The thought of a player being sold for £1billion may seem all but incomprehensible now, but when all things are considered, the first £1billion player might not be as far in the future as you think.
This week has seen Real Madrid reportedly prepare a world-record breaking offer for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale.
Not so long ago - and indeed many may think so now - the thought of this amount of money being exchanged for the services of a mere mortal seemed ridiculous.
In 1997, Inter Milan broke the world record transfer fee when they paid Barcelona just under £20 million for the services of the ‘real’ Ronaldo – a player considered by many then and some now to be the greatest player of our generation.
Now, to put that into context; 14 years later, Liverpool paid £20 million for Stewart Downing.
Thanks to Manchester City’s transfer policies in recent seasons, £30 million has become a benchmark figure to sign a quality player in the modern transfer market.
I use the term ‘policy’ lightly, as sometimes their transfer policies seem to consist of nothing more than throwing a token £30 million offer at every player having a purple patched season.
But I digress, we can’t blame everything on Manchester City’s deep pockets, - as much as some of us would like to - so we will have to dig a little deeper to see when people started throwing such large amounts of money around.
Way, way back in 1893, Willie Groves smashed the transfer record when he made the auspicious move from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa for £100.
I know we must consider the rate of inflation and many other economic factors in all of this, but £100 these days won’t even buy you a decent pair of football boots.
Little did he know it at the time, but Groves was to be the first of many record-breaking transfers. Almost 100 years later, Trevor Francis became the first £1 million signing when he moved from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest in 1979. Since then, football’s commercial revenues have exploded.
When the Premier League began in 1992, the Sky Sports era was born as Rupert Murdoch smashed Sky’s competition at the time, ITV, out of the water with a £304 million bid for the exclusive rights for the first five seasons of the Premier League.
The commercial power of advertising and the rise of cable television began to establish the stranglehold it has over its’ ever-growing audiences today. To put this in proportion, the rights to the latest season were sold off for over £3 billion, and again, mainly to Sky.
That means the Premier League will pocket a mind-boggling £6.5 million for every live game aired on TV by Sky Sports or BT Sport.
Premier League transfers, and for that matter, world transfers, have come to reflect the growing commercial interest in the game today. The figures involved are growing exponentially, and show no signs of stopping, with billionaire owners of Premier League teams now the norm.
Dennis Bergkamp joined Arsenal from Inter Milan for a British record £7.5 million in the summer of 1995; just two years later this record was doubled when Alan Shearer left Blackburn for Newcastle in a £15 million deal.
The world record is held by Real Madrid who smashed their own record by signing Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million.
Reports indicate they are ready to top this bid in an attempt to lure Bale to the Santiago Bernabeau, so just how far will this go?
In the 21 years since the inception of the Premier League, the British transfer record has increased by almost 1360% (from £5.5 million to £80 million), and logic dictates that it will continue to rise, along with football’s popularity.
Interestingly, the average percentage increase in the Premier League transfer market is about 14% per year; using this formula, we would see the first £1 billion player in about 15 - 20 years time.
Lionel Messi is widely regarded by most as the best footballer currently playing the game.
It should come as no surprise given the financial clout tied to the game, to learn that he is valued at over £100 million. There were rumours this summer that cash-laden PSG were preparing a €250 million offer for Barcelona’s most prized asset, in a move that surely indicates the shape of things to come.
I’m not saying we will see the first £1 billion player in the next season or two, but I believe we will see it in our generation.
Football is only becoming more popular globally; many top teams are harnessing the commercial values of their team by shamelessly promoting them on tours in the Far East and with signings designed to sell shirts.
I wonder what odds you’d have got on a football player being sold for £1 billion at the bookies way back in 1893 when Willie Groves was sold for £100: 1,000,000,000 to one?
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