Saturday 16 December 2017

Money too trite to mention

Neymar and PSG loath to discuss the matter of cash, after record-breaking transfer

‘When it is time to leave, a player has a right to leave,’ said Neymar about his departure from Barcelona at yesterday’s unveiling Photo: PA
‘When it is time to leave, a player has a right to leave,’ said Neymar about his departure from Barcelona at yesterday’s unveiling Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

When at last he arrived, Neymar walked into the press room at the Parc des Princes to applause from his entourage, and the thought occurred that perhaps every time Neymar walks into a room he does so to applause from his entourage, although this day was unusual even by his standards.

The concept of Neymar Jnr has long existed at Paris St-Germain, the impossible transfer gradually developing from the audacious project of the billionaire Qatari owners to the mind-blowing €222m release fee paid in full at the Nou Camp on Thursday by a lawyer in a bow-tie and fedora.

Now was the time for PSG finally to take delivery of the world's most expensive footballer, all 10st 9lb of this angular, smiley little man who barely filled the navy suit he wore.

We know how much he weighs because he said so himself, joking at one point that he felt no burden - "I'm still just 69 kilos," he grinned - during an hour's questioning.

There are some Premier League clubs now who will not subject their new signings to open press conferences and credit to PSG for doing so. Although, if some of the questions were discomforting for them, then you might say the same of some of their answers.

The club president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, began by thanking his own and Neymar's respective "staff", reminding us that this was as much a collaboration of two global brands as a football transfer.

What time they had together with their staff prior to taking the stage seemed to have been spent on getting their stories straight about what this £400m deal was really all about. What it was not about was the money, and specifically it was not about Neymar's £50m annual wage.


"This is a question of ambition, I want a big challenge," said Neymar of his decision to leave Barcelona and join a club who won the French title in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. "My heart made me follow that decision."

Later, when that explanation was challenged for the fifth time, he adopted a more wounded stance.

"What I can tell people is that they don't know anything about my personal life. I was never motivated by money. What I think about is my happiness, together with my family's happiness."

The family certainly looked very happy with the front two rows reserved for the inner circle and what looked like the inner circle's inner circle and then, finally, emerging a few minutes before his son, Neymar Snr, the man behind the deal. Even super-agents Wagner Ribeiro and Pini Zahavi, both in attendance, have to fall in behind Neymar's father.

Neymar's repetition of his desire to "write history", and even at one point working PSG's "Dream Bigger" marketing line into an answer, cut much less ice than his more instinctive responses. Asked about the anger from Barcelona fans, he veered off script.

"I did nothing bad," he said. "It's difficult to answer these questions. I'm sad that the fans think that. I hope it's only a minority. I never lacked respect to the fans, every player should be allowed to stay or leave a club. You are not obliged to remain at a club if you wish to leave - that's it. When it is time to leave, a player has a right to leave."

To do that, you need a club prepared to pay the bill, and to his right was a man who represents a state so wealthy that he can afford to listen to the most awkward questions with the amused smile of one who knows he will never have to answer in any detail.

At one point, Al-Khelaifi dismissed concerns over PSG's Financial Fair Play compliance with the advice that everyone should "go have a coffee and not worry about us - we are in good hands".

"The FFP, we have been transparent with Uefa from day one," he said.

In response to questions about the fee paid, he asked a few of questions of his own, saying: "You ask yourself if it's going to be expensive in two or three years' time.

"When we look at Neymar as a brand, I don't think he's expensive. I am sure will make much than we bid (paid) for him."

He claimed that the value of the club had gone from "$1bn and now it's $1.5bn (after the signing)".

"There's only one Neymar in the world," he said, "I would love to meet in two years and ask you what the value of Neymar is - double, I expect.

"For me Neymar is the best player in the world, so we wanted to have the best player in the world.

"Neymar came here to write new pages in the history of Paris St Germain. With him our project will grow even stronger. The league will become more interesting for everyone.

"More transfers? The best player in the world is here. Let's enjoy Neymar."

For the most part, the pair attempted to steer the conversation away from the finances and Al-Khelaifi reiterated how he respected all parties involved, including Barcelona and Uefa.

Neymar's quest to win trophies begins today against promoted Amiens, whose team cost virtually nothing and who will propel themselves into sporting immortality if they could get a result on the day that Neymar makes his debut.

Amiens' nickname is The Unicorns, which also feels like a good way of describing the magical, little creature who will now wear No 10 for PSG. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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