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Harry McDonnell writes to justify the massive transfer fees paid for Paul Pogba and John Stones by Manchester United and Manchester City this past summer.
Over the summer there was a lot of debate about whether Manchester United and Manchester City had done wise business by signing Paul Pogba and John Stones for record-breaking fees. Many people shook their heads in disgust as United shelled out £89 million pounds for the 23-year-old French midfielder. Amongst this, there was the constant rhetoric that only a player of Messi and Ronaldo’s standard could command such a fee. However, when looking closer at both deals it is easy to see why these deals make perfect sense, for both clubs.
So why is Paul Pogba worth more than any other player? Simply, because of a few set of circumstances. Firstly, and most obviously, his talent. Despite a lot of criticism, it is undeniable that Paul Pogba is one of the best midfielders in the world. He possesses a unique technical ability as well as his physicality, which makes him the modern day box to box midfielder.
Secondly, it is the lack of alternatives. I don’t mean there were no other midfielders Manchester United could have bought, I mean that Jose Mourinho and Manchester United were looking for a box to box, complete midfielder, of which there are not many at Pogba’s level. Vidal, Matuidi, and Nainggolan were all options as a box to box midfielder, but they are all four or five years older than Pogba. Bayern Munich was not going to sell Vidal for anything less than £70m or around that figure as he is one of the best in his position. Matuidi was available for around £30m, however, he does not have the excellent technical ability of Pogba and is five years older. Nainggolan is four years older than Pogba, and also not at his level.
Thirdly, leading on from this; Pogba’s age. He is 23, so has at least 10 years left at the highest level. If he stays at United for that time, it will be £8.9m of his transfer fee, a year. Compared to Nainggolan, who is 28, so five years until he is 33, that with a fee of around £40m, what Roma would demand of United. This works out at £8m a year, for a player in the same position who United feel is not as good as Pogba.
Fourthly, and most prominent in explaining why Pogba cost this much, is that the club who are buying him are Manchester United. United are in the booming, money making, Premier League which adds about 30% to any transfer these days. Accompany this with the fact that United had revenue of €519m in 2015, only third to Barcelona and Real Madrid, without factoring the 2016/17 premier league television deal. It is no wonder clubs increase the price when a Premier League club wants to buy.
All of these factors can be applied to the John Stones transfer as well. Guardiola wanted a ball playing centre back. The other option available would have been Leonardo bonucci. The John Stones fee was £47.5m, but Juventus, if they were willing to sell Bonucci, would have demanded at £60m. Bonucci is 29, while Stones is 22. If both play at the top level till they are 33, here is how the calculations work out. £47.5m over 11 years, works out at £4.32m a year, while Bonucci would be £12m a year. This shows that when looking at transfer fees of players, instead of just ridiculing the buying club for paying such an astronomical fee, we should look deeper into the components of the deal.
We can even compare transfers of the past to transfers now. Zinezine Zidane arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu from Juventus for £46m. When you adjust Pogba’s fee according to the 51.99% inflation since 2001, that makes Pogba’s fee £56m in the same year. But Pogba is not £10m better than Zidane is he? No, but when you adjust the fee for football inflation, the fee seems more logical. In 2001, Real Madrid released their revenue figures which were €138m. In 2015 their revenue was €577m. This shows the increase in the revenue of football clubs over this period. Pogba’s transfer is €103m of Manchester United’s €519m revenue. This works out at 19.85% of Manchester United’s total revenue. Compare this with Zidane’s fee, which was €53m of Real Madrid’s €138m revenue; which works out at 38.4% of their total revenue. That’s 18.55 percentage points more than Pogba’s fee.
Football valuation also works in other ways as well. Take Messi as an example. You will probably hear about Manchester United, PSG or Manchester City linked with a move for the Argentinian. There is little truth in these rumours anyway but ignore that for the moment. The fee usually talked about is around £200-£250m. Why is this figure seemingly plucked out of the air? It is because the fee is out of the transfer markets bounds. It is double the world record fee at the moment. So why do newspapers value Messi at this price? It is because they know that such a fee makes him priceless. No club in the world will stump up that much money for one player at this point in time. Messi’s talent has effectively priced him out of the market. This is because Barcelona has aspirations to be the best team in the world. In order to do this, they need the best players in the world. Messi is currently the best in the world, if not of all time. Therefore Barcelona cannot possibly get a better player, so it is not in their interests to take money to reinvest when they have already got the best.
So what conclusions can we draw this? In a nutshell, players are worth whatever the buying team values him at. Thus Stones and Pogba are worth their fees. It can also be said that a player’s valuation is not only determined by his current ability; you have to take into account their age, potential ability, the other available options in the same role, the percentage of the total revenue the fee takes up and the necessity of the player to both the buying and selling team.