Sunday 26 January 2020

Comment: Neymar deal a death knell for sanity in crazy game

Spiralling figures should be queried but the authorities are giving licence to the culprits

Neymar’s €222m transfer fee could be where the ceiling is reached. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Neymar’s €222m transfer fee could be where the ceiling is reached. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Where does it stop? That's the natural reaction to news of Neymar's staggering departure from Barcelona which has allowed PSG to get their man with an assist from their good friends in Qatar who are ahead in the race to become football's new overlords.

By 2022, they might well own all of us. It's almost as if the €222m release clause in his contract was planted as a form of subliminal advertisement.

The figures bandied around the elite level of football are so staggering now that they are ceasing to have any real actual meaning. Superclubs have skewed value to the point where it's actually irrelevant in their sphere.

On Wednesday, Jose Mourinho said that the problem wasn't Neymar or his own mega purchase Paul Pogba - he argued that as players they are worth any amount in his view because of what they are capable of doing and generating - but he acknowledged that the consequences are the real issue.

This is why you end up with Kyle Walker going for £50m (€55m) to temporarily become the world's most expensive defender, mediocre Premier League players going for £25m after one good season and Championship clubs being able to spend £12m on a striker who misses training because he's suffering problems with the electric gate in his lavish house. (Aston Villa and Ross McCormack, in case you're wondering).


Then again, Mourinho was speaking after the latest stop from a money-spinning commercial tour of the United States stopped in Dublin which widens the power between the haves and the have-nots - although that old quip about the haves and the have-yachts seems more appropriate in this context.

Debates on money in football are sometimes guilty of overlooking simple truths. When a sport is watched by billions of people around the world, thus leading to TV deals worth similar amounts of money, then it's clearly big business.

And therefore people shouldn't be so readily offended that players benefit significantly when there are plenty of other less deserving people in the industry creaming money off their ability. Pogba's wage is easier to swallow than his agent's fee.

Ireland's Premier League footballers should never be left out of the discussion when our top ten current sportspeople are discussed because they have beaten off so much competition to get to where they are.

But they often take a kicking due to lingering resentment over their pay packet and an inability to grasp that they are regularly watched by a significant TV audience around the globe that is effectively paying their bills. It's all about the love from Bangkok rather than Ballsbridge.

There inevitability comes a point, though, where the ceiling is reached. Neymar's switch should be the tipping point.

He's a tremendous footballer, yet his legacy is a curious one. In 2014, he was the centre of euphoria in Brazil which kicked off the phenomenon of expressions of grief over a living, breathing individual that compromised football's ability to properly respect a real tragedy.

Who could ever forget those images of emotional Brazil players holding up the shirt with his name when he missed out on the World Cup semi-final with Germany? They eventually got the kicking they deserved, but nobody perished.

Now we have reached the death of sanity, the question is where the leadership comes from to stop it.

Much as football's appeal is the fact that it has a fanbase in pretty much every country in the world, the reality is that a small coterie of leading clubs have acceded to a position of power that gives them all the bargaining chips.

Financial Fair Play was designed as a means of checking rash spending, but the big guns easily found a way around that by attracting owners and benefactors who were more than willing to pump in outrageous amounts of money under the guise of sponsorship deals to mask the losses they are stacking up.

The Qataris may well have a bottomless reserve of cash, but this policy of doing business is merely encouraging others to follow suit. In an ideal world, FIFA and UEFA would try to clamp down on it in some way yet if they play hard ball then the behemoths will simply threaten to break away and set up their own league. The 'International Champions Cup' friendly circuit has illustrated their pulling power.

UEFA do a lot of things wrong, but their determination to keep a small number of places in the Champions League for the likes of a Ludogorets, Slavia Prague or Copenhagen is laudable. Remember that when you hear grumbling about some of the unglamorous one-sided group stage encounters this autumn.

The alternative is a world run entirely by PSG and like-minded counterparts who are inching towards a situation where players will routinely look for €1m a week and the €200m transfer barrier becomes the new €20m. It feels like we're going there anyway, unless a serious discussion takes place around salary and transfer caps.

Maybe FIFA can host it on their next visit to Doha.

Irish Independent

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