With the protracted signing of Paul Pogba finally complete, we’re drawing ever closer to breaking the billion-pound transfer barrier in the Premier League. £89m is the fee agreed by Manchester United and Juventus for Pogba, and in many ways it’s a sign of the times.
Everybody knows that £50m used to buy you a player of the quality of Fernando Torres or David Luiz, but in a market where Crystal Palace can afford to offer Christian Benteke £120,000 per week in wages, (along with a £30m fee) it’s turning into Football Manager on steroids.
Since 1992, *when football first came into existence (*Not really), prices for players have grown at an exponential rate around the world. The rise of the Premier League has coincided with an increase of money in the game, and the league has been graced with many exceptional talents over the years.
Clubs have slowly become a viable business option for investors thanks to the large amounts of money they can generate, and there’s no sense that the bubble will burst as more television markets continue to be drawn to the spectacle of ‘the most exciting league in the world'.
Players are often bought at a premium, with £870m changing hands in the summer transfer of 2015. The bumper TV deal signed with Sky and BT mean that there’s even more money floating about, and many clubs are willing to spend on just about anybody in a bid to improve their position.
Nearly every transfer rumour seems to be true, and a majority of business has already been completed by most Premier League teams in time for the start of the new season.
It’s fair to say that many foreign teams probably see English clubs coming, well aware that they’ll be willing to pay over the odds as they attempt to replicate success that is often the result of superior planning and scouting.
The players themselves are often happy to collect an increased wage even if they have to accept a smaller within the team, and it could lead to the Premier League hoovering up a majority of world class talent in future.
It’s not like Premier League clubs can’t afford it, and if you want to become the very best in the world, it doesn’t come cheap.
With the acquisition of Pep Guardiola, Man City made a clear statement of intent for the future. It’s not just money, European football, and a title challenge on offer at the Etihad. They also offer the chance to work with some of the best coaching staff in the world in a prestigious league.
It’s not just the larger sides, as every team has benefitted from the recent influx of money. It means that West Ham can bid £31m for Alexandre Lacazette and nobody bats an eyelid. With the inflated prices for players around the world, you’d think that English clubs would be dominant in continental competition.
Sadly, English clubs have been lacking in Europe in recent years, surpassed by Spanish and German counterparts that tend to spend more wisely. It’s a trend they’ve been hoping to buck with the signing of a new round of coaches and personnel, and the signing of Pogba is a step in the right direction.
For a team that missed out on the Champions League last term, it’s been a positive few weeks for Manchester United as they’ve concocted a media frenzy over the signing.
This article has been fairly ‘Manchester centric' so far, and that’s because the two clubs have spent over £300m between them during this window acquiring talents like John Stones and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at a premium price (and that’s without factoring in wages).
It makes for a top heavy table of spending, but smaller clubs are also pulling their weight with a number of decent signings. They’re unable to compete with larger clubs in terms of prestige, but they do have the money available if they can get a deal done under the radar.
The league still has a hierarchal structure; as bigger teams can snap up talent fby offering more money than they club's can refuse – there isn't an NBA-style draft system, after all.
They don’t need to sell, but it often wouldn’t make sense not to bid farewell to a promising player. Who in their right mind would turn down £47.5m for John Stones?
Money isn’t necessarily indicative of quality, though nobody is suggesting that Manchester United have bought a dud in Pogba.
Regardless, it’s worth remembering that Newcastle spent the most in the January transfer window and they were still relegated by the end of the season. (Or that United spent over £100m on players in their failed bid for the fourth placed trophy.)
Throwing money at a problem doesn’t always make it go away, and sometimes it’s better to invest in the future by planning for incremental progress.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Leicester City team that ran away with the league last year cost less than half of the Pogba fee. Nobody really expects one of the smaller teams to steal a march once again, but it’s clear that money doesn’t always buy success.
It’s true that Manchester United are a financial behemoth and they can easily afford it. The point is, will it work out in the future, and how will he fit into Jose Mourinho’s new look side? Whatever the criticism, he is one of the best young players in the world, and the transfer has created a feel-good factor at the club.
The window closes at the end of the month, and there’s still a lot of time to reach the £1bn mark. (Overall transfers for the summer and January last year already exceeded £1bn, but this could be the first time it happens in a single window.)
History suggests that this could be the first window of many to break the billion-pound barrier, heralding an era of teams packed with the very best the world has to offer. (Or players of the same quality, at inflated prices.)
We’ll have to wait and see, but Europe is probably the best yardstick to measure if progress is being made.