Glitz, glamour and flamboyant hairstyles. Before Pogba, there was Beckham.24 April 2019
By Stel Stylianou
“I took quarter water sold it in bottles for 2 bucks, Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions, what the f**k?”
When Paul Pogba’s £94.5M move back to Manchester United from Juventus was finalised you’d be forgiven if you thought the Agnelli family said something similar to the opening bars of 50 Cent’s “I get money”.
Three years down the line, social media continues to remind us how Manchester United “signed their own player for £100m”. A “Dab merchant”. Someone whose (debatable) performances since joining the club has forced the powers that be to spend big on Fred and Matic so that he may be “unlocked”. The Twitterati even go so far as to blame Pogba’s different hairstyles for some abject displays.
While many baulked at/mocked the transfer fee, I (along with many others) believed it was a win-win situation for all parties involved. Juventus made a huge profit on a player they bought for next to nothing, Pogba’s people earned an eye watering £41m from the deal (according to the book “Football Leaks: the Dirty Business of Football”) and Manchester United not only had the cash cow they so desperately needed but also a major asset that would bolster their portfolio and prove that despite being without Champions League football they could still attract elite footballers.
Although the 10 year £750m deal between Adidas and Manchester United was finalised two years prior to Pogba signing his own long term agreement with the sportswear manufacturer (£31m over 10 years), conspiracy theorists claimed Pogba and co were encouraged to engineer a move to either United or the other super power on the Adidas roster; Real Madrid.
I spoke to Pogba in December 2017 for Beyond The Pitch and asked if there was any truth in the rumour that Real Madrid was also interested in his signature at the time when United were negotiating with Juventus. He said:
“To be honest, Real Madrid came to me and I was thinking to go there, and I was thinking to go to Manchester United too. But I always felt it in my heart. My heart told me to come back here, I don’t know why, I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“But I did it, and I don’t regret. I never regret my choice.”
Pogba’s return to Manchester United has been bitter-sweet. His first season was relatively successful as the club won two pieces of silverware; the League Cup and the Europa League – the latter earned United a spot in the Champions League thus sparing the club’s blushes after finishing 6th in the Premier League. A stellar display from Pogba in the Europa League final 10 days after his father passed away shouldn’t be ignored. Behind the bright lights, fame and fortune, it’s difficult to lose sight of what’s most important. Pogba is a devout Muslim and is extremely close to his family. Most people would require time to grieve but Pogba stepped up when United needed him. But that’s as good as it has got.
A well-documented fall out with Jose Mourinho along with numerous questionable performances has divided a fan base. Staunch supporters of Pogba have – quite rightly – pointed the finger at Jose Mourinho for not only his treatment of the player but also his pragmatic approach to games that hindered the Frenchman’s progress and performances. Others have different views. Some claim the player has been a nuisance. They say he is disruptive. A bad influence. Someone who is using his social media clout to manipulate team mates.
The last accusation may seem far fetched but Pogba’s dressing room influence can’t be questioned, given his infectious personality and his affiliation with the club. Nevertheless, Pogba’s frequent social media activity has led to sets of supporters from many clubs questioning his commitment to Manchester United. Graeme Souness has been heavily critical of the Frenchman to the point where many on social media have accused the former Liverpool manager of being racist. The general feeling is the showmanship, the dancing, the haircuts, the funny videos would be acceptable if he was putting in the work on the pitch week in week out. As it stands, the number of sub-par performances outnumber the MOTM displays.
Pogba’s fractious relationship with Mourinho began before December 2017 when the player ignored his manager’s request to remain in the UK to recover from a thigh muscle injury and instead chose to rehabilitate in Miami. As time went on, Pogba’s lifestyle choices continued to chip away at Mourinho. Pogba often arranged for personal hairdresser Ahmed Alsanawi to cut his and some team mate’s hair at the club’s hotel before games. Incidentally, Alsanawi was banned from Chelsea’s training ground in November 2017 after using selfies with players to boost his social media following.
After numerous reported bust ups between the two, Pogba dropped a massive hint that he didn’t see eye to eye with the manager, saying
“A coach and a player don’t have to be best friends, we don’t have to go to restaurants together”.
This came a few weeks after Pep Guardiola revealed Mino Raiola offered both Pogba and Mkhitaryan to Manchester City. Pogba reacted to the media attention by scoring twice in Utd’s incredible comeback victory at the Etihad – although the sky blue hairstyle only added fuel to the fire.
More cryptic public comments from Pogba followed. At the beginning of the season he said: “If you’re not happy, you cannot give your best. There are things that I cannot say otherwise I will get fined”. After the 1-1 home draw against Wolves, Pogba told one media outlet:
“We are here to attack. Teams are scared when they see Man United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake today”.
Mourinho on the other hand did little to defuse the situation, often substituting Pogba and used the open training session in September 2018 to give his (then) captain a dressing down the day after a video was posted on Instagram of the player laughing during Utd’s League Cup encounter against Derby, which they lost on penalties.
So what was Ed Woodward (Manchester United’s Executive Vice Chairman) doing the whole time? Sources claim Woodward was leaking inside information to his favourite journalists in order to appear completely blameless in the whole saga. Let’s not forget, Woodward appointed Jose Mourinho and negotiated the deal to sign Pogba. However, once the relationship between player and manager came to a head there was only going to be one winner. United were dropping further down the table as the team’s form worsened.
Mourinho’s tactics and team selections were questionable along with his pre/post match comments. The atmosphere in and around the club was toxic. Something had to give. Woodward would either had to have to stump up over £20m in compensation to sack Mourinho or sell the £89m “virus” (as Jose once described Pogba). Woodward knew relieving Mourinho of his duties would lead to further question marks over his judgement, given he’d already sacked David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. After all, United aren’t known for being a sacking club – but times have changed.
One crucial factor that major clubs look at nowadays before signing a big name is their social media activity. Nowadays, players can interact with fans at the touch of a button/screen. The option to promote themselves opens many doors, leading to potential sponsorships. Pogba already had a worldwide following which took off after he adopted the Dab, a dance move/gesture made famous by hip hop artists Skippa Da Flippa, Migos and Rich The Kid, and often performed as a celebration by numerous sportsmen/women in the NFL and NBA.
YouTubers had made hundreds of “Pogba Best Skills” video compilations that were accompanied by some terrible Euro Trance music. Fast forward to the announcement of Pogba’s transfer to Manchester United and the most elaborate unveiling in football history. A short music video that featured (Adidas sponsored) UK artist Stormzy (a Manchester United fan) donning the new blue away shirt, performing the Nigo Duppy freestyle – which also introduced the Adidas Originals collection by Nigo.
Pogba’s social media follower numbers across the 3 major platforms are huge but hardly earth shattering. His 34.2m Instagram followers are far less than Messi’s (113m), Cristiano Ronaldo’s (160m) and even Neymar’s (113m). What about Twitter? Well, if you thought Pogba trailed CR7 on Insta then you’ll think the World Cup winner’s people need to up their game on the world’s biggest trolling platform. Pogba sits on 6.7m followers whilst the Juve forward has over 77m. How about Facebook? Pogba’s 7.3m “likes” looks like crumbs compared to Ronaldo’s 122m, Messi’s 89m and Neymar’s 60m.
Nevertheless, Pogba’s social media status as a major influencer makes him relatable to youngsters. Someone they aspire to be like.
The Mourinho-Pogba fall out at Manchester United isn’t new. Sir Alex Ferguson severed ties with many players – even those who carried his teams to European glory. The likes of Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis; all of whom played pivotal roles in Manchester United’s domestic success were deemed surplus to requirement. Jaap Stam, who to this day is regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever central defenders, shipped out over a confession in his book.
Then there’s Roy Keane, arguably the most influential player in the club’s (Premier League) history, sacked for falling out with the Assistant Coach Carlos Queiroz. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s rumoured fall out with Cristiano Ronaldo was the beginning of the end for the Dutchman’s United career. The “he’s your dad” remark to Ronaldo whilst pointing at Queiroz made up Ferguson’s mind on whether or not to keep the striker, at a time where Utd’s top marksman had become increasingly frustrated with the Portuguese youngster’s persistent show boating and overall decision making.
Ferguson has since gone on record to say he regrets selling Stam. He told MUTV in 2013:
“When I think of disappointments, obviously Jaap Stam was always a disappointment to me, I made a bad decision there.”
No mention of Keane. No mention of van Nistelrooy, Ince, Hughes, Gerard Pique; all of whom were sold on Fergie’s terms. But there’s a much bigger name missing from that list. A player who’d been at the club since the age of 14 and part of the famous 1992 FA Youth Cup winning team.
Step forward David Beckham. There (probably) isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t know about David Beckham or “Brand Beckham”. The East Londoner made his United debut in the League Cup victory over Port Vale but didn’t become a first team regular until 1996 in the famous “you’ll win nowt with kids” season. Embed from Gett
Football and music always had a common ground but the 90’s turned out to be Cupid’s Arrow. A simple Google search for “90’s pop” serves up more cheese than a quattro formaggi. The list of acts include; Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, NSYNC, Take That, Boyzone, East 17 and more. All of whom appealed many but targeted at a certain demographic – girls from the age of 10 to 18.
“I set the bar, I’m the fg bar, In the sky, I’m a fg star”.
Another hip hop reference relating to the subject at hand. David Beckham’s boy band looks put him on par with Liverpool’s Jamie Redknapp in the teeny-bopper appeal stakes but it was the Manchester United midfielder’s relationship with Victoria Adams, aka Posh Spice, that elevated his image to a level that footballers had never reached before; so much so that he’s seen as the benchmark.
Posh and Becks became household names throughout the world, so much so that London souvenir shops placed stock relating to the couple in the same section as “monarchy merch”. All this wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for Simon Fuller – entrepreneur and artist manager. Fuller’s client list included the Spice Girls, S Club 7, Annie Lennox, Steven Tyler and later went on to manage Lewis Hamilton, Amy Winehouse, Gary Barlow and Aloe Blacc. If anyone knew how to make a diamond out of coal, it was him.
Everywhere the Beckhams went, the paparazzi followed. Gossip about their relationship filled the front, middle and back pages of the tabloids. It became a circus. A media circus. Something Alex Ferguson did not want. Don’t forget, David Beckham became public enemy number 1 after his sending off against Argentina at France 98. The Mirror’s headline of “Ten Heroic Lions and One Stupid Boy” was tame in comparison to the Beckham effigy hung outside the Pleasant Pub in South Norwood.
This type of attention didn’t help Ferguson’s preparations for the new season – or did it? Arsenal were the defending champions and United spent big on Stam, Blomqvist and Yorke to wrestle the title back. Perhaps the attention on Beckham took some of the pressure off United’s squad but it didn’t bother him in the slightest. During France 98, Beckham was happily walking around with his wife, wearing a sarong and brown sandals.
First league game of the 98-99 campaign, Beckham stepped up to score a trademark free kick in an injury time equaliser against Leicester City. This wasn’t the first time Beckham had bailed United out or made a major contribution. In the 1996 FA Cup semi final at Villa Park, the England youngster latched on to Craig Burley’s dreadful backpass to score the winner. At the same ground, at the same end, at the very same stage of the same competition in 1999, Beckham crashed home a 25 yard strike to give United the lead against Arsenal. He scored vital goals, notably the equaliser against Spurs on the final day of the 1999 season and provided countless assists during his time at the club – many of which were match winning goals.
Watching Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron ping balls across to each other on either flank in the warm up before games was a joy to behold. Technique, accuracy – Beckham had it. Work rate, determination – he had that too. Attitude, a will to win, overcoming adversity – add those to the list.
Google “Beckham hairstyles” and it comes up with about 25.9 million results. From buzz cuts to corn rows, Brylcreem to highlights – there isn’t a hairstyle Beckham hasn’t had. Beckham hairstyles. Unbelievable, right? No, not really. Jay Z famously coined “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man”. This also applies to Beckham. It applies to Beckham now and it applied to Beckham while he was at United – a gift and a curse which ultimately brought an end to his time at the club.
Ferguson wrote in his autobiography:
“The minute a Manchester United player thought he was bigger than the manager, he had to go. David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson.”
“That was the death knell for him.”
“David was the only player I managed who chose to be famous, who made it his mission to be known outside the game.”
“I felt uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life.”
The final straw came in February 2003 when United were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup. Ferguson was unhappy with Beckham’s performance and allegedly singled him out, saying Ashley Cole had got the better of him again (in a far explicit way), to which Beckham not so kindly reminded Ferguson that Wenger had got the better of him again. All this led to a boot catching Beckham on the eyebrow, which ended up being another photo opportunity. There was I thinking that Nelly was the only person who could make a plaster on their face a fashion statement.
Beckham was ushered out the door in June 2003 and joined Real Madrid to become a “Galactico”. A fee of around £24.5m was agreed between the club and Beckham’s arrival at the Bernabeu played a huge role in Los Blancos’ financial transformation. By the end of the financial year of 2005, Real Madrid’s revenues went up from £93.2m (2001) to £186.4m. A statement from Deloitte read:
“Although president Florentino Perez’s strategy of recruiting world-class galactico players has not necessarily delivered the anticipated on-pitch results recently, their presence has facilitated a transformation in the club’s financial performance.”
Commercial revenue aside, Beckham’s time at Real Madrid wasn’t as successful as he’d have wanted. One La Liga title and a Supercopa de Espana victory were quite underwhelming, but like Pogba today, Beckham’s performances for his national team eclipsed what he did on the pitch for his club. However, this didn’t hinder his value as a brand and in 2007, Beckham fever hit the City of Angels as the former England captain moved to MLS side LA Galaxy in a deal worth around $32.5m over 5 years.
With Beckham being the main attraction, Galaxy saw an increase in season ticket sales and commercial partnerships with brands from all over the world. His debut for the club could have been mistaken for a movie premiere as many Hollywood stars were present. The likes of Tom Cruise, Drew Carey, Katie Holmes, Eva Longoria and the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up to experience the Beckham phenomenon. A day later and Beckham was at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, rubbing shoulders with more A-list celebs and an event that was covered by Entertainment Tonight.
The list of off field activity David and Victoria have been involved with is too long to reel off but just to put things into perspective, Brand Beckham is worth close to a billion dollars (around £790m), which vindicates Simon Fuller’s alleged comments in 1995 of:
“Victoria’s glamour and David’s sex appeal and sporting prowess could over the long-term create a $1 billion brand.”
As mentioned earlier, David Beckham’s success has started a trend in football and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Paul Pogba’s team are doing their level best to catapult their client to that level. However, not only has David had a superstar wife by his side throughout this incredible journey, he’s had a management team that knows the showbiz industry inside out. Pogba joked in the interview he gave me that some day he may be an actor.
As it stands, he’s playing the role of a pantomime villain rather than James Bond’s arch enemy. Of course, Beckham’s over exaggerated behaviour in the flying boot debacle mirrored that of an attention seeking brat – but his team knew exactly how to pull the strings with the media. At the same time, Ferguson knew this was the beginning of the end of their relationship and was happy to see the England captain move to pastures new.
In Pogba’s case it appears that the tail is wagging the dog. The “no player is bigger than the club” mentality is non existent and Ed Woodward’s desperation to keep Pogba happy, irrespective of his divisive behaviour, just shows how far United have fallen.
Selling Beckham to their biggest commercial rivals was a hit United were willing to take for the sake of the team, but let’s not rule out the strong possibility his representatives helped push the transfer along. With Beckham’s former Real Madrid team mate Zinedine Zidane back at the helm, the 13 time European Cup winners are set to embark on a summer spending splurge; with Pogba and Edin Hazard top of their wanted list.
French news outlets have reported that Pogba’s agent has already held talks with Real Madrid, which shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider Zidane’s admiration for the player, his natural ability and marketability.
As mentioned earlier, Beckham’s presence at Real Madrid boosted their bank balance so why wouldn’t it make sense for Florentino Perez to sanction a £150m+ transfer for Pogba? Here we have a footballer with undeniable ability who, like Beckham, has a certain allure. Adidas released the Paul Pogba Capsule Collection – a six piece capsule containing clothing and footwear. He also spearheaded the Adidas Predator relaunch, a boot that ironically was made famous by David Beckham.
However, it is important to point out Pogba’s social media value. In January 2017, Pogba became the first Premier League footballer to have an emoji created for him. By keying #POGBA, a side facing graphic appeared – and this drove people mad. This was clearly a sign of things to come as Pogba launched his own app in January 2019 called the “Pogmoji”, which offers emoticons and animations that can be used within other apps such as Whatsapp. Add all this to the $5.72 in media value per follower (according to Hookit) Pogba has, throw it in Real Madrid’s social media cauldron of over 200 million followers and you have a digital media marriage made in…You get the gist. Incidentally, Real Madrid lost over a million followers on Twitter when Cristiano Ronaldo left to join Juventus. All the more reason to sign Pogba.
Beckham’s departure came at the same time United made a move for Ronaldinho. Peter Kenyon stalled on PSG’s asking price, in swooped Barca, forcing United to sign Cristiano Ronaldo a year earlier than planned –and we know what happened with him. But if Solskjaer were to take a leaf out of Ferguson’s book and send Pogba packing, how would that affect the playing staff? Could it unsettle Pogba’s mates Rashford, Martial, Shaw and Lingard or would it prove that Solskjaer does indeed operate a zero-tolerance policy?
What would selling Pogba mean for United? Would this further enhance the notion they are no longer a powerhouse? How would it look to potential investors and sponsors if they sold their prized asset? Could this deter big names or players with potential from signing for the club, or would Manchester United become a more attractive proposition because there’d be a vacant cash cow position?
I guess we won’t know until the club is willing to listen to offers for the Frenchman. What we do know, however, is there are many parallels between David Beckham and Paul Pogba’s careers; numerous common denominators both on and off the field that have elevated them into superstardom.
It’s almost as if history is repeating itself, although I’d say that should Pogba end up in Spain, the pressure on him to deliver will be far greater than it was with Beckham. Back in 2003, Real Madrid already had a pool of World Class talent. Beckham wasn’t front and centre.
This role was shared by Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Raul and Roberto Carlos. Pogba will join Real Madrid at the beginning of a new era. Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure left a gaping hole which the likes of Benzema, Asensio and Bale (not for the want of trying) couldn’t fill, which makes Pogba’s (or Hazard’s) potential move an even bigger task.
As Rhodri Giggs pointed out on the Shoot The Defence podcast, Real Madrid fans aren’t easily pleased. Gareth Bale – who played a monumental role in at least two out of the last three Champions League final victories – has been booed and threatened by his own supporters. They even waved white hankies at Cristiano Ronaldo for crying out loud. Can you imagine how they’d react if Pogba put in the sub standard performances he has done for a lot of his time at United? How’s that for pressure?