x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Real continue to raise sales pitch

When Alf Common made the short journey across the North East of England from Sunderland to Middlesbrough over a century ago the talented forward could not have envisaged what he was starting on football's transfer merry-go-round.

When Alf Common made the short journey across the North East of England from Sunderland to Middlesbrough over a century ago the talented forward could not have envisaged what he was starting on football's transfer merry-go-round. That deal features prominently in the history books because it was the first time in what was then the trend-setting English game that four figures had been written on a cheque for the services of a player - Boro agreeing to pay £1,000 (Dh5,945) after much wrangling with their neighbours. There have been 28 record signings since that 1905 landmark culminating with this week's £56million deal between AC Milan and Real Madrid for the brilliant Brazilian midfielder Kaka. Using sterling as a yardstick currency, the first five-figure fee was paid by Arsenal to Bolton Wanderers for David Jack in 1928, while Barcelona took the record into six figures when they captured the Spanish midfielder Luiz Suarez from Inter Milan.

The magical million barrier was broken by Bologna when Guiseppi Savoldi moved across Italy from Naples in 1975 (four years before the Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough made Trevor Francis a much feted first £1m player to be transferred between English clubs). The only all-English deal to command a world record fee in the modern era was brokered by Kevin Keegan, who persuaded his Newcastle United employers to bring home Geordie idol Alan Shearer for a mind-blowing £15m when Manchester United looked all set to lure the England striker on more attractive personal terms.

Four years before that 1996 Keegan coup, France striker John-Pierre Papin claimed the distinction of being the first £10m player in a vintage year when the record was broken on two other occasions - Gianluca Vialli (Sampdoria to Juventus) for £12m and Gianluigi Lentini (Torino to AC Milan) for £13m. Madrid have been in control at the top end of the market in recent seasons, though. When the Spanish Galacticos raided Italy eight years ago to prise away the French genius Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for an eye-catching fee of £46m it seemed that record - a 25 per cent hike on the previous one of £37m which took the Portuguese star Luis Figo to the Bernabeu from Barcelona 12 months earlier, was going to stand for years to come.

Not only was the mesmerising "Zizou", the France captain of Algerian descent, by a distance the most outstanding player of his generation, but football appeared to have reached its television-funded peak, wages were moving towards some form of stability and the global credit crunch had made a damaging impact on the game. But Real continue to push boundaries and mindful that they faced opposition from Manchester City as well as Chelsea and Manchester United, they were prepared to pay over the odds for the former world and European player of the year. Kaka revealed that David Beckham, the England international who spent a short spell on loan with Milan this year, gave an encouraging sales pitch on the attractions of moving to Madrid where Beckham enjoyed popularity during four productive years.

Worthy that Kaka is of wearing the tag of the world's most expensive player, it is unlikely he will emulate the feat of his even more illustrious South American forerunner Diego Maradona who is the only player in history to be sold twice for world record fees. Argentina's World Cup-winning genius was initially brought to Europe by Barcelona for £3m from Boca Juniors in 1982 and two years later signed for Napoli for £5m.

wjohnson@thenational.ae