; United haven’t had a big name player since Ferguson left. Rooney is a waning figure with a waning career, but, in a short space of time United has added Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a brand unto himself, and Paul Pogba to their ranks. Before even kicking a ball this puts them back in league with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich as football royalty. Manchester United is a club with an illustrious history, but a vastly disappointing last few years that has dulled the gleam of their global brand. If they are going to maintain their position as a noteworthy team in elite-level football, they need to act like it, and nothing says they mean business like throwing a (possibly
literal?) boatload of money at the best young prospect on the market.
He’s not half bad at Football
Another significant factor in the price that’s being asked for Pogba’s services is that the market is extremely thin on players with his specific skillset. A well-balanced central midfielder is hard to come by at the moment. A decade ago saw the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Xavi Hernandes, Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo, among many other central midfielders equally competent going forward as well as assisting in defense. At the moment, though, midfielders tend to either heavily excel in attack or defense, and a player that has equal talent in both areas is rather rare. Pogba happens to be one of the most promising prospects in the game, but he also happens to play a position that is short of talent in the market – which United are going to pay a high premium for. Further, Pogba’s frame and physicality mean he’s tailor made to play in the Premier League, a player with his physicality but a slighter player’s ability on the ball results in a very well balanced prospect.
The market for a position like a winger or wide forward is currently completely saturated; Raheem Sterling, Willian, Anthony Martial, Sadio Mane, Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez, and many other talented wingers are a dime a dozen right now. Balanced central midfielders, on the other hand, are difficult to come by, so a fair amount of Pogba’s price tag is down to the fact that he has a sought after skill profile. Make no mistake, he’s one of the most promising young talents and he’s likely to develop beyond his current good form, and United will likely have him during his peak years to boot.
£89m isn’t as much as it seems
The last reason why Pogba’s transfer makes a lot of sense is because of the way players’ transfer fees are paid. Most people read “£89m for Paul Pogba” and think that’s a lump sum that United will directly transfer into Juventus’s account. Not the case at all. Players are assets to the club much like equipment is to a business, and their transfer fees generally get paid off over the duration of their contracts with the club, in this case it’s likely to be 5 years. Which means United only have to worry about £20m a year for his transfer fee. United also have a long-term kit sponsorship deal with Adidas that began last season, and coincidentally Paul Pogba is an Adidas sponsored athlete. United are allegedly negotiating for Pogba’s imaging rights, which could give them room to renegotiate their deal with Adidas to be worth more than the £750m over ten years. If United manage to get just £10m more a year Pogba will pay for half his own transfer fee within the period he plays for the club. This doesn’t even include the shirt sales he’ll generate for the club, which will likely be quite significant.
So while it seems simple enough to say a player isn’t worth the fee, and I’d be inclined to agree, the way that money moves in the football world suggests it could
be a lot more favorable for United than it may initially seem. This, of course, assumes Pogba’s return to the club is a success and that his reputation continues to grow as it has for the last two or three years. Is it likely? That will remain speculative, but, he’s managed to make progress in leaps and bounds in Serie A, and at 23 years old he’s easily one of the top 5 midfielders in the game. Shifting from the Italian league to the Premier League could provide challenges, but as a 19-year-old he ventured into a tough and unknown playing environment and made a success of it, he should be able to do the same thing returning to a club and league he already knows.
The fans and pundits will have their say too though; is he over-priced or has United done a good bit of business?