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Who will be the first £100 million footballer?

Bale Ronaldo

Deloitte’s annual investigation into the world’s wealthiest soccer teams revealed those lucky enough to be at the pinnacle of the game are making more money than ever. Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain all secured revenues in excess of €450 million, tangible monetary gains that will surely be invested into the club a little further down the line.

Supporters of those teams will want to see the cash put towards the acquisition of the world’s brightest footballers and with money to burn—even though Financial Fair Play regulations restrict a lot of spending—it seems as though we’re not too far off from seeing the first £100 million footballer.

A nine-figure sum for component of a squad does seem a ludicrous amount of money. At one point it looked as though Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur was going to top this mark, but in the end the clubs involved agreed on a £80 million premium. But Bale himself has been subject of reported interest from United—with a figure of £120 million bandied about—as has Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who’s reported cost would far surpass those sums aforementioned.

It’s a figure that may not be accrued in the immediacy, but it certainly seems to have crept up on us when looking back at cornerstone transfers in the past. In English football, Alan Ball—the youngest member of England’s World Cup winning squad—became the first ever £100,000 footballer in 1966 and 13 years later, Trevor Francis joined Nottingham Forest from Birmingham City for £1,000,000.

Thirty six years on from Brian Clough’s comedic unveiling of Francis—the Forest manager was hurried in his duties, keen to shoot off for a game of squash—the game has moved on enormously. To ponder a possible fee of £100m is absurdly indulgent on the part of soccer clubs, but as we’ve already noted, it’s something a lot of those in the elite bracket can now afford and have money left over.

Indeed, as you might expect, four of the top five highest priced players in the history of the game were transferred in the last two seasons, with the longstanding arms race between Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga and United’s attempts to return to the top of the pile in English soccer prompting a flurry of unashamed spending.

You suspect it’ll be one of the aforementioned five clubs who topped Deloitte’s findings that do eventually splash out a nine-figure sum for the first time and there are a few intriguing contenders for that accolade.

At the moment, in terms of true worth, there are a few players in the game who can command that kind of figure, but as we were witness to in Real’s unexpectedly pricey purchase of Bale, the world’s best up-and-coming stars don’t come cheap these days. Indeed, just look at Liverpool’s purchase of Andy Carroll in January 2011; a player who commanded a fee of £35 million from the Reds despite playing just 72 minutes for his country.

“I wonder in my lifetime whether I’ll ever see a £100m footballer,” said Francis in 2011, per The Guardian. “If I do, maybe it’s Lionel Messi. He’s the only one. But where would he go?”

Francis is probably right. If Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale or Neymar were sold this January or in the summer, they would command such stratospheric figures. And although rumors have lingered about the Welshman, it’d be a major surprise to see those kinds of world stars allowed to leave their respective sides.

Perhaps it’s best to look to the next crop of talent coming through then. Juventus’ Paul Pogba is a player who has all the requisite tools to grow into one of the world’s very best and after signing a new five-year deal with Juventus in late 2014, it’s going to take an enormous fee to drag him away from the Bianconeri. That hasn’t stopped the biggest names in world soccer being perennially linked with the Frenchman, though.

Maybe a side would be willing to splash that kind of money on Eden Hazard, who is also blossoming into one of the finest players in the world? Chelsea would not be willing to part with the Belgian for anything less that a enormous offer, after all.

Perhaps the player is unbeknown to us at the moment and will undergo a Bale-esque rise to world-class calibre before being lured to the bright lights of the Santiago Bernabeu, Old Trafford or the Allianz Arena.

FFP is a factor that will surely hamper sides in the effort’s to draft in a £100m man. Big spenders like Manchester City and PSG have already felt the wrath of UEFA sanctions and although juggernauts like Real, United, Bayern and Barca will feel their revenue is substantial enough to abate any potential penalties, it’s something every side must consider as spending and subsequent scrutiny inevitably increases.

While the £100m player hasn’t quite revealed himself yet, it’s likely that given the manner in which the top sides in the game have parted with sizeable sums in the last two seasons, this mark will be topped by the time 2017 comes around, if not before.

If a deal is done in 2016—it could be conducted by a Premier League club, with a new three-year TV deal worth £4 billion apparently in the offering—it’ll be 50 years since Ball’s lucrative £100,000 move to Everton. If the spending continues to expand exponentially, we’ll see a £1 billion player by the the time it’s 2050.

Surely something will be done by the relevant bodies before we reach that particular landmark, but it’s seemingly only a matter of time before we get past the £100m mark. The milestone figure following seems a long way away, but given the ferocious pace with which records have been toppled in recent history, it could come around a lot sooner than we might think.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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