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Neymar to PSG: More than just a record-breaking fee

Alexis Monteith




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.

I'm a Manchester City and Inter fan writing about European football but my interest also extends to the United States and Major League Soccer.


Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Rob Meech



Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.

A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.

However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.

Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…

Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends

But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.

That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.

As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.

Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.

The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.

Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.

Third time lucky for impressive Willian

The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.

But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.

It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.

He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.

Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.

Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.

It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.

Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?

Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say

It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.

Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.

Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.

However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.

A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.

Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.

It could be the decisive moment.

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Who are the five most valuable players under the age of 21?

Jake Jackman



The CIES Football Observatory have produced a list of the 100 most valuable players under the age of 21 and it makes for interesting reading, with three Premier League players in the top five.

CIES are a research group based within the International Centre for Sports Studies. It was created in 2005 and has looks to specialise in the statistical analysis of football, which is a growing field within the sport.

A lot of their studies are based in the financial side of the game and given the continued increase of transfer fees, they produce a lot of information that is of interest to clubs.

This particular study focuses on the top five leagues and it won’t come as a surprise that the Premier League features heavily.

Here are the five most valuable under-21 players according to the CIES study:

5 – Marcus Rashford (€116.7 million)

Amid all the spending that Manchester United have done in recent seasons, the value of producing your own players through your academy continues to be shown in the Manchester United squad. It is important to their supporters to have homegrown players and Marcus Rashford is one of the best that they have produced in recent seasons. According to CIES, he is already worth more than £100 million and it is remarkable to think that he may not have been given a chance if it wasn’t for injuries to Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

It has been a good start to the season for Marcus Rashford as he continues to get significant minutes, despite the arrival of Romelu Lukaku. Across the Premier League and Champions League, he has contributed six goals and four assists. His goal involvement is one every 113.8 minutes. Considering he has been used in various positions and not played every week, this is impressive. United need to continue showing faith in him. If they do, the sky is the limit.

4 – Ousmane Dembele (€120.4 million)

The French winger made headlines during the summer, as he was selected to be the replacement for Neymar at Barcelona. There is a lot of pressure on the 20-year-old to live up to his price tag, which was £135.5 million. There were clauses included in the deal, but the overall value is more than the £120.4 million that he has been estimated at by CIES. However, there were circumstances driving that. Namely, the desperate position of Barcelona.

Last season, he was one of the best players in the Bundesliga as he contributed eight goals and 18 assists across the two major competitions. His goal involvement was one every 108.2 minutes, which underlines why Barcelona were keen to buy him this season. An injury has hindered him at the beginning of his La Liga career, but he remains one of the most exciting young players in the game.

3 – Leroy Sane (€124.5 million)

The £37 million that Manchester City paid for the German international is looking more and more like a bargain with every passing day. CIES value the winger at €124.5 million and that underlines the improvement he has made under Pep Guardiola. He is now one of the most devastating attackers in the Premier Leaguer and it will be fascinating to see how much further he can go, as he is only 21.

His record in the Premier League this season has been remarkable and he is well on his way to contributing at least ten goals and ten assists. Sane is already on six goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 78.75 minutes. The quality of the team helps him, but his own performances have contributed significantly to the success of City.

2 – Dele Alli (€180.2 million)

It has been a difficult start to the new season for Dele Alli, but he remains one of the most exciting players in the world. In the list of these five players, the England international is the most attainable for the biggest clubs in Europe, as Tottenham have the lowest chance of winning major trophies. It will take a huge fee to secure the midfielder and the valuation of €180.2 million from CIES is around the fee that Spurs would expect.

Since joining Tottenham as a teenager, he has been a revelation and scored 28 goals during his first two Premier League seasons. This season has been harder as he has only three goals in 15 matches, but he was always going to go through a drop-off in form at some point. The test will be how he recovers. The next few months will show us how far Alli can go in the game.

1- Kylian Mbappe (€182.8 million)

The valuation from CIES is fractionally higher than the reported fee that PSG will pay for the teenager next summer when his transfer is made permanent. He was a revelation last season and played a major role in Monaco winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League semi-finals. PSG have made the move to sign him and he could become the best player in the world at the club if he is managed correctly.

This season hasn’t been as eye-catching as his debut season in senior football, but he has been very impressive still, especially when his age is taken into consideration. He has contributed nine goals and seven assists across the two major competitions, with a goal involvement of 86.5 minutes. This is incredible, but there have been some critics as he isn’t as noticeable playing alongside Edinson Cavani and Neymar. He is clearly the best young player in the world and this list from CIES reflects that.

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The conductor of the Barcelona orchestra: Reflecting on the career of Xavi Hernandez

Martyn Cooke




Barcelona is an iconic city. FC Barcelona is an iconic football club. The Nou Camp is an iconic football stadium that has been graced by the presence of countless prestigious and legendary players over the last century.

The esteemed names roll off the tongue. Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona, Pep Guardiola, Johan Cryuff – the list in almost inexhaustible.

Even amidst the glamour, sensationalism and capitalist ideology of modern football Barcelona have entertained the world through the magic dust sprinkled by Lionel Messi with the supporting cast of Luis Suarez and, prior to the summer, Brazilian superstar Neymar.

However, among the stellar names it is hard to identify an individual who has won more trophies and influenced the very essence of the game itself than Xavi Hernandez.

No other Spaniard in the history of football has lifted more trophies. No other player in the history of Barcelona has made more appearances. No other player has been as synonymous with the development of a club.

He is truly a legend of the game.

The conductor of the orchestra

Xavi Hernandez first joined Barcelona via the club’s La Masia academy as an 11-year-old, where he swiftly proceeded to rise through the ranks. He was technically efficient, intelligent and appeared to possess an instinctive awareness of when, and more importantly how, to alter or influence the rhythm and flow of the game. When he was handed his first team debut in 1998 he seamlessly slotted into the side.

However, Xavi developed into much more than just another star player. He represented the definitive transformation of Barcelona during the early twentieth century and he embodied the new total football philosophy that was implemented and progressed by a series of managers, culminating in the tiki-taka style of play that was fine-tuned by Pep Guardiola.

He was synonymous with the possession-based football that led to Barcelona dominating European football for almost a decade and played a pivotal role in the club’s development.

Whilst other players produced exuberant moments of skill or brilliance he adopted a different style of play that was crucial to the tiki-taka philosophy. You would rarely see Xavi dribble beyond a player and he was never a regular goal scorer from midfield, but his contribution was no less important.

He was the conductor of the Barcelona footballing orchestra, dictating the flow and rhythm of the game with a range of elegant, measured passes. When he received the ball he never looked flustered or unsure and there was an air of confidence and assertiveness that made him attract the ball, like a flame attracts a moth.

He stroked the ball around the pitch unperturbed by the pressure of the occasion or the state of the game – when Xavi played well, so did Barcelona.

By the time that Xavi departed Barcelona, joining Qatari side Al-Sadd in 2015, he won eight La Liga titles (the first coming in 1999), the Copa del Rey three times, six Spanish Super Cups, two European Super Cups, two Club World Cups and four Champions League titles.

However, he was equally as impressive for the Spanish national team, playing in four World Cup tournaments and three European Championships. His haul of 133 caps is a record for a Spanish outfield player and he lifted two European Championships (2008 and 2012) and one World Cup (2010) during an era in which he became the embodiment of domestic and international dominance.

The very best of a generation

As with every great player, a decline eventually began to set in and Xavi Hernandez’s powers began to wane. It is perhaps testament to his importance and influence that his departure has coincided with the gradual deterioration of Barcelona’s authority in world football.

In 2015 he joined Qatari club Al-Sadd after agreeing a three-year deal, in essence taking a step into semi-retirement, and in April 2017 he won his first trophy – the Qatar Cup. In addition to his playing commitments, Xavi is also undertaking his coaching qualifications and has taken up an ambassadorial role in order to promote the 2020 World Cup as he ultimately begins to plan for a career beyond the realms of playing football.

Xavi’s impact and influence at Barcelona and for the Spanish national team is arguably unparalleled for a player in the modern era. His style of play was unique and embodied the emergence of a new tiki-taka, total football philosophy which came to dominate domestic and international football for over a decade. Whilst he became a genuine icon, Xavi always avoided controversy or contradiction and is looked upon with respect and admiration by his peers and all those connected with the game.

It is little wonder that the conductor is regarded as one of the very best players of his generation.

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