When, as young boys or girls, we dreamed of playing professional football, the chances are that most of us dreamed of playing for the same teams. Aside from our local team (or whatever team our families made sure we were brainwashed into following), I bet most of you reading this will have thought of the same list of ‘footballing royalty’ for whom it would be a dream come true to play. I am, of course, talking about the likes of Ajax, AC Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s natural that there would be some variation in this list – the 1990s made up the majority of my childhood and so there were some clubs who achieved that dream-like status for me, such as Borussia Dortmund and Parma, who have since faded – but, in the main, the glamour clubs remain timeless and aren’t defined by era.
You would think therefore, that 22 year-old Paul Pogba would be relishing the thought of playing for any of the clubs listed above. Indeed, it could even be argued that, in Juve, he’s already playing for one of the European elite, a team who look on their way back to the top after a more than tumultuous decade. The young Frenchman is the hot topic of the transfer world this summer, with almost all of the above clubs having been linked with securing his services in recent weeks. According to recent reports, Barca are front runners for his signature but there is another, potentially more disappointing option that seems to remain open to the former Manchester United player.
That option is Manchester City. When I describe it as disappointing, I don’t mean for Pogba, I mean for the rest of us. There’s no doubt that City could blow any of the other competition out of the water when it comes to finances, with the transfer fee needing to exceed £70 million to prize the midfielder from Turin, if reports are to be believed. But what would Pogba going to Man City really mean for the world of football? When the true greats of the game are offering the youngster everything he could wish for, why would he choose to go to the Etihad instead?
The answer is simple – money. I’m not naive – most players are driven by money in what can be a short and fleeting career – but when the calibre of clubs chasing Pogba face being snubbed by a club with so little history in comparison, where does that leave us? If Pogba went to Barca, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, for example, he’d be guaranteed domestic titles and being part of the challenge to secure the Champions League. Even in England, it could be argued there are better options available to him, with Chelsea possibly proving more likely to secure silverware under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho. And let’s face it, even if finances were Pogba’s primary motivation, he’d hardly be on the bread line at any of these clubs.
The possibility that Pogba could end up playing for the blue half of Manchester, turning down the great and good of European football in the process, would only confirm what so many of us have feared about the game of football. Where tradition, passion and ambition to win prizes once drove the world’s top players, a transfer of this kind would make the strongest statement yet that financial gain is becoming the main motivating factor for today’s young prodigies. We don’t even need to look further than our own shores to see a prime example of this – Raheem Sterling’s contract dispute with Liverpool has been well documented. There is, of course, the argument that the young England international turned down £100,000 a week for reasons more than money, but with little evidence of a feasible alternative as to why he would turn down such a deal, many can’t help but think this is just the latest example of a young player not knowing when he ‘has it good’ and being satisfied to be playing regularly for one of Europe’s top clubs.
As well as seeing the rise of some lesser known clubs, the money-driven nature of the game has had the opposite effect for some of football’s traditional ‘big clubs’. Leeds United, AC Milan, Rangers and Parma are amongst the names of teams who, having enjoyed prolonged periods of success, find themselves with little money, in lower league positions and, in the cases of some, facing administration or worse. While the influx of billionaire owners has seen certain clubs thrive in places such as Russia and the Middle East, as well as a select few in Europe, those clubs who once sat at Europe’s top table have struggled to keep up, doing themselves serious damage when they even so much as try.
So, this begs the question – does Paul Pogba potentially signing for Man City mean football is heading in the wrong direction? For me – it does. I’m all for smaller clubs upsetting the apple cart, challenging the status quo and continuing to make football the exciting and unpredictable game we love. But it should be done by more honest means – by hard work and tactical nous, with a little bit of luck thrown in. That’s exactly how the traditionally great clubs in world football built the reputations on which they so proudly stand today. I may be being idealistic, of course. We may already be past the point of no return, where TV deals, bonus-based contracts and lucrative endorsement deals are king, but there is part of me that believes that there are young players today who would still put prestige and glory in the form of medals ahead of a few extra million in the bank. One thing is for sure – no matter where Paul Pogba goes in the rest of his career, he will retire a very rich and still-relatively-young man but the silverware and the success are the real variables. Signing on the dotted line for Barca, Real or Bayern would prove football means more than money to Pogba and I, for one, truly hope that turns out to be the case.
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