Paris Saint-Germain and the Messi effect

HOW DO you improve the finances of a football club that has almost everything? And why is Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) signing of Lionel Messi so important to the French club?

Since PSG joined the elite, they have craved credibility from the football world. They have excelled at being soft power brokers. They have money, they have influence – Qatar has been building-up kudos with FIFA for years, despite the politics and World Cup scandal. Moreover, PSG’s capture of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and now Messi demonstrates that, if the will is there, they can scoop-up any player they wish. They can also hire and fire the best coaches and enjoy the luxury of being impatient owners, dispensing with the services of anyone if their success does not appear to be instantaneous.

PSG do not need Messi to win all the domestic trophies available to them, they probably don’t need Neymar and Mbappé, either. To have all three just means PSG will score bucketloads of goals, win all the silverware and maintain a comfortable distance between themselves and their nearest French rivals. It may be something of an embarrassment if double figure wins become a feature of the new MNM forward line, but from Ligue 1’s perspective, the league suddenly looks more commercially attractive.

But how will Messi’s gold-plated arrival impact PSG’s finances? There’s a lot of nonsense circulating about shirt sales paying for his contract. Such comments are far removed from the truth, because PSG are tied to a very long-term deal with Nike which gives them a 15% cut in sales, therefore even a million Messi shirts would yield only a fraction of the player’s contract. They will still move off the shelves like gold dust, though, as the initial sale saw 150,000 Messi shirts sold-out within seven minutes.

As for attendances, PSG at the Parc de Princes already have a stadium utilisation rate of 99%, so Messi is barely going to make a difference in terms of basic matchday income. It will return PSG to their 2019 levels of £ 116 million and beyond, but unless ticket prices increase or a new tier to the stadium is built, PSG do not have the scope to leap ahead in this stream.

Commercially, PSG have the chance to attract more big money sponsors and partners. Messi will act as a magnet for big corporates worldwide – he is one of the two biggest footballer brands in the world, after all, with 240 million followers on Instagram. Although PSG may have limited upside at the moment, Messi did account for 80% of all of Barcelona’s shirt sales and made around € 30 million per year for the club. PSG have already benefitted from signing Messi in the social media world, adding 850,000 new followers on Instagram and 200,000 on Facebook.

PSG’s commercial revenues are healthy without Messi’s arrival – in 2019-20, they generated € 284 million and pre-pandemic, their revenues topped € 300 million per year. PSG’s president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, claims the world will be “shocked” by the potential of the transaction.

PSG are already a big draw for broadcasters even though French football has big issues over the loss of their last deal, but PSG’s media income does depend on how successful they are on the pitch. In 2019-20, their broadcasting revenues totalled € 217 million, but they did reach the UEFA Champions League final in that campaign. 

And this is really why PSG signed Messi, to finally capture the Champions League. He last won the trophy in 2015 and has lifted it four times in his career. PSG, for all their home market success, covet the Champions League more than any other accolade, and so far it has eluded them, which must frustrate the club’s owners after providing all the cash for the project. The pressure will be on coach Mauricio Pochettino to deliver with the tools he has been given, and who can blame his employers as he has three of the world’s best players in his line-up.

How can PSG avoid Financial Fair Play hurdles? In its old form, FFP has been put on hold and two seasons (2019-20/2020-21) are being used to judge each club’s situation. In this strange environment, owners can also inject cash which surely gives the likes of PSG and Manchester City an advantage. In addition, France’s wage-to-income ratio of 70% has been suspended until 2023-24. It is feasible that the Messi deal could not have gone ahead without this convenient window of opportunity.

PSG have been trying to get the player since Qatar rolled into Paris, but the only danger is that old foe, age. Messi is 34, no matter how brilliant he can be, injuries take longer to heal and energy starts to evaporate. PSG are staking a lot on a veteran, albeit a special, other-worldly individual, but they will do well to provision for the unexpected. At Messi’s prices, PSG may also be advised to invest in a cotton-wool company.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: ALAMY

South American appeal may grow in Brexit Britain

WITH Britain now divorced from the European Union, the early indications suggest it will be a little harder for FA Premier League sides to sign players from some of their traditional markets. At the same time, in the new order, South America could become a more accessible market. Anyone thinking that leaving the EU may give young English players a better chance of making the grade could be mistaken. The transfer market is an industry in itself, those who work in and around it will ensure activity continues in some shape or form. Wherever there are hurdles in business, there’s a sub-industry that works on solving the problems.

South America is already an attractive market for European clubs. Across the main leagues, there are some 200 players from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and other countries. There are just under 50 currently with Premier League clubs, half of which are Brazilian.

Global force

Spain, Portugal, England and Italy are the biggest European takers of South American talent, but Brazilians can be found all over the world, even in the most remote places. In fact, Brazilians constitute the only truly global force in the football labour market. According to CIES Football Observatory, there are over 1,300 Brazilians playing across the Americas, Europe and Asia. Players from Argentina and Brazil represent just under 10% of all recruitments across the big five leagues in Europe.           

England’s big six clubs have, over the past 20 years, been increasingly interested in Latin American talent. Firstly, they are technically superior to many European players and secondly, they offer good value for money. Thirdly, they are marketable and can produce good returns in player trading.

In the past, South Americans were rare in English football and often, they struggled to adapt. Of course, the most high profile arrivals in the pre-Premier era were Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, who joined Tottenham in 1978 just weeks after being part of Argentina’s World Cup winning squad. Ardiles was a success, but Villa struggled at times. Others, such as Alberto Tarantini (Birmingham), Juninho (Middlesbrough) and Mirandinha (Newcastle) had mixed fortunes.

Adapted

In the modern era, South American players have adapted better, largely because of the global nature of football and also a reflection of how the English game is now played. Television has made South Americans less of a mystery package, but climate and culture still means there can be an adjustment period.

There’s another important factor and that’s the commercialisation of player movement from South America to Europe. The number of expatriate Brazilians and Argentinians tells you there is an established trade route and a system in place to take young talent from these countries to Europe’s major clubs. Portuguese clubs have been especially adept at acquiring players from Brazil and other countries and making good profits when trading them at a later stage in their careers. Portugal, especially clubs like Porto, Sporting and Benfica, has become a stepping stone for many players.

Porto, for example, have spent € 150 million on Brazilian players and generated income of € 307 million over the past 10 years. Barcelona have spent € 542 million on Brazilians, while the biggest buyer of talent from Brazil in England has been Manchester City (€ 252m) and Chelsea (€ 212m). As for Argentina, the Italians lead the way, Inter spending € 217 million and Juventus € 190 million.

In the same timeframe, Porto’s total income from the transfer market has topped € 1.12 billion and their net balance was € 526 million. Benfica, their big domestic rivals, have generated € 1.18 billion with a net balance of € 637 million.

At the same time, selling players has been a vital source of income for South American clubs. River Plate and Boca Juniors, over the past decade, have enjoyed positive transfer market balances of € 303 million and € 216 million respectively, and in Brazil, São Paulo (€ 222m) and Santos (€265m) have had healthy surpluses.

Values

There’s good money to be made in taking players to Europe. A prime example is Lautaro Martinez, the 23 year-old Inter Milan forward, who was signed from Racing Club Buenos Aires for € 25 million and is now valued between € 80 and € 100 million. Richarlison, is another player whose value has shot up, signed for € 12.5 million by Watford from Fluminense and, under a year later, sold to Everton for double that price. He is now valued at upwards of € 60 million.

There’s an added competition to the traditional trade route in that the US is now appealing to young South American players and by 2019, there were 100 registered on Major League Soccer (MLS) rosters. One of the big attractions is the financial stability of MLS – wages are guaranteed and in South America that isn’t always the case.

However, there’s more South Americans among the top English clubs than at any time in the past 20 years. The “big six” have 23 on their books at the moment, a decade ago it was just 15 and in 2000-01, it was five. Tottenham have half a dozen at the moment and all the others have at least three.

The Football Association has issued a lengthy document on the rules concerning the signing of overseas players. It makes clear that from the start of 2021, clubs cannot sign players freely from the European Union. There are now major restrictions around how many players can be signed and how many signings can be under-21 years of age. Also, it is clear that players under the age of 18 cannot be signed. Like the immigration rules, the FA is operating a points-based system. Players will have to meet the required number of points to gain a Governing Body Endorsement which allows them to work in England.

The prospect of South Americans playing in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga still excites the fans. Brazil and Argentina may not be the powerful forces they once were on the world stage, but football is still a second religion in these countries. They can still produce brilliance in abundance.

@GameofthePeople
Photos: PA Images

7-2: Time for goalkeepers to be interchangeable

LIVERPOOL’s crushing 7-2 defeat at the hands of Aston Villa may turn out to be a freak result, but it certainly highlighted the need for clubs to employ more than one goalkeeper at the top of his game.

Adrián may not have been the reason Liverpool shipped seven goals, indeed the entire defence looked complacent and static, but there will be some fans who will undoubtedly blame the absence of Alisson for the scale of an astonishing result.

Should clubs like Liverpool be so bereft of goalkeeping resources? Adrián, on his day, has been an adequate custodian, but would a major club rely on a veteran in a key outfield position?

Some might argue it is hard to keep two top class goalkeepers happy given there’s only one position available in the line-up. In the days of a 12-man game, that point was extremely valid, but when teams have so many substitutes and can play three of them, why is the goalkeeper seemingly immune from being replaced? 

Goalkeepers generally only leave the field when they are injured or they’ve been sent off. How often has a manager taken a keeper off because he’s had a nightmare first half? It’s a struggle to come up with an example, although it has happened. Why wasn’t Adrián replaced at half-time after letting in four goals? Because Liverpool had a relatively untried player on the bench.

Managers may feel that taking a goalie off might affect the psyche of the team, but letting in four goals in 45 minutes surely has a negative impact on the mindset, does it not?

Others may avoid such a public demonstration of displeasure at the performance of a keeper, that it is an obvious and personal thing. The simple answer to that is the pay packet, they are professionals paid to deliver. 

There seems to be a lack of solid understudies these days, which is all the more surprising given the structure of the sport. Clubs seem to lack the bravery to gamble on rising keepers, preferring to bring in an old hand looking for a contract. 

Going back in time, the most successful example of a club “gambling” on a young player has to be Leicester’s decision to sell England keeper Gordon Banks because they had Peter Shilton coming through. What a good deal that turned out to be!

If goalkeepers become part of the strategic substitution discussion, clubs would be able to keep them happy, or at least happier. In the high-stake modern game, it seems absurd that every position does not have appropriate cover. 

Furthermore, if the keeper position is so sacred, then why aren’t the transfer fees higher, and their wages higher (we’re not advocating higher wages, but surely they should be equitable with the star man at the other end of the pitch?) ?.

There’s another aspect to the loss of a brilliant keeper like Alisson and that is risk. If so much depends on that man between the sticks, then conservation of the position is vital – which points to ensuring the understudy is of a high enough standard should the main man sustain an injury.

Making sure there is high quality cover should be good for the future of goalkeeping. They should be a protected species. A lack of a decent second choice can destabilise the best of teams and cost goals and points. In all probability, it may be a one-off scoreline, as Klopp said, a case of “losing the plot”, but if Alisson is out for a while, Liverpool may need to act.

@GameofthePeople