Loss of mar­ket con­fi­dence wrecks stars’ sum­mer deals

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Subject -

Ney­mar peers sto­ically across the Paris rooftops pon­der­ing the mean­ing of it all. Ditto Paul Pogba in Manch­ester, al­beit rooftops through a rain-flecked win­dow. In Mi­lan, Alexis Sanchez opens a let­ter in­form­ing him of the start date for pre-sea­son train­ing at Car­ring­ton, as sad pi­ano mu­sic plays in the back­ground. Harry Kane re­freshes the Pre­mier League stand­ings, sighs, and won­ders if this is where he ex­pected to be as he pre­pares to turn 27 this month.

An or­ches­tra of tiny vi­o­lins for the multi-mil­lion­aire foot­ballers who en­vis­aged that this might be their sum­mer, and pol­i­ticked, sug­gested or just hinted that they could be some­where else by the time the win­dow closed. In the new Covid world, it was only yes­ter­day that the Pre­mier League fi­nally got around to agree­ing its win­dow dates, clos­ing on Oct 5 with two ex­tra weeks to hoover up Foot­ball League sign­ings on the cheap.

What the win­dow will bring is another mat­ter, and some of the game’s most cov­eted play­ers are be­ing forced to re­assess what they once thought was nat­u­rally theirs.

This is a dif­fer­ent mar­ket now, cast in the shadow of player wage de­fer­rals at some clubs, and cuts at oth­ers. Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur have taken ad­van­tage of a gov­ern­ment loan to the tune of £175mil­lion. You have to sus­pect that they and many of their Pre­mier League peers would sell if they were to be tempted with an of­fer wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion. Even the great blast-fur­nace of Manch­ester United’s fi­nan­cial op­er­a­tion is not un­af­fected. The club’s debts have grown to £429mil­lion in its most re­cent ac­counts with no prospect that they can sen­si­bly di­vest them­selves of Sanchez’s costs.

Kane’s re­mark dur­ing an in­ter­view early in lock­down in March that he could of­fer no guar­an­tees about stay­ing at Spurs for­ever might just reg­is­ter as the last ma­jor trans­fer play of an era when trans­fers of that scale seemed pos­si­ble. Now, as the out-of­con­tract le­gions of the Foot­ball League pre­pare them­selves for mass trial games, like so many vil­lagers pur­su­ing a sin­gle rolling cheese, the mes­sage seems to be reach­ing those in elite foot­ball’s up­per ech­e­lons. The money and the mar­ket con­fi­dence which once made them trad­able as­sets are not cur­rently in ev­i­dence and who knows when they might be back.

Pogba, who spent most of last sum­mer weapon­is­ing Mino Raiola against his cur­rent em­ploy­ers, is now, re­mark­ably, look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of a new con­tract at Old Traf­ford. At Manch­ester City, the ques­tion of the Ser­gio Aguero suc­ces­sion is sim­pli­fied some­what with no ob­vi­ous des­ti­na­tion for the striker this sum­mer. Pier­reEm­er­ick Aubameyang looks closer to sign­ing a new con­tract at Arse­nal than he has done at any point in the last two years. Is there a mar­ket for Kane that would gen­er­ate the value that would sat­isfy Daniel Levy? Is there one for Wil­fried Zaha?

The am­bi­tions of two of the great dis­rupters of the Euro­pean mar­ket: Real Madrid and Barcelona, have been dras­ti­cally scaled back. It has been a while since Er­ling Haa­land’s head has been photo-shopped on to the donor body of a Real Madrid player for the ben­e­fit of il­lus­trat­ing which­ever trans­fer de­vel­op­ment is be­ing re­ported in the Span­ish me­dia that week. All year, Madrid have sup­pos­edly been in pur­suit of the Nor­we­gian prodigy as well as Donny van de Beek, and fail­ing that there is al­ways the lat­est Kylian Mbappe scheme. Even the lev­els of credulity usu­ally re­quired to en­ter­tain those kinds of sto­ries have been ex­hausted.

At Barcelona, the end of the fi­nan­cial year, on June 30, prompted the swap deal with Ju­ven­tus of Arthur for Mi­ralem Pjanic to al­low both clubs to book a profit. The prospect of Barcelona re-sign­ing Lau­taro

Martinez from In­ter Mi­lan or Ney­mar from Paris St-Ger­main for big fees sound fan­ci­ful. There are re­ports of pos­si­ble swap deals, which are sen­si­ble in prin­ci­ple but gen­er­ally about as com­mon at top of the game as the prover­bial rock­inghorse exc­reta. Per­haps swap deals are the fu­ture in these un­cer­tain cash-poor times, and cer­tainly they would make for a much more in­ter­est­ing strate­gic chal­lenge than just throw­ing money, bor­rowed or oth­er­wise, at a prob­lem.

Of course, the es­tab­lished clubs all fear those with the wealth­i­est own­ers.

As we await the full story from the Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport, the death of what­ever it was Uefa called fi­nan­cial fair play in a Swiss of­fice this month now means that City are pre­sum­ably free to spend what they wish.

In the light of the ver­dict, PSG may well feel the same. A buyer’s mar­ket one sus­pects, and so it will be in­ter­est­ing to see who, if any, can com­mand fees and con­tracts.

Jadon San­cho is the lead con­tender in that re­gard, homegrown for a Pre­mier League club and young enough at 20 po­ten­tially to earn back his fee in a post-Covid world. There are other young English­men, too, for whom an ar­gu­ment can be made, in­clud­ing Ben Chilwell and James Mad­di­son, both 23. Yet for all that, val­u­a­tions are hard to as­cer­tain. What is Jack Gre­al­ish worth these days and who might pay it? For all the data and prepa­ra­tion that go into them, most trans­fers re­quire a sig­nif­i­cant leap of con­fi­dence. The gi­ant hunches that power the mar­ket are sus­tained by a con­fi­dence that no bad in­vest­ment is too costly to undo.

Foot­ball is dif­fer­ent now: more cau­tious, less flush and still un­sure when sup­port­ers will be back in sta­di­ums. There are some, for in­stance, who will tell you that with one year left on his con­tract, a £45mil­lion fee from Bay­ern Mu­nich for Leroy Sane was a fab­u­lous deal for City, and oth­ers who will ar­gue the op­po­site. Such is life in a skit­tish mar­ket.

What a foot­baller is worth, even those among the big­gest names, is no longer a ques­tion that can eas­ily be an­swered.

Paul Pogba is now, re­mark­ably, look­ing at the pos­si­bil­ity of a new con­tract at United

United U-turn: Paul Pogba could sign a new deal

Sam Wal­lace Chief Foot­ball Writer

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