Apathy is the disease of a generation mired in the preoccupation of an endless barrage of seemingly non-consequential news. As Charles de Montesquieu, French 18th century political philosopher, proclaimed, “the tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizens in a democracy.” Perhaps more prominent than his nationality in the context of such a ubiquitous comment was his more defined geographical position throughout the majority of his devoted working life; Paris. Though Montesquieu may have targeted the discredit of self-absorbed, chauvinistic French monarchs Louis XIV, regent Philippe II, Duke of Orléans and Louis XV with his revolutionary libertarian political philosophy, such stinging commentary resonates, in no uncertain terms, to this day, not quite in the corruption-infested social halls of Versailles, but only 13km down the Avenue de Paris and across the Seine to the Qatari-controlled Parc des Princes, where quite possibly the most political football transfer of all time was sealed on a balmy Thursday evening – exactly at time of writing – in Neymar’s €222 million, or £196 million, switch from Barcelona. It was unimaginable seven days ago, let alone the 12 months, ten years or 50 years that may be touted, that these demonstrably unethical and unfathomably ludicrous events would unfold. Yet it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone involved in not just football, but all sport, that the commercialisation and increasing fundamental role of politically-minded businessmen, or vice-versa, in the transformation of clubs, leagues and the global presentation of the sport would have eventually led to this; the reprehensible destruction of previous world records, far greater than any we may witness at the forthcoming World Athletics Championships in London this fortnight, for the sake of an Arab state’s pride.
It has become second nature; the status quo, that billionaire oligarchs, oil tycoons and government officials wield almost the entirety of power in the elite forms of the game today. Desensitisation, perhaps unprecedented in global society, to the reality of poverty, disease and inopportunity in the society outside of football’s clique, has been undertaken throughout the contemporary history of ‘the beautiful game’, ever since professionalisation first sank its venomous fangs into the psyche of players, managers and officials alike, but the overriding impact was that of its perceived benefits for supporters. Because the backbone of the game has been infiltrated to such an extent, these events have become the accepted norm.
Unfortunately, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior has been the one to suffer the ignominy of this cursed negotiation. Exemplifying all of the characteristics so desirable to modern marketers, the boy who honed his trade in São Paulo’s streets, with skyscrapers of Brazil’s most populated city on the direct horizon, earned his family a life away from cramped urban crawls with the demonstration of prodigious, sponsorship-inciting Samba skill, and eventually invoked the attention of mes que un club, with the opportunity of a lifetime to shadow, then assume the role of, Lionel Messi; Qatar’s new global ambassador/political pawn had appeared immovable in the notorious triumvirate of MSN. Every player, in fact, appears to have reached a stage of absolute zenith, where the sole alternative to a plateau at such heights of brilliance is to bely their gilded reputation and succumb to the degrading factors, either of age, the misfortune of injury or an undermining psychological alteration, once they are recruited by FC Barcelona. Gary Lineker, Twitter’s corner of sardonic sanity, expressed, from personal experience, this fact perfectly on Wednesday; “there is only one direction to go from @FCBarcelona, and that’s backwards.”
Not that it concerns the optimists who engineered the move – for whom money is, blatantly, no object – as each party benefits unfathomably from his signature, regardless of the sporting performances of the 25-year-old in his supposed five years, for now, as a Parisian. Reportedly, for the mere financial outlay of €300 million, the ruling Al Thani family, for whom the Paris Saint Germain-owning Oryx Qatar Sports Investments group was a 2005-established venture between the Finance Ministry and the national Olympic Committee, secured the intellectual property of Neymar as an ambassador of the 2022 World Cup, as well as trading the responsibility of the actual release clause activation to Neymar himself, allowing the club to register his signature on a free transfer. A personal cut of €78 million for Neymar, father Neymar Snr. and agent Wagner Ribeiro – whose actual cut of the deal is shrouded in confidentiality –, in addition to the world-obliterating annual salary of €40 million – equating to a post-tax £515,000 weekly wage – does the client the apparent justice he deserves as a form of comfort in the event of a realisation of the moral imprudence and degradation his signature represents.
The only footballer for whom commercial pandering was more financially lucrative than his actual playing contract, Neymar had no explicit requirement to remain at Barça, despite the obvious inherent psychological benefits of performing, on a weekly basis, to an unprecedented attacking, and possibly footballing, standard alongside South American accomplices Messi and Luis Suarez, generation-defining midfield masterminds Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, and fellow silverware-magnets Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Marc-André ter Stegen and Ivan Rakitic, in the 99,350-strong cauldron housing of the globe’s finest fans, who represent only a sliver of the vast audience the club commands. Heritage, honour and excellence are the principles both Barcelona, and the Camp Nou as the sole public face of the club that will surpass history, epitomise without precedence in the footballing universe, and for an individual, seemingly in his prime and with no demand the club could not fulfil, to abandon the club, and with it these ideals, in a quest to improve personal standards, it appears a total rejection of the sport’s ideals. There is a reason Barça are held in such high regard by all in the community, and that the players to have rejected this and actually reach new heights are few in number; Luis Figo and Michael Laudrup, in the ultimate betrayal, to Real Madrid, Ronaldo, eventually also to Madrid, and arguably Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thiago Alcantara the only candidates for this category.
It is not just a middle finger to the footballing romance instilled in us all, but to the superiority possibly of what a majority in the region wish to be an independent Catalan state – especially prominent a few months prior to the referendum the devolved regional government wish to hold on the thorny matter –, the generally accepted dominance of La Liga in ascertaining and retaining superstars and to the entire history of football; a sport never prized so heavily for its role in the changing tides of region-specific geopolitics. Just reflect on the previous transfer records; Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Hernan Crespo and Christian Vieri. None has quite, or any of, the political undertones of this deal, overshadowed by the unashamed exploitation of oil fortunes from the Qatari state at a period where the oil price is significantly lower than is desirable, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Mauritania, amongst other Arabian and African states, have severed diplomatic ties, accusing the Qataris of condoning terrorism in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and an anti-Israeli Syrian arm, interfering with internal affairs and of maintaining relations with Iran – a subject of some trepidation after a January 2016 attack on Saudi diplomats in Tehran and Mashhad. With a World Cup on the horizon, dozens of effective slave workers from India and Nepal reportedly dying either in the deplorable conditions or by taking their own lives on a monthly basis, and the aforementioned crises to handle, for the Al Thani dynasty, attention focused on events in Paris constitutes invaluable relief. Even at €222 million then, with €78 million more as a bargaining chip and £40 million in annual wages, Neymar’s signature reflects something of a geopolitical coup for a nation for whom the accretion of finances represents more perilous a reality than the unscrupulous expenditure of endless, unimaginable assets.
Saint-Germain, as a sporting entity, and political pawn for the Qatari state, desperately require a return to French, let alone continental, superiority themselves following a 2016-17 season that defined their stagnation after laying faith heavily in the ageing Edison Cavani, Ángel Di Maria and Thiago Silva, only to be overpowered by Leonardo Jardim’s curiously scrupulous, yet rewardingly youth-lenient, revolutionary AS Monaco side. Where heralded former Sevilla manager Unai Emery invested £122.91 million in 2016 European Championship stars Julian Draxler, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Thomas Meunier, respective Benfica, Real Madrid and CA Rosario products Gonçalo Guedes, Jesé and Giovani Lo Celso, and effective wildcard Hatem Ben Arfa, Jardim purchased, in opposition to the notoriously lewd previous exploits of billionaire oligarch chairman Dmitry Rybolovlev, £42.93 million’s worth of defensive assurance in Benjamin Mendy, Djibril Sidibé, Kamil Glik and Jorge, in addition to AS Nancy midfield gem Youssef Aït Bennasser and richly-experienced backup goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis. While PSG salvaged only two points from domestic matches against title rivals Monaco and Nice, losing five times over the 38-game Ligue 1 season, the autonomous billionaire-populated micro-nation’s side fell only thrice to defeat, ultimately boasting eight more points and a goal difference superior by 20 strikes to the capital’s finest. In order to avoid a truly costly repeat – ignoring the fact Les Parisians routed Monaco in the semi-final and final respectively, on the road to winning both the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue – including a ground-breaking event where they could capitulate 6-1 in Barcelona to sacrifice a Champions League semi-final appearance, chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and the Qatari government he represents, opted, in a majestic political manoeuvre worthy of the Oval Office, to flex muscle in the face of the Catalan establishment. Considering the summer began with Marco Verratti linked earnestly with Barça, the series of events that has led to Saint-Germain prizing first Dani Alves, close Brazilian compatriot and confidant of the record-breaker, from Juventus on a free transfer, and successively the 25-year-old himself from the La Liga titans will mark perhaps the finest, certainly the most dramatic, of summer transfer windows across Europe’s elite footballing tier.
To comment on the transfer in the respect I just have – in a particularly extensive paragraph, it must be noted – and in a manner that I’m sure you’ve noticed across the majority of the world’s media, from the clickbait to the forcibly impartial, renders the role of a journalist null and void. If, in the profession, you don’t exist to criticise the blatantly immoral as you would praise the fantastical, you become little more than a utilitarian, socially redundant filter between the reality rational citizens want broadcasted, no matter how harsh, and the inconsequential mirage the proprietors of this move would have us trust. As I mentioned upon introduction, apathy is a universal pandemic that pervades present society at all levels, from government to pauper, though for reasons entirely distinguishable from one another. Disparities have never been so wide between the two, with both unable to fathom how the other functions; the result, unbearably, is a culture of fatigued tolerance, as opposed to determined belligerence, overwhelming the masses.
The duty-tempered outcry by José Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Gary Lineker and others involved in the footballing industry only serves to prove this; especially when Mourinho, notorious for his exploitation of football’s bloated financial demands throughout his career, proclaims “when we paid that amount for Paul [Pogba], I said that he was not expensive. Expensive are the ones that get into a certain level without a certain quality. I don't think he’s expensive for £200 million. I think he’s expensive for the fact that you are going to have more players of £100 million and more players of £80 million and more players of £60 million. I think that's the problem because Neymar is one of the best players in the world. Commercially he’s very strong and for sure Paris Saint-Germain thought about it. So I don't think the problem is Neymar, it's the consequences after Neymar.” Wenger, in a punchier declaration honouring his markedly more resourceful ideology, stated “for me, it is the consequence of the ownerships that have completely changed the whole landscape of football in the last 15 years. Once a country owns a club, everything is possible.” Critically, the Frenchman remarked “the number involves a lot of passion, pride and public interest, and you cannot rationalise that anymore. You cannot justify the investment, it looks unusual for the game. That’s why I always [support] football living with its own resources. Apart from that, we are not in a period anymore where you think ‘If I invest that, I will get that back’. We are beyond that.”
We cannot ignore the words of these statesmen. Especially on the part of Wenger, the knowledge of all forms of the sport and subsequent sage advice the two can impart commands universal internal respect, not least from fans, but also by FIFA, UEFA and numerous other associations. Critically, from a manager who has made a career out of respecting the apparent guidelines of the game and its responsibility within wider society, an utterance that he believes “it becomes very difficult to respect financial fair play,” now this deal has set a precedent, “because there are different ways for a country to have such a big player to represent a country” defines the monumental ramifications of the transfer. Al-Khelaifi appears to vindicate this view when making such arrogantly blasé statements as “I’m not really worried at all about the Financial Fair Play because we have complied with the regulation since the start. We’ve been very transparent with UEFA, we will be always.” It’s as if the continuous threats from UEFA, and the 2013-14 season sanctions, amounting to a €60 million fine, squad restrictions of 21 players, transfer spending caps and a two-year squad salary restraint never existed.
Whether the authority of UEFA’s FFP judicial system will actually impart the requisite justice such an unprecedented, inescapably indescribable case deserves, or be so paralyzed by their service to European football’s progress that they will prevent themselves from acting upon such a revelation and have their credence resultantly besmirched, for some, beyond repair, is as yet unforeseen, and for such uncertainty to pervade the reality of the modern transfer market for fans, clubs, players and officials alike is truly unacceptable. It appears UEFA are so gripped by the aforementioned culture of inaction, uncertainty and dependence on societal constructs that even they, as a government of the sport, cannot imagine ruling one way or the other on this case, particularly now the movement of the player is irretrievable, and once your government is stuck in limbo – à la Theresa May’s Conservatives on Brexit, the political hot potato few imagined possible – there is little hope for all others they serve.
People may reflect, in years and decades unfathomable from now, on this deal as the new Bosman for football, with Neymar the unfortunate individual around whom the controversy will endure to taint, rather than arguably elevate as it did with Jean-Marc Bosman. For me, this will have a far greater ripple effect, as although the demographic personally impacted by astronomical outlays will be less represented in number than those for whom to free movement come the expiration of a contract is relevant, as Mourinho hinted, the transfer value of players will be blown out of any sense of rationality; though many may argue that time has long since passed. Once a record, especially one of such great magnitude as this, has been broken, the inevitable reaction, in testament to the eternal ambition of the human psyche, is the close pursuit of a significant peloton of challengers. As such, we should expect for the floodgates to have been blown open, for transfers between elite clubs to be dictated, rather than on the superiority of an incredibly select few, only on the basis of whatever cavalier figure the approached club can fathom to charge. Release clauses may rise far beyond the GDP’s of some of the globe’s smallest nations – as demonstrated in this transfer, where, according to the BBC, the fee outstripped the GDP’s, per 2015 United Nations figures, of the world’s six smallest economic nations; Tuvalu, Montserrat, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau – weekly wages will rise beyond, currently, record figures that, reportedly, 70% of the world’s population will fail to earn in a lifetime, managers will grow powerless to resist the will of players and governments will rely on football increasingly as a lucrative industry constructed as the plaything of global politicians attempting to distract from domestic strife. These are the inevitabilities condemned not solely by the Neymar deal, but certainly accelerated in their relevance to our generations.
One can but wonder where it will end, or who will be responsible for attempting to prevent it. Currently, the exercise of sanity is a baton voluntarily assumed by Wenger, Daniel Levy, those at Brighton and Hove Albion, Southampton, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, for example, in a staunch refusal to kowtow to the exploitative methods of rival chief executives – proven businessmen, recruited solely for their stature in respective economic fields – both at home and abroad. That these sides, and the conscientious philosophies they employ, are being totally belittled by the critical precedent this transfer sets matters not to those involved in this saga; devoid of empathy, comprehension of personal responsibility or compassion for those that actually allow society to function while on minimum wage, the failure of their character to prove stronger than time immemorial’s bartering construct will be their ultimate legacy.
As the Brazilian, then, assumes a throne constructed on the exploitation of global demand for oil, the shamefully unpunished corruption of the game’s most powerful officials, the torture and eventual murder of slave workers for the sake of hopefully desolate stadia and geopolitical manoeuvre that has ultimately encouraged the genocide arguably of millions in the Arab world over history, one comes to ponder what further role football truly has remaining. This move cannot be viewed as one to realise apparent ambitions to take on a ‘new challenge’ and romp to victory in Ligue 1, all French domestic trophies, quite possibly the Champions League and to accede the honour of the Ballon d’Or; it will be marked as the manufacturing of a politically astute kingdom that has consumed the entire identity of Paris Saint-Germain in a bid possibly to assure the nation of the responsibility of hosting a World Cup, possibly in an elaborate effort to undermine regional political opponents, possibly to siphon off the profits of an endlessly successful sports team, like any other despicable chancer. That his career, Neymar, that is, may go one of two ways is an unfounded argument, as surely, being such a mercurial sporting triumph, he won’t befall the reputation he has been recruited on, with a trophy-laden definition of talent his only undertaking. With the sole alternative scenario that might defer comrades to follow in his wake being a prophecy of the failure of football and politics’ ambition in conjunction as his geopolitical role consumes him – impossible, as any for whom Saint-Germain is a reality that doesn’t sicken them is clear of conscience – the entire framework of football will be gradually altered by this incorrigible week.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!