As Manchester United were trying to get through the final stages of negotiation with Juventus over Paul Pogba, Zinedine Zidane was also trying to make one last pitch to Florentino Perez. The Real Madrid manager is a huge admirer of Pogba, and felt the club should have been trying to get him now so as to secure their midfield for the next decade, but the president wasn’t so receptive.
There were many reasons Perez was lukewarm on the deal, most of all that he isn’t sure Pogba is worth that kind of money - but there is another factor that is inescapable. The Real president, renowned as one of the most abrasive and successful negotiators in football, knew he probably wasn’t going to beat United this time. They weren’t going to be able to match United’s fee, and were always well behind in the race, so didn't want to lose face.
Manchester United sign Paul Pogba for world record £89m
It might of course have been very different if Perez was as intensely interested in Pogba as he was in Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo, but this still isn’t something that is supposed to happen these days.
Real Madrid have always been the biggest fish in the waters, along with Barcelona. Over the past two decades, we’ve become almost uniformly accustomed to them taking players off the Premier League, and certainly beating them to any transfer targets. The expectation throughout this deal was that if Real were to come into the picture, that would be that, and Pogba would be off to the Bernabeu.
Except, beyond some tentative contact in the last week, the Champions League winners never really dared. United had already done too much, were prepared to pay too much and to become the first Premier League club to break the world transfer record since Newcastle United with Alan Shearer in 1996.
It does not feel a coincidence that this first massive deal comes in the first summer when the staggering new broadcasting money starts to come through. We’re perhaps seeing the first real effects.
Sure, United might well be a financial mega-force in their own right and have so many huge commercial deals beyond any other English club, but that is still logically how these things start: with the wealthiest making that first breakthrough, setting the tone.
It’s difficult not to think this transfer will come to be seen as the start of a new era in that regard, the moment when the Premier League clubs properly began to flex their financial muscle to put themselves alongside the super-clubs of Real, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the market.
Is this the latest hint United have signed Paul Pogba?
Image credit: AFP
Other than Sergio Aguero in 2011, Pogba is the first proper global star to come to England in the modern era having not been discarded by one of the Spanish two, as was the case with Mesut Ozil in 2013 and Angel Di Maria in 2014. More relevantly, he is the first such star in that time to actively choose to go to England rather than Spain. He has broken the trend set by everyone from the original Ronaldo to Luis Suarez.
Pogba may be a long way off their level and the finished article, of course, but his talent and marketability are so obvious that his status is also undeniable. It is a huge coup for United to claim him in the sort of top-bracket deal that had genuinely been beyond Premier League clubs. Money is starting to talk.
This is not to say that the Clasico duo will be usurped. They are still the most attractive prospect in the game and remain the biggest possible destinations for the majority of players on the globe, especially those from central to southern Europe and Latin America, and can pay huge wages. It’s just that Premier League clubs can now pay slightly better wages, with less balancing of the books required to facilitate them, giving them a market clout arguably equal to Real and Barca.
It hasn’t fully happened yet, but Pogba is likely the first step.
It may well bring a last phase in the evolution of the Premier League. As has been so discussed this summer, the competition has already become the central hub for the top managerial talent in the game. It is the “league of managers”, to slightly alter a phrase often used about the Spanish top division.
That, and the way cash is being distributed, has already helped establish the circumstances for a hugely competitive league that has become one of the most appealing in the game. It was just missing the top playing talent to go with it. Pogba gives the league a greater gloss in that way, making it a competition almost as attractive on its own terms as the Champions League.
He is unlikely to be the last. It is a signing that could prove very persuasive to so many others.
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