Footballers are often accused of being many things – egotistic, arrogant and self-centered – and for the most part, you would be right for thinking those things, but is part of the problem the way young players are hyped up from an early age? And should more be done to stop players switching clubs every other season while they are still too young to make such weighty decisions?
Manchester United have been bitten this summer by the departure of 19 year-old French international Paul Pogba, who departed to Juventus citing a lack of first-team opportunities at Old Trafford as the motivating factor behind the move. Setting aside the fact that the ranks at Juventus are swelled with Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Kwadwo Asamoah, Mauricio Isla and Claudio Marchisio among others, which seems like a far better depth of talent than is currently occupying the squad at Manchester United, it should really come as no surprise to many in the way that he left the club, for without trying to be too patronising, it’s part and parcel of the game these days with younger players.
Upon completing his reported £20,000 per week move to the Italian champions, Ferguson slammed the player in question stating: “Pogba signed for Juventus a long time ago as far as we’re aware. It’s a bit disappointing because I don’t think he should us any respect at all. To be honest, if they carry on that way, I’m quite happy that he’s away from me anyway.”
The reaction is completely understandable, a naive young man has had his head turned by an agent, in this instance, the clearly detestable Mino Raiola, but we shouldn’t forget the circumstances in which Manchester United were allowed to sign the youngster in the first place, with any genuine outrage surely bordering on the hypocritical.
Signed as a 16 year-old from French club Le Havre, Manchester United were immediately accused of ‘tapping up’ the youngster and both clubs become embroiled in a bitter war of words. Le Havre released the following statement after it appeared the then 16 year-old had move to England: “Le Havre want to express their indignation at the actions of Manchester United officials and their pursuit of Paul Pogba.
“Paul Pogba, his parents and Le Havre were bound to a contract called a ‘non-solicitation agreement’ from autumn 2006. At the end of that contract, the three parties agreed to sign a trainee contract when the player matched certain age and scholarship criteria, taking him through to the end of the 2009/10 season. However, the player and his parents have refused to fulfil the agreement because Manchester United have offered big money to the parents to get their son to England. While a lot of voices have started to be heard coming out of the EU, governments, Fifa and Uefa against ‘minor slave trade’, Manchester United have not hesitated to uproot a 16-year-old kid.”
Strong words indeed but the crux of their argument is sound, the rush for talent and the next big thing means that many major club all across Europe can often be accused of lacking morals in their pursuit of top young talent, this in turn creates an unrivalled and unwarranted sense of entitlement in the player. They think they have made it before they have even kicked a ball, you could call them big-time Charlie’s if you will, but the fact of the matter is what talented young kid would turn a huge club like United down?
It renders the investment that clubs at all levels all across Europe make with concerns to their academies somewhat pointless if a big club can swoop in at the eleventh hour and purchase a prodigious talent in such a manner. While I wouldn’t quite go down the ‘minor slave trade’ route that Le Havre clearly went for, it’s not too far off and these players need to be protected at such an impressionable age.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to them, not their parents or guardians or whoever else may be involved, but I can’t remember when I was 16 years old being of sound enough mind to make an objective and long-term decision about my career, so footballers should be no different. Freedom of movement laws obviously dictate that these players are well within their rights to make such moves, but at the end of the day, it’s not for the good of the game or even themselves, it’s for the vested interests whispering in their ears looking to make a quick buck. Smaller clubs are getting squeezed more and more financially, so to deny them the payday they richly deserve for developing and harnessing such a player seems a tad harsh.
The only proposition that I can think of that could potentially work as a blanket rule would be to raise the age by which footballers sign their first professional contract from 16 to 18 in the hope that extra two years experience, both on and off the pitch would act as a factor in their decision-making process and counter-balance their previous lack of maturity. I’ll be the first to admit, though, that while this may potentially take a degree of power away from those hegemonic clubs to an extent, it’s still a deeply flawed idea as the knock-on effect means it just then increases player power even further and the smaller club in question could be set to miss out on a payday still, just a couple of years further down the line.
Money is the predominant reason for such moves, with the requirement of guaranteed first-team football usually a secondary requirement. Pogba serves as a prime example of the ‘evils’ of the modern game to an extent and he’s now left two successive clubs under a cloud even though he has just seven professional appearances under his belt. Gambling on potential is fine, it’s done in all walks of life and various industries every day, but for the figures bandied about, it’s simply got into silly territory now and needs to be seriously looked at and addressed by people far smarter than myself.
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