“I will pay him 20 million francs a year. But it's a gift, it's strictly zero, it's nothing!" Bernard Tapie did not think so well to say, on the set of Téléfoot in 1989, speaking of Diego Maradona. More than three decades later, wages in football have skyrocketed. But it didn't happen overnight. At the dawn of the 1990s, a first economic boom touched football. Olympique de Marseille and especially AC Milan, opponents in the 1993 Champions League final, did not escape this.
If he produced some nuggets, the Italian club was not the last to offer stars. Especially after Silvio Berlusconi became its president in 1986. A year later, Milan spent 6.8 million euros for the transfer of Dutch midfielder Ruud Gullit, a planetary record at the time. He went further in 1992 for Jean-Pierre Papin, snatched from … OM for barely 11 M€, then in stride for the promising Gianluigi Lentini, around 15 M€. Ridiculous sums compared to those that dot football today: since 2018, nine players have been transferred for more than €100m.
At the time, AC Milan was expensive, very expensive. In addition to Papin, Ballon d'Or 1991, he had with him another striker who won the prestigious trophy: Marco Van Basten (1988, 1989, 1992). The Dutchman had been bought a year before his first Ballon d'Or at Ajax Amsterdam, for the modest sum of €2 million. “The value of a player is calculated on the value of the contract”, reminds us Pierre Rondeau, sports economist. Who says low salary and/or short contract often says low value.
How then can we estimate the price of the workforce of the great Milan and OM, European champion 1993? Let's start with the figures mentioned by Tapie for Maradona. “He was ready to pay him 20 million francs a year, or €5.24 million, explains Pierre Rondeau. If we admit a 3-year contract, which is the average, that would make the best player in the world estimated at 15.7 M€, plus a coefficient of increase.
We can reasonably imagine that, for Maradona, a club could have broken the bank and exceeded 20 M€ for a transfer. This is about 10 times less than the historic record for the transfer of Neymar, passed from FC Barcelona to PSG in 2017 for 222 M€, followed by Kylian Mbappé for 180 M€ from Monaco to Paris. If we apply the same percentage (10%) to the workforce, then comes the beginning of an answer concerning Milan and OM.
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The specialized site Transfermarkt evaluates the workforce of Chelsea and Manchester City at more than one billion euros. Five other clubs, including PSG, exceed €800m. We can therefore estimate the value of the Rossoneri at less than €100 million. For OM, which was not like the Milanese ogre, not even sure that we reached 50 M€. Because if Tapie was ready to splurge for Maradona, he did not go higher than 5.4 M€ for Chris Waddle (1989) and 7.5 M€ for Dragan Stojkovic (1991).
The calculations remain, of course, approximate. He still is in football, all the more so without having access to every player salary and contract length from 30 years ago. They nevertheless give an idea of the abyssal financial gap between the two eras. €100m in 2023 is what Strasbourg's workforce is worth according to Transfermarkt. Insufficient, today, to play in a Champions League final.