In the summer of 2003, international superstar David Beckham broke headlines by joining Real Madrid from Manchester United. The latest signing in the ‘Galacticos’ roster masterminded by president Florentino Perez, Beckham was sure to bring in more fans, revenue and attention to the club than ever before. The list of names he played with is incredible- Zidane, Figo, Casillas, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos. Beckham’s stint at the Spanish capital lasted four years, yet it had a profound impact for the club. In his four seasons, Forbes magazine reported that Beckham helped bring in close to $600 million in merchandise sales to the club. It was an incredibly sensible and, and for lack of a better term, ‘good’ transfer on many levels- the worldwide recognition and monetary benefits this brought for both the player and the club can still be felt today.
What was Beckham’s transfer fee, you ask?
A mere 24.5 million pounds. For one of the greatest football superstars at the time!
We live in a football world where the transfer market is becoming increasingly absurd. The fees seem, at best, ludicrous; at worst, outside many club’s financial capabilities and any logical reasoning whatsoever.
David Beckham moved to Real Madrid in the prime of his career for 24.5 million pounds in 2003. In 2017, 32-year old Carlos Tevez joined CSL outfit Shanghai Shenhua from Boca Juniors for a staggering fee of 71.6 million pounds. It’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the football business has come to- not to mention Paul Pogba’s world record move to Manchester United for 89.3 million, and reports that crosstown rivals Manchester City are planning a bid surpassing that of Pogba’s to sign Dele Alli.
Transfer fees are increasing every year, and has even led to top level managers like Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho admitting that recent transfer fees for players have become ‘scary’ and ‘crazy’. Not only can this often have a negative impact on the financial stability of clubs, it puts extra pressure on players to perform well on the pitch. Let’s take the world’s most expensive player at the moment, Paul Pogba. The truth is, Pogba may as well be one of the best midfielders in world football right now. But will he ever be able to justify his ‘world record transfer fee’ tag? I don’t think so. However well he performs, fans and critics will always come back to the fact that he was signed for more than 100 million euros. And with that, comes the pressure of not only having to be ‘one of the best’, but ‘the best’ to earn recognition. It’s a scary thought- Pogba may or may not be able to come out of the shadow that trails him saying ‘world’s most expensive player’ in his career. The very talent that got him such a lucrative move back to his boyhood club, is now the reason that brings him such frequent criticism every week. It’s all caused by the monetization of his talent through the transfer market and the extra pressure that comes with it.
These days, footballers have come under more spotlight than ever before. It’s led to players like Thomas Muller to claim that they are turning into ‘commercial goods’ and the whole football trading market has become a ‘circus’. We have to realize that players are not just some commodity, but human beings. They are just like us, who have good days but also bad days. They get frustrated, and sometimes makes bad decisions. Of course, the extra responsibility that comes with being a professional cannot be ignored. But the bottom line is, they are people too. We have to start facing not just a player’s goal or assist tally, the transfer fee he was bought for, or the club he plays for, but take a step back look at the human being who is behind it all. The transfer market and the fees that are exchanging hands has become absurd, and there is no easy way to change that in the near future. But I believe it is important for the media and fans to try and separate themselves from the price tag and goals tally, and just respect the player who has worked so hard to get himself to the top. If we begin to recognize that no human being is worth hundreds of millions of pounds starting at just the fanbase level, this can slowly influence the media and the club, and ultimately the dynamic of the transfer market. Fees will come down to a more realistic, reasonable price range, and players will be facing the healthy, reasonable level of pressure to go out every weekend and give it their best every game; not the pressure to be the best in the world whenever they play.
To quote English football legend, Bobby Robson: “What is a football club in any case? It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up the stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him, and without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
That’s what football is all about. Since when did it become all about transfer fees and record signings? We have to move away from focusing on the ridiculous amounts of money changing hands in the business, and celebrate the players who make our modern game so entertaining and captivating. Only then, will football become the beautiful game not just for the fans, but for the players as well.
Let us know what you think in the comments!