“Last season my next guest led his team, the Chicago Bulls, into the NBA Playoffs, scoring the record of an amazing 63 points in a single game. He is only 23 years of age and as you can see it is awesome to watch this man work. Please welcome Michael Jordan” – David Letterman
Footage of gravity-defying slam dunks accompany David Letterman’s flattering introduction of the 23-year-old. Sport’s most commercial icon is about to sit down in front of entertainment’s most charming question-poser.
Out comes Jordan, donning Nike threads from collar to sole. He takes a seat, brushes off a complimentary Letterman opener, and takes a look down at the host’s feet. “I’ve got one thing to say. I see Adidas shoes on – why?”
In the first minute of that 1986 interview, it’s clear to understand why Nike decided to make a line of shoes using this man’s surname. Michael Jordan was one hell of a basketball player, attractive and charming. A marketer’s dream.
Skip three decades and the sporting world has another 23-year-old who is as incredibly marketable as he is talented: Paul Pogba.
Although the world’s most popular sport, association football has never had a player at the height of the game as commercially iconic as Michael Jordan.
David Beckham had it all bar a Ballon d’Or, Cristiano Ronaldo’s egotistical tendencies are not for the masses, and Lionel Messi’s modest character is not red carpet-tailored. Ronaldinho is football’s strongest opposition, and if he could’ve spoken English he would’ve been insatiable to a worldwide fan base. But still, he isn’t quite Jordan.
Pogba, however, has the Jordan allure. In Spring 2016, he signed a 10-year contract with Adidas and has since been the face of many online adverts for the sportswear juggernaut.
One memorable video, which unofficially confirmed his world-record £89 million transfer to Manchester United, saw him shape-cutting alongside grime artist Stormzy – a sight that if you imagine Messi doing, sends shivers down the spine. Yet with Pogba, it feels right.
He has the identity in place to achieve a don-like public image. Unlike Jordan, who made the Chicago Bulls – winning six NBA Finals MVP awards in the six championships they won, Pogba is at Manchester United – the most domestically successful English club, who, without being a franchise, boast the worldwide support of one. This means millions of fans hungry for his latest shirt, boots, dodgy barnet.
World’s most expensive player. England’s most successful league club. Pogba’s hitting the peaks of the game, as did Jordan. Jordan had Nike; Pogba has Adidas. Jordan had Jumpman; Pogba has the dab. Jordan was referenced in hip-hop; Pogba dabbles in grime. And as shown in that Letterman interview, Jordan was brand-conscious; Pogba names Adidas in his Twitter bio but doesn’t mention Manchester United.
The stage, lights and audience are ready for Pogba. His return to Manchester United has been underwhelming so far, with six goals and four assists in 28 games. But in the last month, he’s been played consistently in his best position, left of a midfield three, and is roaming the pitch with the swagger and product more indicative of his price tag.
Now Pogba needs to go against his Adidas mantra and follow Jordan’s footsteps in becoming a great player first, and a great commodity second.