It's the blockbuster deal that seems too crazy to include two of the biggest clubs in the world and their most iconic stars, but it could be the only solution to the problems Manchester United and Juventus are struggling to solve. In many ways, a player swap, which swaps the trading venues of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba, is a transfer that works for everyone.
In normal times when the biggest clubs were flushed with money and could determine where, why, and when transfers would take place, any kind of swap deal – not to mention one that involves two of the game's most famous players – would never get going. Switching players has always been a rarity at the highest level, and when you look at the disastrous outcome of the United-Arsenal deal three years ago between Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, it's easy to see why.
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN + (US only)
– ESPN + Viewers Guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more
However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on football has been enormous. Clubs at every level of the game and in every country saw their finances hit hard as fans were locked out or viewership severely reduced and television companies were calling for discounts on their massive broadcasting deals that have resulted in club payments being slashed and the prize money in the major competitions has been reduced.
Even United and Juventus, two of Europe's biggest clubs, have suffered as a result. United reported a £ 70million drop in sales through late June in their latest financials, and that number will only get bigger if Old Trafford continues to host behind closed doors. Juventus posted similar losses for the year ended June 30th (€ 71.4m / £ 64.5m) and the ongoing effects of the pandemic will linger even stronger as this season progresses. So it's not a good time for either club to grapple with growing problems from their top two names – Ronaldo and Pogba.
Ronaldo, who will be 36 in February, is entering the final 18 months of his contract with Juventus, which is reportedly worth € 31m a year. Despite his return of 79 goals in 101 games for the Italian champions, Juve have not yet started talks on a new contract with the Portuguese captain and sources have told ESPN that the club would be open to offers for the striker, especially given the financial one Situation strain of COVID-19.
As for United, their Pogba headache just won't go away. Like Ronaldo, his £ 15m-a-year contract expires in June 2022, and his agent Mino Raiola barely shocked the world last week when he said his client was leaving Old Trafford to start his career. But there aren't any potential buyers for the 27-year-old right now, and he, Raiola and United know that. They know the usual candidates – Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juve – don't have the money to sign him or pay his wages.
It is similar with Juve and Ronaldo, although the former United and Real striker is at least on the pitch for his team, which is difficult for Pogba to say. Juve knows that there is no club on the planet that would pay a fee for Ronaldo and then agree to meet his wage demands – even if he cut them by a third.
This is why a Ronaldo-Pogba swap could prove so compelling for the two clubs and both players. It offers everyone involved a way out of a difficult situation. But what are the potential obstacles and could it really happen?
Would it work from a footballing perspective? Do the coaches even want it to happen?
First, this deal won't work if there isn't a sporting sense in it. Would Pogba work for Juve and would United take back Ronaldo after selling him to Real for a world record of £ 80m in 2009?
Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo played alongside Pogba during their time together in Turin and formed a midfield in which the Italians reached the 2015 Champions League final. Pirlo knows what Pogba can offer, how his vision, reach, scoring chances and athleticism improve his Juve team and how he would give the club a midfielder in the prime of his career. If signing Pogba meant losing Ronaldo it would be a tough call, but Juve have to start planning a life without their superstar and this deal would make sense.
It would be insane for United to swap a 27-year-old for a player who is close to his 36th birthday at first, but Pogba is not performing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side and the club are making little or no return for his investment and his wages. They'd lose a midfielder and replace him with a striker, but Ronaldo remains a strong threat on goal and no team could realistically turn down the chance to sign a player who himself scored 14 goals out of 12 at this stage in his career Games so far this season.
From a footballing perspective, United and Juventus would benefit from a swap.
This could be a "swap", but it would still be a huge financial commitment for both clubs, right?
Juventus would get the chance to sign a player who would cost half of Ronaldo's annual salary – that's an obvious plus for the Italians. And at 27, Pogba would also give Juventus the opportunity to generate a return for the player by selling them for a fee in the future.
From a business perspective, it is difficult to see any disadvantage for Juventus, although their commercial power would likely take a hit if they could no longer offer Ronaldo's image and branding to potential sponsors. However, Pogba is also a great number in terms of commercial visibility around the world. The commercial boost would be the sweetener for United as Ronaldo would cost a lot more weekly than Pogba even if he cut his Juventus salary. United have benefited from Pogba's global pull and his loss would be a blow under most circumstances, but not if replaced by Ronaldo, who is on a completely different plane.
However, there is no question that by exchanging Pogba for Ronaldo, United would pay most of the bill as they would have to find more for wages. But the payback on and off the pitch would likely be beyond what Pogba brought to United. it would stack the numbers for the Old Trafford side. And if Manchester City manage to sign a contract for Lionel Messi next summer, United will have to respond with their own box office star. Ronaldo and Messi, who play the final chapters of their careers in Manchester, can hardly resist.
Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo would mark the biggest swap deal ever. Getty
Pogba was enjoying his time in Turin so returning would be an easy sale, but didn't Ronaldo find it difficult in Manchester?
When you talk to Ronaldo's former United team-mates, they all have fond memories of his time at Old Trafford between 2003 and 2009, but they always say one thing: he hated the weather. As a young player from the sun-kissed island of Madeira, Manchester was a culture shock for Ronaldo. It was too cold and too wet and way too often for his liking, and he didn't enjoy getting dark around 4pm either. during the winter months. Despite his aversion to the climate, Ronaldo stayed in Manchester for six years and made no secret of his affection for the club and the city.
His later time in Madrid and Turin will have taught him that most European cities are cold in winter. A return to Manchester would therefore not be equivalent to a two-year registration in the Arctic Circle. However, if there is an obstacle to a possible return to Old Trafford, the climate will not be in United's favor.
But doesn't United want to give up signing older players?
Yes, a concerted effort has been made to reduce the age of the Old Trafford squad and the costly mistake of signing the then 29-year-old Sanchez in January 2018 was a turning point in United's recruiting strategy. But there's also a case where every player and every commitment should be judged on their merits, which is why United signed 33-year-old free agent Edinson Cavani in October. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was 34 years old when he arrived in 2016 with a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain. In his first season he scored 28 goals in 46 games and is likely to have stayed longer with a serious knee injury.
So age isn't a permanent barrier to player business at United – the deal just has to make sense, both on and off the field. Ronaldo's stats continue to outperform players of all ages and there is no reason to believe that he doesn't have at least two more years at the top level.
OK, if Juventus wants Pogba back, why not offer a partial exchange to someone else? Dybala maybe?
The financial problem of having both Ronaldo and Pogba on the payroll would push Juventus to make serious cost cuts elsewhere, and the numbers wouldn't make sense if they didn't sell three to four of their biggest names.
United wanted Paulo Dybala early last season but the Argentina international made it clear he had no interest in moving to Old Trafford so you can rule that out. Former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey could entice United into selling Pogba, but the Welshman's injury record would sound alarm bells at Old Trafford and United would also receive a downgrading of the World Cup winner but the inconsistent French international. Matthijs de Ligt is one player of interest to United but the Dutch defender is represented by Raiola – that could be an instant deal-breaker for the Old Trafford hierarchy.
But it's pretty simple – the only deal that works for both sides is Ronaldo for Pogba and vice versa. Otherwise nothing measures.
So will it happen then?
The word inside United is that Ronaldo is no longer on their radar. They have tried multiple times and have failed since he left to take him back to Manchester, but the stars never quite aligned.
As a direct buy it doesn't make sense for United, but the Pogba element makes Ronaldo a viable option again. United don't want to lose Pogba as a free agent in 2022, but they know the transfer market is in the middle of a financial crisis so no one can sell to next summer. And Juventus may need to take advantage of Ronaldo within the next six months to get some return and avoid another high wage season. In the end there is only one free agent.
From a football and business perspective, there are more pros than cons for either club when it comes to a Pogba-Ronaldo swap, and both players can get the deal closed. But will it happen? Watch this room.