Football players are as much a brand as the club they play for. Think of Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Kagawa, Pirlo and the young Paul Pogba. Even though they all sport a jersey with an established and recognized crest, they add their own brand-flavor to the club’s brand. This means their behavior, appearance, performance and choice of sponsorship affects the brand they are associated with.
Rein, Kotler and Shields (2006) write in The Elusive Fan,
‘An athlete has the advantage of being the principal performer in the sport, and that usually means that the athletes image is constantly before the fan. Because there are a growing number of distribution opportunities available, the athlete has the potential to enter into a variety of sectors and use his or her sports career as a platform for endeavors. Critical to brand expansion is the athlete’s ability to construct a brand that identifies and connects with specific target segments.’
Paul Pogba, born in 1993, is a French midfielder, who kick-started his professional football career with Manchester United. A crucial turning point in the definition of his brand is the decision to leaving the legendary Premier League side at the age of 18 for the lesser prestigious Italian club Juventus FC. When asked why he decided to pass on the opportunity to grow his talent with Manchester United at that young age, Pogba answered to The Times,
“I didn’t want to sign a contract as Ferguson didn’t play me, even though there were no midfielders there.
“He obviously thought I didn’t deserve the contract I asked for, and didn’t put me in the team even though he had no midfield players. It was his choice.
“United were short of players like me, but it was the manager’s decision. I couldn’t do anything about it. I was frustrated because he spoke to me a few times and said I was nearly there.
“I told him ‘If I don’t play then I can’t get any experience and see how far I have to go’. I played a few cup games but he didn’t want to give me a contract and they just let me go.”
Obviously, we will never know what could have happened to Pogba’s brand, if he would have stayed in the Premier League. But we know how that decision played out for him and what it did for his brand.
The Paul Pogba Brand
An international and fresh-young brand that combines world-class football technique with a strong mindset and a ‘cool style’… just think of his hair.
Pogba evolved from a youngster with good potential but limited matchday experience — at arguably the most prestigious football club in the world — to a fresh but established and confident midfielder at an Italian club, which is in itself in a transformation phase. Furthermore, Pogba received great media and commercial interest due to his on-field success. In contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, Juventus coach Antonio Conte believed that the French youngster was ready for the big matches and could make a difference on the field, which he did. To underline his achievements and potential, Pogba received the Golden Boy award for the best under-21 footballer in Europe in December 2013 and was named one of the ten most promising young players in Europe by The Guardian in January 2014.
Athletes create different channels to experience their brand. Paul Pogba has a 200k strong following on Facebook, but other than that, his involvement with fans, sponsors and other brand stakeholders has enormous growth potential. His overall style has a strong glamour appeal, which could award him good sponsorship deals with lifestyle brands; his incredible football technique could bring him a strong collaboration with one of the top equipment brands, like Nike, Adidas, Puma, etc.; later down the road, if his career builds up systematically and stays on track, Pogba could become an ambassador or similar and carry the fun and joy of sports across the globe. Just like Pelé, Fabio Cannavaro, or David Beckham do.
Pogba showed with his voluntary departure from Manchester United to Juventus that he is willing to trade prestige for on-field playing time, which is proof for a hard work ethic. In The Elusive Fan, Rein, Kotler and Shields (2006) write about Maria Sharpova that ‘the combination of her skills and appearance makes her attractive to younger demographics’. The same can be assumed for Paul Pogba’s brand. Since he is young and just boosting his football career, he is more approachable than seasoned players, which can be a crucial feature in today’s fast-paced online-media world.