The dust has still not settled on what was undoubtedly one of the most famous and talked about player transfers in world football. Last week the surprise deal of the summer was concluded. Neymar Da Silva Santos Jr. bid farewell to his Barcelona team mates to embrace a new era in his career with Qatar-owned club, Paris Saint-Germain.
It was the whopping transfer fee of £200 million that justifiably started the discussion among football fans and pundits alike. It would be fair to say that, up until last year, there had always been debate over some transfer fees, but this particular deal represented a quantum leap to another level of financial madness.
Take for instance the fee for Paul Pogba’s transfer from Juventus to Manchester United last year. To put things in perspective that transfer fee was £89 million, which is less than half of what was paid for Neymar this year.
Other deals in the past have come close to the level of the Pogba deal. Gareth Bale’s transfer fee from Tottenham to Real Madrid was £85 million. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009 was £80 million and Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli to Juventus in 2016 was £75.3 million.
So, while we have seen a number of impressive fees in recent years, Neymar’s fee is clearly on a different level. Of course, part of the reason for this is that the fee was part of a buy-out clause meant to dissuade suitors like Paris Saint-Germain. Clearly, it failed to accomplish its objective.
The Neymar deal, however, continues to generate a lot of attention for reasons that go beyond the phenomenal transfer fee associated with it. The brazen ambition demonstrated by the Parisian club in going after the 25-year-old and their other recent Brazilian acquisition Dani Alves shocked many observers.
It fired a warning shot to the big clubs of Europe that PSG could go after any player they want. Barcelona didn’t expect any club to pay such a high fee for one of their star players and PSG’s daring move to fork up the cash and seduce the Brazilian star has turned this summer into a football version of Game Of Thrones.
The Dani Alves deal has a part to play in this story because it was the first revelation of PSG’s daring enterprise in this transfer window, even though it involved far less money. Pep Guardiola and indeed most City fans fully expected to see Dani Alves in pre-season wearing the sky blue jersey of Manchester City but PSG had other ideas.
Weeks of media reporting all but confirmed that Alves would be a City player. However, in the week that the Brazilian was expected to do his medical at City, PSG offered the 34-year-old full-back a more enticing deal than City’s offer, which dramatically altered the course of events.
While City fans were eagerly awaiting an announcement that Alves had signed for their club the shocking news came that he had joined PSG. The way in which PSG snatched Alves from the financially powerful hands of the Premier League outfit at the last minute was a remarkable exhibition of chutzpah.
Alves gave reasons other than money for his change of mind. He claimed he was enticed by PSG’s ambitious football plans. The Independent, and other news outlets, also recently reported that Neymar had advised him beforehand that he would be going to PSG and had urged Alves to join him.
Whatever the reasons, money or otherwise, they point to the power of PSG to convince players of the stature of Neymar and Alves to leave a trophy-laden club like Barcelona or betray a coach like Pep Guardiola, for whom Alves professed the utmost respect. For these two stars it may well be about the money, but it is also about the desire to thrive. Neymar clearly wanted to break away from the shadow of Messi, while Alves wants more European glory.
The Telegraph reported that Alves declared, “If Pep Guardiola and Manchester City feel hurt, I am sorry. But I have come here to be a champion.”
The transfers of both players have created a whole new image of PSG as audacious upstarts shaking the established order of European football. The club’s financial power is no secret, but this summer witnessed a convincing demonstration of the true extent of their influence – and their willingness to exercise it ambitiously.
There is yet another dimension to the Neymar transfer and it is probably the most intriguing of them all. It is the idea that this deal is not just about PSG flexing its muscle the football world, but also the state of Qatar flexing its own power in the world of geopolitics.
This line of argument began when the Qatar-owned club hijacked Manchester City’s move for Dani Alves. In June of this year Qatar became the target of economic sanctions by a number of countries accusing it of sponsoring terrorism activities, as The Guardian reports.
Their accusers were led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The City Football Group which owns Manchester City belongs to Sheik Mansour, a member of the UAE’s ruling family. An article in Goal claimed that City insiders believed PSG’s move for Alves was an “act of retaliation” for the sanctions.
After the Neymar deal was concluded, another article, by Get French Football, explored the theory that Qatar was using the acquisition of Neymar as a means of turning global attention towards the country. The purpose of this was to ensure that the tiny nation’s political plight continues to receive the attention of the whole world. Qatar, the article points out, has been known to use sports investments to bolster its image and maintain its political visibility.
This raises all sorts of questions about what this type of deal means for the sport. Should football, its teams and its players be used as political pawns? Will this kind of state-level political activity in the beautiful game damage its integrity? More importantly, if players or their teams become associated with larger geopolitical conflicts, can this make them unfair targets for the media, states, politicians or even more dangerous elements in geopolitical games?
There may yet be more sensation to come from this football deal, because there is the whole matter of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules to consider. Spain’s La Liga attacked the PSG move claiming that the club was in obvious violation of FFP. La Liga clearly did not believe PSG could pay such a huge buy-out fee and still remain on the right side of UEFA’s fair play regulations.
In an interview with Mundo Deportivo, prior to the completion of the transfer, the president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, said the league would refer the matter of PSG’s infringements of FFP rules to UEFA. If the administrative bod fails to properly address the matter, he threatened to take their complaints to the competition tribunals in Switzerland and Brussels. The fact that La Liga believes PSG has infringed on FFP regulations doesn’t mean that it is so. For now, that is a matter for Uefa to decide.
The story of the biggest transfer deal in the history of football may not yet be over.