A soft power-play with far-reaching consequences
Posted on August 4, 2017
QATAR is never going to win popularity contests. Nobody wants the middle eastern state to host the World Cup and no matter what they do, they will never be looked upon as a genuine football nation.
They don’t have many friends, but they have plenty of money, and as we all know, this makes the world go round. It is certainly what makes the football world revolve on its axis and a massive EUR 222m of it has just secured the biggest transfer in history. Neymar junior and senior have both benefitted hugely from a move that should make all of us interested in the game question its future. A future that is guided not by football people but by money men in air conditioned boardrooms. Barcelona have money for Neymar, but they cannot be happy with the way this has been handled. PSG have Neymar, but they must surely be a little red-faced over throwing such a huge sum of money on the table to get one player.
Neymar is, arguably, the third or fourth best player in the world. His defection to Paris says a lot about this young man and also about his level of ambition. PSG may eventually win the UEFA Champions League, but they will have to overcome the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid to do it. Week-in, week-out, Neymar will not be facing the world’s best players – with the greatest respect to Ligue 1. The 25 year-old Brazilian is being bought to win the top prize, the one that PSG desperately need to gain the extra credibility they seek.
In a couple of years, Neymar will be the number one player in the world. By that time, he may no longer be a PSG player. Why? Because if he is prepared to leave one of the two top clubs on the planet to play in a lesser league, then he will go anywhere and play for anyone who can meet the bill. In other words, if he’s done it once, he’ll do it again. A few weeks ago, Neymar seemed solid at the Nou Camp, but once the whispers start and the rumours become reality, the wheels are set in motion and the transfer becomes reality.
For the Qatar sovereign wealth fund, the signing of Neymar represents an attempt to show how powerful their money can be. In business terms, EUR 222m is relatively small beer. Just consider that its normal type of outlay is a USD 10bn fund to invest in China, USD 35bn for the US, USD 5bn in Malaysia. The fund has USD 355bn under management. Neymar? No problem.
But Qatar has been linked with the funding of terrorism and lots of people are now questioning why the World Cup was awarded to them in the first place. So sweeping-up one of the world’s most coveted footballers is a coup and a reminder to FIFA, UEFA and the rest of the footballing universe – “look at us, we can do this at the drop of a hat”.
PSG fans will be excited beyond belief, because they have their replacement for Zlatan and he’s a lot younger. According to CIES Football Observatory, Neymar is the world’s most valuable player and it is not just his weekly wage that makes him so wealthy, his off-pitch extras outstrip his earnings from being a player. There’s no denying that PSG will be worth watching.
Is Neymar worth it? It is supply and demand and market forces and if someone is prepared to pay such a ridiculous fee, then it is a case of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. The impact on the market is more worrying, because PSG’s owners can afford to make a mistake. But if it ups the market rate for, say, Antoine Griezman, and any of Monaco’s remaining starlets (if there are any left from the summer sales), then it’s not necessarily a good thing for the financial structure of the game.
More disconcerting is the way this has all happened. If a club as big and influential as Barcelona can be victims of power play, then there’s no hope for anyone – and let’s be frank, their kind have been accused of bullying lesser clubs. Nobody liked it when oligarchs started to flex their muscles when they moved into football, but this is another dimension. Whatever happened to Financial Fair Play?