Who’ll be the first £1bn footballer?

Not sure yet but the odds are that he’ll be bought by Manchester United.

The latest rumour is that United are prepared to pay Brazil star Neymar’s “release clause” at Barcelona (what a bright wheeze release clauses were on someone’s part) and then pay him £20m net (somehow or other) to try to bring back the real glory days to Man U, now helmed by Jose Mourinho. Man U currently hold the British transfer record, £80m for Paul Pogba who used to play for their youth team.

If Neymar comes (he’s said to be happy at Barcelona) and stays five years at £20m a year that would make his total cost about £300m, with a bit of loose change here or there. So £1bn maybe isn’t that far away.

Can any footballer be worth it? They’re not actually footballers these days are they, they’re TV ratings winners. In a fragmented TV world big football matches (along with some other sports events, notably the Super Bowl) are just about the only guaranteed “appointment to view.” And, just like the Super Bowl, advertisers will cough up millions to be in there.

The first £100,000 player to join an English club was Denis Law at Man U, moving from Torino in the Sixties. Jimmy Greaves had previously joined Spurs (also from Italy, those boys missed their meat and potatoes) for £99,999. £100,000 was deemed to be too much of a burden to carry around. Today it would be worth about £1.5m. Trevor Francis went to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest for £1m in 1979 (Cloughie was the Mourinho of his day) which would be worth just £3.5m today – but that was before live club football on TV.

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Anyway football is where the marketing money is going these days – which is, presumably, why former Disney boss Michael Eisner wants to buy lowly Portsmouth. Somewhere, in a big club’s academy probably, is a young teenager who’s destined to be our £1bn footballer.

If he’s in Man U’s they’d better not let him slip away as Pogba did. But does the money really matter?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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