Records have tumbled this summer whenever Paul Pogba has been involved.
The France midfielder was at the centre of this summer’s biggest transfer soap opera, a historic £89 million (Dh425m) fee taking him back to Manchester United four years after he ran down his contract to join Juventus. Yet for his new employers, an even-more telling figure was released on Saturday night.
Fuelled by the now ubiquitous #POGBACK, the Red Devils’ post which announced the world’s most-expensive footballer wearing the 2016/17 adidas kit captioned “Home” is the most retweeted from the club’s official Twitter account with 89.2k shares. They also happily revealed the 637k likes on their Instagram page of the same image put it at the top of their charts.
These announcements must have been music to the ears of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and group managing director Richard Arnold. Even better that the previous high-water marks had been reached by fellow fresh arrival Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the iconic Sweden centre forward recruited in July once his deal at Paris Saint-Germain expired.
The pair are now tasked with using the full might of United’s ceaseless commercial machine – which has signed industry-leading arrangements with shirt sponsor Chevrolet worth £357m (Dh1.7 billion) from 2014-2021 and kit manufacturer adidas for a minimum £750m (Dh3.6bn) from 2015-2025 – to recoup the cash laid out.
A key topic keeps appearing of whether Pogba and Ibrahimovic can earn back the money spent on them? For Professor of Sports Enterprise/Director of Sport Industry Collaboration Zone Simon Chadwick of Salford University, the truth lies in whether they can positively contribute to the club’s overall bottom line rather than earning cash directly attributable to themselves.
“In simple terms, United will be placing Pogba and Ibrahimovic at the centre stage of their social
media activities,” he tells Sport360. “United will be seeking to create a brand identity for each of the players, which the club will then push out through their social media channels.
“This identity will inevitably be linked to the sale of merchandise connected with each player. One should also expect United to utilise the players as a means of accentuating a set of core values.
“Directly attributing a revenue stream to a player is always going to be a somewhat spurious, unscientific exercise. More realistically, United (like other clubs) are seeking to create a constellation of player brands that benefit the parent brand by winning.
“I am not entirely sure that Ibrahimovic is a long-term commercial proposition. At one level, I think he will provide a short-term cash hit.
“As for Pogba, we should expect to see the club aligning him with urban millennials who are strong on image and attitude, and who spend big on their clothing – particularly their footwear.
“If United can get the brand proposition and positioning right, then so long as Pogba remains fit and is successful he is likely to become a cash cow for the club.”
The current year is looking likely to be a lucrative one for United and adidas. Deloitte’s hugely-respected Football Money League has predicted that the Premier League giants will end Real Madrid’s 11-year stay in first place thanks to booming broadcast and commercial revenues when their next report is published.
With this coming during a period in which Champions League qualification has been missed in two of the last three seasons and only the FA Cup was won, clear upsides still exist to boost this figure.
Herbert Hainer, the outgoing chief executive of adidas, cited a 17- per-cent jump in purchases of its football products as evidence of the “quality of our interactions with people on social media” as it looked on course to beat the overall sales target of €2.5bn (Dh10.3bn) in the sector for 2016.
Central to the use of these channels was the vibrant “blah, blah, blah” campaign which poked fun at the Pogba/United hysteria. It also tied into its popular #FirstNeverFollows series, with featurettes being made for each of the six biggest Three Stripe-sponsored clubs – Madrid, Bayern Munich, United, Chelsea (for whom a mutual early termination was agreed in May), Juve and AC Milan.
The worth of social media in proliferating the brand is huge.
A combined tally of 1.1m retweets and likes have been registered on tweets related to the @paulpogba, @ManUtd and @adidasfootball Twitter accounts alone since July 27. For sponsorship and marketing consultant Nigel Currie, this focus details how brands now want to aggressively promote elite partners in a selective manner.
He says: “I think it shows that the big kit manufacturers are adopting a new approach. They are less concerned about securing all the best athletes and teams and are now looking more to secure fewer all encompassing partnerships which enable them to do more.
“For example, the Puma deal with the Jamaica athletics team is all about Usain Bolt, but has the ability to be used in a wider way.”
Only a small amount of this will come from shirt sales for either player, with United’s agreement with adidas granting them just five per cent of the monies earned from each purchased. With adult male jerseys priced at £68 (Dh322.9) on www.manutd.com, to cover Pogba’s fee alone an unrealistic 26,200,000 shirts would need to be sold.
This figure is further weakened by the fact L’Equipe have stated an 80/20 split has been agreed between club and player on image rights, estimated to be worth €35m (Dh143.5m) per annum.
Extra sponsorships are the key, with the Sunday Times reporting that the Old Trafford-outfit expect to bring in £40m (Dh189.8m) more during the next year on the back of Pogba’s arrival. United generated €263.9m (Dh1.1bn) in commerical revenues during 2014/15, according to Deloitte.
Social media is again being used to build the hype, with Pogba and Ibrahimovic regularly interacting during the past few days to a combined following on Instagram and Twitter of nearly 32m.
New innovations have been made by those involved.
United announced the world record signing of Pogba at 00:35 UK time last Tuesday. The club insisted this was coincidental, but it happened to catch the early morning commute in East Asia and prime time in the United States.
A tie-in between the 23-year-old and emerging UK grime artist Stormzy has also provided positioning in the millennial market segment. Underpinning all these moves for adidas is the ongoing ‘brand war’ with Nike.
If Pogba can successfully be positioned as the heir apparent to football’s biggest cash generator in 29-year-old Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi, huge sums can be made.
“There’s a classic battle in the sportswear market, involving Nike and adidas – Barcelona v Real Madrid, Internazionale v AC Milan and now Manchester City v Manchester United,” Chadwick says. “It is highly likely that adidas exerted some pressure to ensure that United signed a high-profile adidas property during the transfer window.
“But adidas’ forward planning goes beyond this; what the company is essentially doing is to succession plan.
“That is, as Messi moves towards his 30s and inevitable retirement, adidas will want a new star to replace him.
“Pogba is adidas’ play; in five-year’s time, expect the Frenchman to be centre stage in the brand’s global marketing activities.”
Adidas have come through a period of recovery since they abandoned a target of €17bn (Dh69.7bn) sales for the next year in July 2014. Pressure has been placed on United to replicate this feat.
Hainer stated in January that the ponderous playing style under now-departed manager Louis van Gaal was “not exactly what we want to see”, with the Dutchman’s successor Jose Mourinho and his lavishly-assembled squad now requiring – at a minimum – a return to the Champions League.
For Philipp Vetter, economics correspondent for German daily Die Welt/Welt am Sonntag, success on the pitch – like that experienced across more than 20 years under Sir Alex Ferguson – is key to making this arrangement work.
He says: “The deal with Manchester United was widely reported in Germany and it is probably the most important for adidas in their football business.
“For adidas, it’s very important that their teams not only perform well in their national leagues, but in the Champions League as well.
“That’s probably why there is pressure on Manchester United to deliver better results.”
The big story of the football weekend was undoubtedly the debut of Pep Guardiola as a Premier League manager and the former Barcelona coach did not disappoint with a number of tactical decisions aimed at taking Manchester City in a new direction.
Foremost among those decisions was the choice to leave out long-serving goalkeeper Joe Hart in favour of Argentine Willy Caballero—supposedly due to the Argentine’s better distribution with his feet.
But what does it mean for the England No. 1?
Today’s #360debate asks: Does Joe Hart have a future at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola?
Before arriving at the Etihad Stadium the numbers 52.6, 47.6, 47.3, 58.8 and 50.9 would surely have made Pep Guardiola wince.
They are Joe Hart’s pass completion percentages for the past five Premier League seasons and while they are slightly mitigated by the fact he’s a goalkeeper – meaning he attempts more high-risk and speculative long passes – they still don’t make for particularly pleasant reading.
However, while that seeks to reinforce the argument that Hart is simply not appropriate to be a Guardiola-style goalkeeper is totally with merit, it’s approaching the situation from only one side. Namely that of the coach and not Hart himself who’s in a position to change Guardiola’s opinion just like any other.
Because while he is 29, that is far from past-it for a ‘keeper and instead of viewing the situation as a negative that he’s not the No. 1 for Guardiola, why can’t Hart now improve the one major attribute that is missing in his game?
If anything, it is a test of Hart’s ambitions. After a questionable Euro 2016, the appointment of Sam Allardyce as new England manager and the emergence of Jack Butland, Hart’s place as national team No. 1 is firmly under threat. That will only be intensified if he continues to sit out games at City.
It’s happened before, as Manuel Pellegrini dropped him in 2014, only for Hart to work his way back and this is just another challenge, albeit a more technical one.
Does Hart stay and fight for his place, endangering his England prospects? Or try and force a transfer away, helping safeguard his international career.
Guardiola has shown himself to be a coach who improves and alters footballers beyond their comfort zones: Lionel Messi, Thomas Muller, David Alaba, Javier Mascherano, Philipp Lahm, plus a number of others, learnt new aspects of the way to play under the Catalan, all at different stages of their careers as well.
So why can’t Hart try and do the same? His Manchester City career may well depend on it.
Despite his claims that Joe Hart still features in his plans at Manchester City, it is increasingly clear that Pep Guardiola does not regard the goalkeeper as his first-choice stopper.
Guardiola knew that the eyes of the football world were firmly fixed upon his first competitive team selection in England, and that every tactical or personnel decision he made would be heavily scrutinised.
His benching of Hart, therefore, was a heavily symbolic move rather than an isolated decision for one game, and it’s hard to see how Hart can recover.
Guardiola’s apparent distrust of Hart isn’t even particularly surprising when you consider the playing style implemented by the Catalan, which places enormous reliance upon carefully retaining possession and building out from the back.
Hart, for all his qualities, has never been a very good distributor of the ball and this deficiency makes him plainly unsuited for a team managed by Guardiola.
Fortunately, a readymade solution is available to City at Barcelona – and it’s not, despite the rumours, Marc Andre ter Stegen.
Instead, the perfect candidate for City’s goalkeeping duties is Claudio Bravo, who has been impeccable for Barca ever since he replaced Victor Valdes.
Bravo is experienced, mentally mature, deals well with crosses, possesses good shot-stopping skills, commands his defence with authority and – crucially – is a wonderful distributor of the ball.
The only negative is his age, 33, but for a goalkeeper that isn’t excessive and he should be able to maintain his high standards for another three or four years.
Indeed, his age will work in City’s favour in one respect, because he will be cheaper than a younger player.
Selling Bravo to City would even be a welcome development for Barca, because it would allow Luis Enrique to swerve his goalkeeping controversy and install ter Stegen as undisputed starter without upsetting anyone. So the move would suit Bravo, ter Stegen, City and Barca perfectly.
In fact, there would only be one loser in the deal: Joe Hart.
The first weekend of the Premier League season is over and supporters have been watching closely to see what we can learn even at this early stage about the campaign ahead.
Sport360 picks out five of the week’s most interesting talking points.
Pep Guardiola loves to enhance players’ roles beyond what they’re traditionally used to. Against Sunderland, Fernandinho was ostensibly a deep-lying midfielder but often operated as a third centre-back. No player had more touches (112) or made more passes (97). Expect him to have a huge season.
Jose Mourinho’s United are playing at a far quicker tempo than under Louis van Gaal yet too many moves against Bournemouth broke down, or slowed significantly, when the ball landed at Rooney or Ibrahimovic’s feet, due to their obvious lack of pace. If Mourinho wants to foster a faster brand of football, something will soon have to give.
Leicester had a number of issues at Hull, not least the speed at which they transitioned from defence to attack. An overlooked part of N’Golo Kante’s game was how quickly he moved the ball forward. Andy King showed little against the Tigers to imply he can fill that void but Nampalys Mendy’s biggest strength is his passing.
In a similar thread to the previous point, Everton may have found themselves their own version of Kante as Idrissa Gueye was simply everywhere against Spurs.
Idrissa Gueye had a stonking first half for #Everton. Second only to Kante in Ligue 1 stats before move to struggling Villa. Good player.— Lyall Thomas (@SkySportsLyall) August 13, 2016
His passing unfussy but accurate, his tackling well-timed and there were some notable bursts forward as well. At £9m he could end up proving the steal of the season.
Maybe it’s because of the club he plays for but Salomon Rondon’s strong physique, aerial presence and determined attitude makes him perfect as a Premier League targetman. There are some rough edges around the West Brom striker but against Palace he scored his third goal in his last three league games.