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The £100,000,000 man: the reality of modern football

Image credit: Getty (edited by Tom Killeen)
Image credit: Getty (edited by Tom Killeen)
Image credit: Getty (edited by Tom Killeen)

This week sees Paul Pogba on the brink of breaking the transfer fee in a move back to Manchester United, after 4 years with Juventus. In that time, the man known amongst the Juventus faithful as Il Polpo Paul (meaning Paul the Octopus, on account of his lanky frame, good one Italy!), has helped the team accrue four Serie A titles and four Coppa Italia’s. Pogba left Manchester United on relatively bad terms, accused on showing “no respect” by Alex Ferguson, although his success at Juventus might hint at his talent being somewhat wasted in his early days at Manchester. Nevertheless, the final arrangements are believed to have been settled regarding a move that will eclipse Gareth Bale’s £93.1 million pound move to Real Madrid back in 2013. Whether a player can realistically even be worth this much money and whether this is good for football as a whole are questions worth considering.

In the past seven years, the top ten most expensive transfers all took place, totalling a staggering £691.3 million spent. This could be explained away as the simple result of inflation, growth in popularity and greater investment in football teams in general. However, the devaluation of actual talent and quality seems to be becoming more relevant amidst ridiculous fees and thoughtless spending. Certainly, those players choosing to sign to Chinese teams seem quite evidently to have chosen a fat paycheck over the experience of high quality football that has any relevance. I can’t see myself tuning into Sky to watch Ramires and mighty Jiangsu Suning take on Ezequiel Lavezzi and the unforgettable Hebei China Fortune.

The recent signing of Pelle to Shandong Luneng earned him a spot as fifth highest-paid footballer in the world, making approximately £13.5 million a year. Pelle’s not a terrible player, but it seems quite obvious that he is unworthy of a wage that high. He is just one example of many in which the uncontrolled spending of clubs, enabled by ludicrous TV deals and giddy executives with too much money to play with, are damaging the integrity of footballing quality and essentially sacrificing the grassroots fan-bases who pay for tickets to see it all.

I don’t necessarily think that more money flowing into football is a bad thing, it could be spent funding youth programs, scouting and stadium improvements. However, we see a lot less of it, incidentally. In light of Premier League teams flirting with the idea of actually upping ticket prices, only to have away tickets (rightfully) capped by the FA, it seems obvious that all this money flowing through the hands of elite teams is suffering from a lack of control and, essentially, greed.

The reality that £20 million valuations aren’t even newsworthy is commonplace in today’s elite leagues. Back in 2001, £46.4 million bought you Zinedine Zidane. Today, £50 million buys you a fresh-faced, 21 year-old, laughing-gas-inhaling Raheem Sterling. As I’ve said, part of this is natural, more money was bound to flow into football as the world economy grows. However, its seems difficult to argue that there isn’t a degree of stupidity in the manner that premier, European teams spend their money.

I support Arsenal. Bear with me. The success of the 2004 campaign was built upon players like Henry (cost £11 million), Viera (cost £3.5 million) and Fabregas (cost £2.7 million) who were young, untested and built into great players. Nowadays, we chastise Arsene Wenger because he is still resistant to spend ridiculous sums on, often, overrated players. And it’s sort of sad that, essentially, he will have no choice in the end. To not spend ludicrous fees on new players means to fall behind the pack and not achieve the same success. It’s part of the reason Leicester’s title meant so much to everyone. A victory for football; a title not bought, but earned. Unfortunately, as expected, their team is currently undergoing valuations from it’s richest rivals, who will cherry-pick their favourites and leave the team weakened for next season.

Football has been changing rapidly for the past ten years, and the age of intelligent scouting and building from the ground up seems to be dying out. Maybe it’s just a resistance to change that shapes my opinion on it. Plus Arsenal haven’t won anything for ages and it’s just pissing me off now. But, in truth, now that deals like the Premier league’s £5 billion TV agreement have been agreed, money is going to be thrown around with increasing abandon. And so Paul Pogba, all £101.3 million of him, arriving at Old Trafford this week shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, get used to it. It’s only the beginning.