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This weekend in the EPL the power of Merseyside and Manchester go head-to-head. Everton entertain Manchester City, while Liverpool make the daunting trip to Old Trafford.

During research conducted for Sky Sports this week, (http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11096/10724872/are-liverpool-and-everton-bigger-than-manchester-united-and-city), an interesting fact was shouted from the other end of the Brandtix office.

“Did you know that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has 8.5M more social followers* than Liverpool and Everton combined”? As a diehard ‘red’ I instantly refuted such a claim. The fact stands.

Upon further research, since the start of the season Paul Pogba has acquired more followers* than that of his club, and Cesc Fabregas – who’s done very little this season is pretty much on par with Chelsea’s social growth since kick off in August ’16. Ozil acquired 4.5M followers to that of Arsenal’s 3M. The trend is increasing.

As the world of football continues to grow from a commercial point of view, it is important that clubs are taking the time to strike image rights deals with the players that make financial sense for both parties.

Clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea have woken up to the importance of owning 100% image right deals (of certain players) at (re)negotiation phase.

Years of research while at EA SPORTS reinforced the belief that football fans outside of major Western EU countries affiliate themselves with players, as opposed to clubs.

Often you’d hear American soccer fans talking in focus groups that they “love Messi, so I guess I like Barcelona”. Asked if Messi was to ever move club, would they still like Barcelona? The response was an unequivocal “no – it’s Messi I follow”.

While globally relevant professional football players continue to drive their own brand worth and appeal, I ask why more clubs aren’t doing the due-diligence to determine their off-pitch and commercial worth? Striking long term contracts with stand-out players will surely bring in new commercial opportunities, club fan growth, and a universal brand ambassador.

Have we reached a stage in football where the value of a footballer’s image rights will depend just as heavily on how they are performing off the pitch compared to how they are on it?

Whilst negotiating image rights deals might be a frustrating and drawn out process, (http://www.cityam.com/256842/why-rise-footballers-image-rights-values-mean-clubs-and#r3z-addoor), the financial reward will provide clubs with much desired extra revenue. It’s my belief, that in the current climate a smart image right deal is more important than ever before.

* Facebook, Twitter, Instagram