Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
If Paul Pogba is to cost €120 million (Dh489m), imagine how much Manchester United would have needed to pay for Paul Scholes? The midfielder was the best player that I ever played with – by a distance.
United were lucky in that Scholes had no need or desire to leave the club when he was a player. He was a local boy and a United fan, one of the few great players born near a club who are one of the biggest in the world. He lived at home and won all the trophies possible, not that I could have seen Scholes moving to Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
Pogba’s a good player, I like him. He could well go onto become the best midfielder of his generation. Is he worth the figures being mentioned though? The answer: He’s worth whatever any club is willing to pay for him.
Although not to the same level, I've been part of some big money deals. The biggest was for €27 million, in 2007, when I moved from Villarreal to Atletico Madrid. I was their most expensive player, but while the fee was big, I felt no pressure above that which is normal at that level.
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It was just a number. I felt honoured that they trusted me enough to pay all that money, but the players who go for top money are the ones who have been consistent for a few years. I have been involved in several big transfers, but usually from country to country so I’ve not seen the fans going crazy because I’m leaving, doing crazy things like burning my shirt, as Napoli fans did with Gonzalo Higuain last week.
I like fan passion, but I can't understand that. It's not like Higuain is from Naples or a Napoli fan. He arrived in a big money transfer and left on one. Fans can't have it both ways.
My move to Manchester United was headline news, with cameras waiting for me when I landed at the airport, but I tended to leave clubs in the summer so there was no build up to my departure during the season. I just moved. Now, trends have changed and players are expected to publish an open letter thanking the fans of their former club.
As a player, the most important things when you are moving is the quality of your new team and the manager you’re going to work with. You want to play in a winning team and the best winning teams tend to be at the biggest clubs. Money, to me, was a side product of playing at bigger and better clubs. I just let my agent get the best deal and trusted him to do his job.
As agents work on percentages, it’s in their interests to get the best deal for the player. You try to ignore the media around transfer time too. People will always leak information to suit their side of the story and you can’t control strong opinions from fans and journalists.
Of course money is important in football. Players speak about it all the time because newspapers speak about it. If you beat a team who get paid twice as much as you then it’s worth talking about. Players speak about net amounts, not gross. What’s the point in earning good money if 80 per cent of it is paid in tax?
Agents talk, too. They need to know which clubs are reliable payers and the ones who are going to mess you about. That’s how reputations are formed.
Players everywhere will be discussing whether Pogba is worth the amount we’re seeing quoted, but money should only be part of your motivation.
Depending on the player, it can be a big part. I have played with men whose egos needed feeding. One needed to be the best paid player at the club and if he wasn’t then he set himself the task of becoming the best – so at least the focus was on improving himself rather than getting angry because he was getting paid less. Other players would like to be the most expensive because they want to be the main man, but football is a team sport and they also have to fit in with those around them, to earn – and keep – their respect.
Money can give footballers a great life and financial security. It can mean you have luxury cars and stay in wonderful hotels. I feel privileged and lucky to get paid for what I do.
It can also bring problems, especially if the player doesn’t have the right kind of people around them. There are snakes around footballers, people with bad intentions. Men, women, hangers on. I have been blessed to have good people. My brother, Paulo, is one of my best friends. He is 10 years older than me and wise. I have known a lot of my other close friends all my life, I know their families. To them, I’m Diego, not a footballer. You need people like that in bad times as well as good. I have also met good friends around the world where I have played.
Friends are the ones who tell you the good and the bad stuff, not that you are great all the time so that you start to think you are untouchable. I have seen many players lose focus and with the large amounts of money in football today, the dangers are greater.
My dad, the son of a working-class man, was a top player and made a good living, but he couldn’t afford to just retire when he stopped playing. He coached, he worked as an agent. He brought us up in one of the best neighbourhoods in Uruguay. Football has been good to my family, but the money from it should never be taken for granted, even when it’s €120 million.
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