Small clubs cross fingers for World Cup windfalls
TORCY, France – The ideal scenario for the club where Paul Pogba played football as a kid might go something like this: The France midfielder shines so brightly at the World Cup that a money-no-object club — for argument's sake, let's say Real Madrid — decides that it cannot live without him and pays a nine-figure fee to shake him loose from Manchester United.
US Torcy, the amateur club in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba's photo still hangs proudly in the canteen serving fizzy beer and fresh croissants, could then sit back and wait for a fat check from Madrid to land in its bank account.
Not all the money that will change hands after the World Cup, as clubs trade players who distinguish themselves on football's biggest stage, will line the pockets of selling clubs, agents and the players themselves. A little slice — far too little, some argue — of the likely deluge in post-World Cup transfer fees will also trickle down to football's grassroots, to unpretentious, volunteer-run clubs like Torcy where kids take first steps toward their big dreams of making a career in football.
Pogba's move from Italy to Manchester in August 2016, after he burnished his star credentials in France's run that summer to the final of the European Championship, was like hitting the jackpot for Torcy. Because Pogba spent a year at Torcy in his formative years, FIFA's transfer rules entitled the club to 0.25 percent of the then-world record fee of 105 million euros ($116 million) United paid to Juventus. The windfall for Torcy was about 300,000 euros ($330,000).
Torcy's president, Pascal Antonetti, won't discuss the exact amount, citing a non-disclosure agreement he says he signed with United. But the money was enough to buy three new minibuses to transport Torcy's players to matches and training. The club now also allows itself the luxury of getting hotel rooms for its teams when they play away from Paris, so they're not exhausted by travel on the day of their games. And it has kept some of the money in reserve, just to be safe.
"The club is protected from an eventual financial problem, just so long as we don't get delusions of grandeur and spend the money recklessly," Antonetti said in an interview with The Associated Press on a recent weekend when the club hosted a two-day cup competition for kids' teams from around Europe, among them Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and other famous clubs.
"We won't be buying cars for each of our senior players in the first XI, for example," he added. "We've kept our head on our shoulders and our feet on the ground."
These so-called "solidarity" payments recompense clubs for training and educating players who later, as professionals, become valuable, money-spinning commodities. FIFA's transfer regulations stipulate that when a player contracted with one club moves to another club in another country, up to 5 percent of the fee must be set aside and distributed to clubs that nurtured him, from ages 12 to 23.
In Pogba's case, United paid not only Torcy, where he played for a year at age 13, but also his first boyhood club, US Roissy-en-Brie, also in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba grew up. The club says it received about 400,000 euros and has spent some of it on two new minibuses, movable goals and other equipment.
Still, such payments to the grassroots represent only a drop in the ocean of money splashing around professional football. In 2017, spending on international transfers soared to $6.4 billion, FIFA says. But only a sliver of that — $64 million, or just 1 percent of the total — went to breeder clubs as solidarity contributions, according to FIFA's report on the 2017 transfer market .
Antonetti, the Torcy president, is among those who say solidarity payments aren't generous enough.
"We get only a tiny slice of a transfer like Paul Pogba's," he said. "The financial windfalls aren't sufficiently redistributed."
And not all the compensation that should be paid to training clubs actually reaches them, FIFA says. It says it has a task force looking at ways to make solidarity payments "more efficient and easy to administer."
Still, there'll be plenty of small clubs around the world crossing fingers that players they nurtured will shine in Russia, because a big transfer at the top of the football pyramid can be life-changing for clubs toward the bottom.
When Premier League champion Manchester City signed Aymeric Laporte in January from Bilbao in Spain, it paid 689,000 euros — about 1 percent of the total fee — to SU Agen, the club in the defender's hometown in southwest France where he played to age 15.
Laporte didn't make France coach Didier Deschamps' World Cup squad . But his childhood club, previously loaded in debt, is now flush thanks to his transfer, its future assured, says its president, Jean-Claude Brunel.
The money is funding renovations to the club house, with a new television and a better kitchen, as well as a new minibus and uniforms for Agen's players. Carefully managed, the remainder should ensure the club's survival well into the next decade, Brunel said in a phone interview.
"It has allowed us to be serene and to look beyond tomorrow," he said. "Before, we didn't know what tomorrow would bring."
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester
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