Making sense of the Parisians’ splurge

The astronomical transfer fee paid for Neymar, which is in a realm beyond our comprehension, might soon represent an astute piece of business, as the transfer market spending spirals out of control.

Neymar poses with his new Paris Saint-Germain jersey. With him is the club president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi.   -  Getty Images

There is a world of excesses, and the gulf between that and reality, where most of us are involved in the pursuit of making ends meet, seems to only broaden with each passing day.

When Sportstar wrote about the €100m signing of Irish forward Gareth Bale in 2013, we had compared it to other unnecessary expenses elsewhere in the world, coming as it did at a time when the United States and most European nations were going through a terrible economic slump. Four years on, football, which gives us solace and makes us forget the dreary drag of daily life, seems to announce even more vehemently that the game and its stars are not attuned to the struggles of the masses, the very masses that help make them.

The transfer spending of the European clubs increases year on year, and the efforts of the world and also the European governing body to rein in the madness have met with little success. Clubs in Spain, England, Italy and Germany have already forked up €2.5 billion during the 2017 summer transfer window, with almost a month-long trading space still open. The four leagues had an overall outlay of around €2.2 billion in 2014, a year after the Bale sale.

The influx of oil money in football, which started with Russian Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of Chelsea in 2003, continues to rise rapidly, with the oil-rich sheikhs from West Asia finding a new way of flaunting their wealth through the purchase of European football clubs. Individuals attached to the royal family of Qatar, which has ostensibly bought the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, have taken the lead here as well. Naseer Al-Khelalfi, a minister without portfolio in the government of Emir Sheikh Tamim, owns Parisian giant Paris Saint-Germain since 2011 through Qatari Sports Investment. The club immediately went on a spending spree, dwarfing competitors in Ligue 1. It had immediate success, winning the French title in the 2012-13 season. PSG exercised a stranglehold in its homeland until AS Monaco pushed it back to capture the 2016-17 crown. Qatar, which has lofty global ambitions and sees sport as a medium of achieving them, has also invested heavily in beIN Sports that runs 22 sports channels across the globe and owns the broadcasting rights of various top European leagues and international sports in West Asia, North Africa, Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.

So, the snapping up of Brazilian Neymar, the rightful heir to the throne now occupied by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, by Al-Khelalfi for €222m should come as no surprise. The Parisian project and the acquisition of Neymar for a fee, which almost doubles the amount previously ever paid for a ball player, are logical steps towards exercising greater control over the world of football.

The 25-year-old star from Sao Paulo, blessed with a low centre of gravity, blistering pace and guile when needed, has years remaining in an already chequered career. And the union between the two can shake the old order of European football.

The Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, enjoying the bulk of La Liga’s television revenue, had bullied other European clubs over the years to systematically acquire the best of talents. Players from the two clubs have won the prestigious Ballon d’Or on 20 occasions, making it a monopoly since 2008, when Ronaldo, still a Manchester United player, captured the first of his four awards.

The astronomical transfer fee paid for Neymar, which is in a realm beyond our comprehension, might soon represent an astute piece of business, as the transfer market spending spirals out of control. Andres Iniesta, Neymar’s former Barca team-mate, is sure about the worth of the player: “I do not think €200m or €300m will be more beneficial for Barcelona than having Neymar. He is one of the best players in the world and I always want the best players in my team.”

By acquiring the Brazilian, PSG and Qatar have brought in a ready-made star whose fan following is comparable to that of Messi and Ronaldo. His No. 11 Barcelona shirt was the sixth highest grossing football player merchandise in 2016, and he is already one of the most marketable players on the planet with multi-million deals with the biggest of global brands.

For Neymar, moving out of Leo’s shadow, who he considers his idol, will open his game to newer avenues, while getting to play in a team blended to suit his style.

By positioning himself as the top dog in Paris, the Brazilian might also have increased his chances of claiming the top spot in the pantheon of modern football greats.