Last night Manchester United announced that Paul Pogba would be returning to Old Trafford, ending the summer's longest running transfer story. Ali reports.
Close your eyes for a second and imagine a scenario: it is the night before the 2016 FA Cup final and someone has asked you the following: "Name the first five Manchester United players, past or present, that come into your head. Go!". No time for consideration, so you fire back immediately. "Umm... Best, Giggs, Cantona, Ronaldo, Beckham." If your list is very different from mine we might simply have different opinions of what makes a memorable player, but you could have named any of the 'Class of 92' as well (or Sir Bobby Charlton, for a real throwback), as players who the club developed and went on to become legends of the new Premier League era.
United have struggled with both of those areas in recent years. There are two elements at play in the lists of players above: first, the superstar; second, the home grown talent. Whilst young players have been coming through the United ranks, none of them have really gone on to make a mark yet: Marcus Rashford could well be the first to really make an impact on the United first team on a regular basis for a while now. Meanwhile, and even more importantly, the star faces have disappeared. Whilst there is no doubting that some of the current squad have unbelievable talent, they have either failed to show it or don't have the personality to make them a household name. If it wasn't for the fact he was English, Wayne Rooney would be almost anonymous. What happened to the flash and brashness of Cristiano Ronaldo, what happened to the strutting arrogance of Eric Cantona? These used to be characteristics associated with United and something which certainly added to the fear factor. No one could beat them because mentally they had already won.
Enter Paul Pogba. Mild and meek this kid is not, but what a player and what a personality. He embodies everything Manchester United want to portray: swaggering arrogance, incredible talent, a will and ability to win and, most importantly, a face to sell. Whilst United may have fallen off the top of the sporting food chain for the moment, they are certainly top dog in the financial world that is now almost as important. Whilst Ed Woodward would sell United's soul to any corporate giant going, it now means Manchester United can afford to buy the soul of every other club as a replacement. Faust, take note. In this vein, Pogba has been signed as the face of the rejuvenated United, a club which is well run, well financed and now well stocked with star talent on the pitch. But Pogba is so much more than the final piece in a potentially title winning jigsaw at Old Trafford. His addition follows three other excellent signings and an intriguing managerial appointment, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly adding considerable talent to the squad and Jose Mourinho stepping in to bring success where Louis van Gaal brought mediocrity. But what Pogba adds, beyond all else, is star quality.
The 23 year old arrives with a huge £89 million price tag around his neck, but United know that won't faze him in the slightest. Juventus have already made two video compilations thanking him for his time with the Old Lady (those are just the ones I've seen, by the way. There may be more), so United know they are getting an exceptional player. The face of Euro 2016 will be the strut that the Red Devils have missed on the pitch and he will be the brand image that they require off it. He was announced as a United player last night, but not by the club initially. Club and player are sponsored by sportswear giants Adidas, who secured a major coup by announcing Pogba as a United player in a music video with Stormzy. This is just the beginning. Pogba's face will be all over the world this morning and he will be one of the most valuable sports images in the world by the end of the summer. He was already valuable; now that he is with marketing behemoths United he will be challenging Lionel Messi and Ronaldo as the faces on every product and in every advert. For now, Adidas are having their field day. But England is a a green and pleasant land, and many more will follow to find the grass really is greener.
So United have won the marketing battle of the summer and, crucially, have retained 80% of the player's image rights. That will prove to be huge as Pogba continues developing into one of the world's very best players (and was allegedly one of the reasons why the deal took so long to complete). The club will be expecting a Premier League title challenge this year and a return to Champions League football next, knowing that Pogba provides enough pulling power to get sponsors queuing up and the Champions League provides a platform to get them trying to knock down the door. Woodward must be rolling up his sleeves in anticipation of the massive cash flow heading their way in the coming years, and for that reason alone Pogba is a bargain. OK, not a bargain, but certainly good value for money for a club the size of United. There are only two other clubs in world football who could pay that much for a player without selling someone first, but Real Madrid and Barcelona couldn't compete with the lure of home.
Pogba gets the chance to show the Premier League what we have been missing for the last four years, United get the chance to compete for the title again with him, and Woodward gets the chance to turn the already incredible money making machine that his club is into the greatest revenue stream in the world. The only loser? Juventus, who used the money to sign a fat Higuain. Really, Juve? The man who has missed so many crucial chances is going to be the man to win you the Champions League? If he scores the winner in the final in May/ June next year, I'll eat my hat and Leo Messi will probably hire someone to kill him...
Pogba is back. Premier League beware: the Red Devils are coming. Hell will return.
Editor (and Reading fan, in case you were thinking there was any bias here)
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