A modern transfer | Pogba to Manchester United

Anna Semens, head of analytics at Havas Sports & Entertainments and a specialist in the football transfer market explains the contractual difficulties that are holding up the transfer of Paul Pogba to Manchester United

Do you think the deal will go ahead?

The Paul Pogba transfer has been one of the most protracted in recent times reflecting just how complex the transfer system has become with networks of negotiated power intervening at each stage. His move was first mooted over a year ago when the player’s agent suggested he would like to move to a bigger club – with Spanish giants Real and Barcelona at the front of the queue to secure the services of the 22 year old. However, problems with the ownership of the player’s image rights meant that this had to be put off. One year later, the image rights are back in the possession of the player instead of his former agent and the transfer is set to go ahead.

What has held the deal up?

Like many contractual arrangements in place in the current market, a clause was reported to be in the Juventus contract, stipulating that the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, would receive a 20% fee in the next transfer. Despite this being agreed in the contract with Juventus, the selling club felt that the responsibility of actually fulfilling this term should fall to the buying club. While the practice of a club paying an agent in a transfer isn’t unusual, it is slightly worrying that the ultimate move of a player can potentially fail or succeed based on how much money someone is willing to pay a third party.

In this case, the transfer was ultimately agreed in principle when the buying and selling club reached an agreement to split the payment of the agent’s fee, with Manchester United covering £20m and Juve the remaining £4m. It is worth remembering that it is the player’s agent who is being paid, which raises questions over whether he can achieve the best deal for both the buying club, selling club and the player in order to warrant such a huge pay out.

What have we learnt from social media?

Setting aside these conflicts of interest, with the transfer agreed in principle by both clubs, it should have been a straightforward process. However, the emerging story on social media, and particularly on Instagram, shows how complicated and public the transfer saga has become.

When the first problems with the agent’s fee emerged, the player showed a clear sign of where his loyalties lay in posting a picture with his agent in Miami. This was then followed up by United partner, Chevrolet, making a social media film using Manchester United player Jesse Lingard to teach other players how to do the ‘dab’ goal celebration (the dab is also Pogba’s signature dance celebration).

Juventus followed by posting a picture of their squad in training and a comment about ‘others’ being ‘in the swimming pool’ (thought to relate to Pogba and his agent). Raiola followed this with a tweet of his own, which Adidas echoed, by sharing a picture of the player reading a ‘blah-blah-blah’ headline captioned: “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers”.

By this stage rumours were beginning to surface of what may be causing the delay in the process – rumours of a counter offer from Real Madrid surfaced, with the player posting a picture of himself dressed in white, followed by another picture in Manchester United colours.

So have Manchester United’s sponsors played a prominent role in the transfer?

The saga becomes interesting when we look at the role of the sponsors in this. The transfer window hasn’t previously been activated as an opportunity for sponsors, but the social media activity mentioned above shows how both Chevrolet and Adidas have been involved in this one. The fact that the player has only recently signed as an Adidas athlete (after another drawn out process where he flirted with Nike) has coincided with renewed impetus from his team to engineer a move away from Juventus. The fact that both clubs in the final shake up were Adidas’s two biggest clubs is a happy position, and one can’t help but wonder whether the brand will play a role in the final outcome.

How would the deal play out in terms of shares of revenue and image rights?

With a transfer fee in excess of £100m the buying club would undoubtedly seek to reap the returns of the signing both on the pitch and off it. Shirt sales are typically cited as a major revenue driver, with Real Madrid, for example, reportedly selling 2,000 Christiano Ronaldo shirts in the first 2 hours after they signed him.

However, Manchester United’s kit deal with Adidas is not thought to involve a revenue share based on sales, with the profits going to the brand and not the club. A large discussion point in negotiations with Pogba and his advisors, then, was undoubtedly around the share of revenue from image rights, which can provide an alternative way to generate commercial revenue. The top players are usually keen to retain their image rights in order to maximise the commercial deals they can do.

In this case, the club has agreed to buy the image rights for the player across the course of his contract, for a fee reportedly in the region of £8.5m. This would enable Manchester United to use the player’s image for their own commercial value, which in turn would make them both more attractive to sponsors and to fans, globally. Having the player’s image rights would ultimately make it easier for the club to monetise the player as a commercial asset for its partners.

Pogba image courtesy of Xavier NALTCHAYAN (flickr).

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