Neymar’s deal a reflection of football’s new reality

Picture this: stepping out of a car with blacked-out windows, two sharply dressed men, eyes obscured by sunglasses, flanked by security guards, stride into a Madrid office.


Neymar Source: Getty Images

Once inside, they slide a black leather suitcase onto the boardroom table and casually open the latch. Inside is €222 million, a freshly printed deed of release and a dotted line on which to sign.

It could be straight out of a James Bond movie - but that’s basically what happened at La Liga’s head offices this week when Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, owner of Paris Saint-Germain, sent Neymar’s legal representatives to meet his personal buy-out clause at FC Barcelona.

For the record, league officials refused to sign the deal, a stalling tactic to buy time. But time is running out.

A legal challenge is probable – but in the end Neymar will begin the new season in Ligue 1 and start promotional work for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.

And Barcelona’s bank account will have an extra quarter-billion Euros in it; the interest alone could fund La Masia forever more.

It would seem to contravene UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules but this may go beyond that.

How will UEFA resist the lure of boosting its Champions League appeal in three key markets: the French-speaking territories, the Middle East and Brazil?

Perhaps “goodwill” – that infamously elusive accounting expression – will be added to make the calculations sing.

It is tempting at moments like this to make the time-honoured declaration that football has “gone mad”.

Entire national leagues are operated on less than the sum total of this transfer. Etc, etc, etc.

Indeed, football fans everywhere are now posing the question: is a €1 billion transfer fee out of the question?

Then what? €1 trillion? And if the game can tap into state funds, as is effectively happening here, an entirely new well of capital is in play.

Perhaps the Russian government will make Antoine Griezmann the face of its tourism campaign by assigning him to Spartak Moscow.

Paul Pogba may soon be espousing the benefits of Saudi Arabian oil; Zlatan Ibrahimovic the charms of American bonds. Football Federation Australia already pay part of Tim Cahill’s salary, after all.

Vice-versa – if this deal is a one-off – then it may just be a spectacular aberration.

If the television industry collapsed tomorrow (not entirely impossible with the rise of the digital world), then we could see a sharp decline in revenues that have underpinned most professional leagues.

Not everything is fixed to an axis of inevitability.

However, Neymar is not so much a player as a commodity. His ability to cut across the global divide and instantly recognisable features make him the face of a sporting generation.

Where Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have battled each other to the end (mostly for our entertainment), Neymar has emerged in relative harmony.

With no rival, we can all enjoy his deeds, guilt-free, without having to pick a side.

And his personality reflects this: playful, laconic, relaxed. He is a walking, talking synonym for a beautiful day on the Copacabana.

He is on track to become the most popular and best player in the world within two or three years. Believe me, if Google could acquire him, they would.

Ever since he became a name, way back at Santos all those years ago, Neymar has been an advertiser’s dream, flogging everything from Red Bull drinks to Nike shoes to Panasonic televisions and Volkswagon cars and so on.

As the face of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is buying into all the things that make the striker so much more appealing than everyone else. Qatar is selling its product, too.

Besides, Doha needs some good news after a tough few months on the international stage. Regional relations haven’t been strained as much as snapped and the nation needs to redouble its bridge-building efforts.

Neymar offers a politically-neutral face with an undeniable promotional currency: an expensive player, perhaps, but a diplomatic investment.

All that aside, what fans mostly want to know is whether we’ll see the transfer market go gangbusters thereafter.

Short-term, it can’t balloon much more than it already has in the past year – 12 months of spectacular spending in China and England has exhausted the coffers of most clubs. And most aren't backed by a royal family.

Besides, the markets usually dictate these things anyway. It took eight years for Zinedine Zidane’s €77.5 million move from Juventus to Real Madrid in 2001 to be broken – because the market hadn’t caught up.

Since then, it’s only been broken four times (Ronaldo in 2009 and Gareth Bale in 2013, both by Real Madrid, Pogba last year and now Neymar) – which actually isn’t that frequently when you think about it.

Fans are right to be fearful, but at the end of the day, the rampant capitalist economy that dominated football isn't going away. Is it good for the game? That's a different question altogether.

And perhaps by 2022, when Qatar have successfully hosted the World Cup and the globally-popular PSG have won the Champions League, with Neymar as captain – and with transfer fees exploding to similar numbers in any case – we might look back and wonder what the fuss really was all about.

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5 min read
Published 4 August 2017 at 2:51pm
By Sebastian Hassett