x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Football agents and avarice clubs driving up the cost of teenage talent

In an age where teenagers are signed for huge fees, Paul Pogba, who is out of contract with Manchester United next month, would be a steal.

Paul Pogba is one of Europe’s most coveted young midfielders, on the radar of many of the continent’s top clubs.
Paul Pogba is one of Europe’s most coveted young midfielders, on the radar of many of the continent’s top clubs.

Manchester United have a problem with Paul Pogba. In one month's time the pick of their youth side, a midfielder who many regard as a long-term replacement for Paul Scholes, will be free to discuss terms with any club outside the English leagues. There are no shortage of suitors.

Pogba's representative, a close friend who has never looked after a Premier League player before, has brought in outside help to manage the situation. A well-known Italian agent with a record for securing hugely lucrative contracts for a stable of flamboyant talents, he is already working on maximising Pogba's market value.

In an environment where teenagers move for the best part of £20 million (Dh 114.5m), Pogba would be a steal. Move outside England and there will be no transfer fee, only a Fifa-mandated "training compensation" totalling a few hundred thousand euros. Both AC and Inter Milan are enamoured by the idea of acquiring one of Europe's most promising talents, bolstered by three years of Old Trafford education, for that price.

If the France youth international switches to another English club the fee will likely end up being agreed by an independent tribunal. It will be higher, yet still fail to meet United's valuation.

The quid pro quo for such bargain prices are higher wages and commissions. Not 19 until mid-March, Pogba will greatly increase his salary. A new agent who barely knows him but can place him at the highest spending clubs will request a substantial fee - maybe as much as €3m (Dh14.7m).

United are desperately trying to convince Pogba that his best interests as a footballer lie in remaining with Sir Alex Ferguson, a manager who has rarely hesitated to promote youth to his first team. Given Milan and Inter's historic unwillingness to do the same, their argument is completely rational. Moral weight, however, is absent.

After several years of trawling the continent's development leagues for the best 16 year olds, Premier League clubs have been made to pay for their avarice.

This summer Chelsea lost Fabio Borini to Parma (the Italy Under 21 striker has since joined Roma on loan) and were forced into inflating Gael Kakuta's earnings to stop the Frenchman returning to his home nation. The summer before, Arsenal lost Fran Merida to Atletico Madrid when also out of contract.

The message is simple. When you throw adult-sized salaries at boys not yet old enough to drive the thousands of kilometres from their family homes, don't be surprised if they steer themselves to the next highest bidder as soon as they've got their driving licence.


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