The Summer of Discontent

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It’s a shame that the name ‘Paul Pogba’ no longer represents tenacious skill or overwhelming strength. The last few months have seen to that. Instead, the French midfielder will be remembered for 2016’s most protracted transfer saga, a transition across Europe that seems to have taken an abnormal amount of time even in this post-Brexit age. Pogba’s much-anticipated £89 million move to Manchester United, the club he left four years ago for nothing, is expected to be completed some time this week. However, the deal has been conducted in such a way that new, fresh questions are bubbling below the surface; questions which, when answered, could reshape the face of the game.

To those that have followed the summer transfer storm, the name Mino Raiola will have become familiar. Raiola is a Dutch footballing agent, whose clientele list includes the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and none other than Paul Pogba. Raiola’s role in bringing Pogba back to Manchester has become increasingly apparent as the deal has worn on; his infrequent Twitter updates have infuriated United fans the world over and it has been widely reported that the 48 year old’s £20 million pay-off is the stumbling block delaying the completion of what would be a world-record transfer deal. Agents aren’t typically characters who demand the spotlight, preferring instead to conduct their deals in private behind the efficacious shadow of their clients. Raiola bucks this trend in a way which only super-agent Jorge Mendes has ever really managed to. Raiola has been labelled as greedy and self-indulgent by frustrated United fans, but it is he, not Pogba, who will negotiate every facet of his player’s personal terms with Manchester United. If Pogba, who is set to earn £280000 a week before tax, deserves that sort of wealth, isn’t Raiola due the same?

Aside from the clearly divisive subject of pay-packets, Raiola’s role in orchestrating the move has been crucial. He has been stigmatised for his posturing, but it is the suspense which has generated so many headlines. This is the age of transfer tiki-taka; the incremental steps forward that help to construct a super-deal. Information is available to the masses just as quickly as it is to Sky Sports’ top reporters; social media has rapidly changed the way we look, understand and evaluate big-money moves. By tapping into this, Raiola is demonstrating that football is no longer played on the pitch by 22 athletes between the months of August and May. It is multi-platform, multi-personal and growing at a pace which frightens and astounds in equal measure. The Dutchman might be the pantomime villain to many, but it’s a role we better get used to.

Raiola has drawn attention to himself through the guise of social media, but it is the vast quantities of money involved in Pogba’s switch which have dominated column inches. £89 million for one player seems grossly disproportionate and it appears several of football’s most venerable figures agree.  The Premier League’s new £5.14 billion TV deal has had the effect of driving prices beyond the realms of reasonable across the continent. Aside from Pogba, English clubs have been priced out of moves throughout Europe. Chelsea were reportedly quoted £42 million for Portugese midfielder Andre Gomes, but Valencia proceeded to let him go for £29 million to fellow Spaniards Barcelona. Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis recently conceded that his club wouldn’t attempt to match the extravagant spending of their rivals as the club were forced to concede defeat in their pursuit of Gonzalo Higuan, who eventually moved to Juventus for an eye-watering £75.3 million. British clubs appear to have been presented with a double-edged sword; their increased financial might has effectively been nullified by the inflationary prices on the European transfer market.

There is little doubt that British clubs need to rethink their transfer policies. One agent, speaking to the Daily Mirror, spoke of the ‘amateur’ way in which British clubs are run. Bayern Munich are a perfect example of how to go about buying and selling players; their purchase of German international Mats Hummels and Portuguese wonder-kid Renato Sanches were efficiently negotiated and completed a month before the transfer window opened. The effect of this meant that Bayern could secure both players at relatively low prices, with Hummels arriving for £30 million. Compared to John Stones, who is available for nearly double that, 30 is a cinch. Even Barcelona, who have bought no less than four players of impressive calibre, approach their transfer business with an unerring ability to secure their targets. Granted, the likes of Bayern and Barcelona have considerably more clout than most, if not all, English teams but a examination of their business policies could be in order. The Premier League is getting a hammering from Europe’s top table, in both financial and footballing terms. Many of the continent’s best teams are run as businesses, first and foremost. That sort of acumen could go a long way in stabilising what has been an absurd transfer market.

As it is, Paul Pogba’s convoluted transfer saga will doubtless roll on into the latter stages of this week and possibly further. The expectation on the Frenchman will be huge; £89 million could buy you a small country. When the Premier League roars back into life on the 13th August, it’ll be up to Pogba to prove he’s worth all the fuss.  http://gty.im/455719290

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News Editor 2015/16

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