Thursday 26 April 2018

Daniel Taylor: Get ready for the £1m a week player

Paul Pogba's transfer from Juventus to Manchester United raised the world record to £89.3m. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Paul Pogba's transfer from Juventus to Manchester United raised the world record to £89.3m. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Daniel Taylor

The money is so astronomical these days, the rich are getting so much richer and the numbers are getting higher all the time, perhaps this is an appropriate point to ask how long it will be before football ushers in its first £1m-a-week player.

Quicker than you might imagine, judging by a recent interview with one of the sport's more formidable agents. "I don't think the bubble is going to burst," says Jonathan Barnett. "Football's getting bigger and bigger, and salaries will get bigger and bigger. So, yes, someone getting paid £50m a year? I think that will come very shortly."

Barnett, for those not familiar with the name, is in a good position to judge, given that he has Gareth Bale, superstar, among his clients and, as such, orchestrated the £85m move from Tottenham to Real Madrid that made the Welshman the most expensive player on the planet.

Now, of course, that deal has been eclipsed by Paul Pogba's transfer from Juventus to Manchester United, raising the world record to £89.3m, and it is no wonder so many people find the sums mind-boggling when the agent in that case, Mino Raiola, has reputedly pocketed something in the region of ¤25m. Raiola's clients also include Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

At the other end of the scale, just consider the disparity between the various rungs of English football when Barnsley's sell-on fee from John Stones's £47.5m transfer between Everton and Manchester City is higher, at £6.8m, than the Yorkshire club's entire annual income, posted in their last accounts at £4.8m.

The gap is getting bigger. This is the way football has been moving for some time and we should probably be aware by now that complaining about it won't change anything. Arsene Wenger talked about a culture of players getting rich before their time and when he was asked about the biggest changes, approaching 20 years as Arsenal manager, he mentioned the power of agents. "I've fought all my life for footballers to make money but when you pay them before they produce it can kill the hunger," he said. "I'm scared we now have players under 17, under 18, who make £1m a year. When Ian Wright was earning that, he'd scored goals, he'd put his body on the line. Now, before they start, they are millionaires - a young player who has not even played." The going rate apparently for a "top kid" in today's climate is actually £40,000 a week and a four-year contract.

Don't underestimate the sapping effect of this too much, too young culture. Adnan Januzaj was regarded as one of the more gifted young players in Europe when he signed his first big deal at Manchester United in October 2013, aged 18. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris Saint-­Germain were all trying to prise Januzaj away from Old Trafford. Three years on, he has pitched up on loan at Sunderland. Jose Mourinho did not immediately want him. Louis van Gaal did not like what he saw. Borussia Dortmund signed him on loan last season then sent him back four months early. Januzaj, now 21, is said to be extremely fond of the star footballer's perks and it probably isn't a coincidence his drift began after finalising that five-year contract. A player with those blurred priorities should not expect too much sympathy over the leaked news he feels "humiliated" by Mourinho.

Tyler Blackett signed a £2.5m contract in February 2015 and in the rest of that season he made two substitute appearances, totalling 27 minutes. Last season he went on loan to Celtic. After three games, Blackett never appeared for Celtic in the league again. The 22-year-old is now waiting to go out on loan again and here's the thing: there aren't too many clubs who want to take on a £20,000-a-week salary.

The difficulty is knowing what can be done to change this culture when there is more money than ever swilling around in the Premier League.

"There will never, ever be a better time to be a footballer than now," Alan Shearer declared in 1999. But he was wrong. This season, with the new television deal, there is so much prize money to share around the club finishing bottom of the Premier League will earn more than whoever wins the Bundesliga. All 20 of England's top-division clubs are expected to feature when the Deloitte Football Money League names the top 30 richest in the world and it means we now have a league where Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Manchester United, Swansea, Watford and West Ham have all broken their transfer records this summer. Everton expect to do the same this week for Yannick Bolasie.

There is no easy solution but perhaps the authorities should explore whether it is possible to cap player salaries at a certain age. It has been discussed, according to Dan Ashworth, the FA technical director, and it might also be a good idea to introduce trust funds, meaning young players would receive a portion of their wages with the rest kept back until later in their careers.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know what the relevant people are actually doing about it. Colin Gordon, another of the sport's more prominent agents, was interviewed recently for a book about the malaise affecting England's national team and told a story about holding a two-hour meeting with Greg Dyke, then the FA chairman, to propose the trust-fund idea. "Greg Dyke loved it," he recalls. "'Fantastic, brilliant,' he said, 'send me an email.'" Gordon sent Dyke the email. And then what? "I didn't hear from him."


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