There are some young, talented players that show a lot of potential during their formative years, potential to become football legends. And there are managers who have the eye to spot this talent, signing these talented youngsters and turning them into true assets for their clubs. When, in turn, a young talent catches more than one manager at the time, it can start a tug of war of sorts, with clubs outbidding each other in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits. This practice has been around for ages, this is what happened to Zlatan Ibrahimović during his time with Malmö FF, this is what happened to several world-class players in the past. And it is happening today.
João Félix has left Benfica for Atlético Madrid this year after a tug of war that involved at least three clubs: Manchester City, Manchester United, and the above-mentioned Spanish side. No wonder: the Portuguese sensation is the youngest player to have scored a hat-trick in a UEFA Europa League match (19) and won the Primeira Liga’s Best Young Player of the Year award with Benfica. His performance caught the eyes of several managers – and where’s demand, the prices grow. This is probably the reason why, when he left Portugal for Spain, the Madrid club had to pay out 126 million (£113 million).
João Félix is the second most expensive teenage footballer ever – Mbappé is the first. Born in Paris, he started playing football at AS Bondy at the age of 6 and moved to Monaco’s youth team in 2013. In 2015, when he was just 16, he joined Monaco’s senior B team for a season, advancing to the first team. His many accolades put him on several managers’ radars – according to PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi, every major club wanted to sign the talented forward, including Arsenal, and many of them offered more money than the record-breaking fee ultimately paid out by the Paris club. Ultimately it was not the money but the player’s nostalgia that decided which club he would sign with: being a Parisian himself, signing with PSG was, in a way, coming home.
Raúl González Blanco – known simply as Raúl – is the counterexample of the above practice. In his case, there was no tug of war – although his talent showed from an early age, he was let go willingly by one club, joining another completely free.
After training for three years with San Cristóbal, Raúl signed with Atlético Madrid’s youth team in 1990. During his two years with the club, he helped its “Cadete” team win a national title. Jesús Gil, the club’s president at the time, didn’t consider the expense of raising fresh talent vital: he closed the team’s youth academy, letting go of all the players. Raúl moved to Real Madrid in 1992, working his way up the club’s “Juvenil A” team and helping it win the Dallas Cup twice. Then, in 1994, he started his senior career at Real’s C team, quickly working his way up to the first. In the six years to come, he played more than 500 league games, scored over 200 goals, and won the “La Liga’s Best Spanish Player” title a record five times, among others.