Monday 20 November 2017

Neymar’s PSG move all about politics, not sport

Pursuit of Brazilian highlights power shift in global game and how money has become king

Neymar, pictured at a fashion shoot in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters
Neymar, pictured at a fashion shoot in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters

Paul Hayward

Just as the Neymar to PSG stories were really hotting up, Qatar, which owns that Paris club, was complaining to the World Trade Organisation about a trade boycott Doha describes as "an illegal siege".

Imports to the 2022 World Cup host nation are down 40pc after four Arab neighbours severed air, sea and land connections with the country that wants to buy Neymar from Barcelona for €222m.

Breaking up Barca's magical MSN front-line (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) would solve Qatar's imports plunge at a stroke - even if Neymar would be stationed in Paris. It would also complete the most political transfer in football history.

There is almost no level on which Neymar moving to PSG would be anything but political - or financial, which is often much the same thing.

In no sense could it be called sporting - a 25-year-old seeking out a higher challenge on the field of play. You might even call it an upmarket version of moving to China, without having to leave Europe.

As Barcelona's heavily on-message stars have tried to argue, to move from Catalonia to an enclave of Middle-Eastern wealth in France will not lend itself to being described as 'a promotion' or a 'step up,' unless Neymar is the catalyst that brings a Champions League trophy to the Parc des Princes and perhaps the World Cup to Brazil.

In fairness to PSG, this is precisely their aim: to break the Champions League winning cartel of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus.

They want the glamour, the profile and the branding. Why else would they sink so much money into a club outside the highest leagues in Spain, Italy and England?

A diversion here into the 2022 World Cup bidding process, and the alleged part played by Michel Platini and Nicolas Sarkozy in luring Qatari sovereign wealth to Paris, would not alter the basic narrative of Neymar's prospective move: PSG need a player of his profile far more than Neymar needs a move to PSG.

Qatar, newly framed by their neighbours as a pariah state, needs good news.

Paradoxically, a splurge on Neymar would bolster the charge made against it (privately) by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates: that Qatari sovereign wealth is too successful, too aggressive, and so casts other Gulf states in a bad light.

This is the geo-political backdrop to Qatar's desperate quest for long-term relevance.

And if you doubt its role in a football story, remember that those websites which insisted Neymar would fly from Dubai to Doha for his medical forgot one thing. Under the boycott, in theory, you cannot fly from the UAE to Qatar.

Below this level of international power struggles, we see many strata of conflict.

First, Barcelona versus Real Madrid, and the ingrained assumption that everything in football revolves around those two giants; that they cannot, and will not, ever suffer any kind of reverse.

When Kylian Mbappe becomes the new mega transfer target, the auto-assumption is that he will end up at Real Madrid.

Trident

The devil's trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez is not meant to be fiddled with by clubs in France.

Barcelona, not PSG, decide when the MSN trio is ready to be broken up. Together, those three forwards have scored 364 times for their club.

Barcelona do not really do panic - or not publicly - but they clearly hate the idea that their art exhibit could be destroyed by outsiders.

In the Barca dressing-room, too, there is politicking over Neymar's willingness to overshadow pre-season preparations with his own concerns.

There was a training ground bust-up between him and Nelson Semedo. On social media, Barca players took to making gnomic statements along the lines of, "No one gets out of here alive", or, at least, with their ambitions intact.

In one respect that logic is undeniable. At 25, Neymar could be walking away from a chance to keep playing alongside Messi and Suarez, not to mention Andres Iniesta.

Nobody does that without good reason. And here we are led to believe Neymar is tortured by the prospect of never being World Player of the Year, and by having to fester in the Messi-Ronaldo shadow.

This may well be a concern of his, but moving to PSG will not bring him a single step closer to FIFA's trophy. Only time's chariot can run Messi and Ronaldo down.

Until then, he would be better placed in Barcelona's starting XI than Ligue 1, where the ransacking of Monaco by Premier League clubs incapable of matching France's amazing youth production line is likely to reduce the title race to a one-horse affair.

However brightly he shines in Paris in a team of excellent players but few household names, Neymar will lack the global reach his brand ambitions demand unless he leads PSG to that Champions League title and wins the FIFA gong, in which case everyone would owe him an apology.

As for his father, Neymar Snr, there is a whole other level of family politics, in which the dreams of the son have served, in part, the material hopes of the family.

Evasion

Neymar Jnr's dad moved him to Barcelona for a sum that later became the subject of tax evasion cases in Spain and Brazil; and there are claims now that the father stands to make €25m from moving the son to PSG.

Throughout this tale you struggle to see the pure footballing imperative, the sporting manifesto, beyond power and money.

If Neymar is in Messi's shadow, it's because Messi is a better player. The rest is all politics. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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