It was one of the greatest comebacks in football. Down 4-0 from the first leg, Barcelona thrashed Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) 6-1 in the Champions League Round of 16 return-leg fixture at Camp Nou to reach the quarterfinals last term. Neymar scored twice and set up Sergi Roberto’s match-winning goal in the dying moments. The Brazilian was the real stardust on the night and the more exalted Lionel Messi played second fiddle. The Catalan giants, however, posted a picture of Messi on Twitter after the match with the hashtag, #ForcaBarca. Publicly, at least, Barcelona failed to recognise Neymar’s contribution and according to Spanish newspaper El Pais, it was the night when the 25-year-old decided to move on. Neymar’s impending transfer to PSG for £198 million – his buyout clause –is the biggest football news of the summer. At £500,000-a-week after tax, he would become the game’s highest paid man. The disgruntled Barcelona fans have branded Neymar as a “traitor” and “mercenary”. But the offer is far too lucrative to turn down. Also, it’s time for the Brazilian to get out of Messi’s shadow and create his own legacy. He never had a chance in this regard at Barcelona. So, fair play to him. But £198 million for a football player is insane.
PSG are no European elite. But the French club’s Qatari owners are super rich and nurture a dream to win the European Cup. Neymar would be their global icon. Of course, PSG will offload players to get around the Uefa Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations – wage bill can’t exceed 70% of the club’s revenue – once the deal is through. They will gain from Neymar’s world-wide popularity and his commercial association with several top global brands. But when a team sport forks out close to £200 million for an individual, you got to say the whole transfer market has gone bonkers. To be honest, Neymar is not a case in isolation. “Silly money” and “kamikaze spending” (quotes attributed to Sir Alex Ferguson) have had been a feature of this summer transfer window, with super agents playing havoc to overprice the market.
Manchester United snatched Romelu Lukaku from right under the noses of Chelsea and they paid Everton, Lukaku’s former club, an initial £75 million. If reports are to be believed, Lukaku’s fee could rise to £90 million including add-ons. Kyle Walker has moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Manchester City for £53 million to become the world’s most expensive defender. Chelsea said to have launched a £88 million bid for Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuain after signing midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko for £40 million. Even Arsenal have reportedly splashed close to £52 million for Alexandre Lacazette.
Agents holding sway
Lukaku’s move to United, rather than Chelsea, was believed to be facilitated by super agent Mino Raiola, who now has a pretty decent clientele at Old Trafford – Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lukaku. It would be four if Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to the fold in December. Earlier this year, the Football Association (FA) had released the figures that English clubs paid agents close to £221million over the previous two transfer windows. The Premier League clubs collectively had paid in excess of £174 million, with City topping the list at £26.3 million, Chelsea £25.1 million and United £19 million. It was reported that Raiola had pocketed £41 million (United-Juventus combined) from Pogba’s (then) world record £89 million transfer alone last season.
The Chinese threat
Brazilian playmaker Oscar’s move from Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG in January this year was significant enough to raise many an eyebrow. People questioned Oscar’s decision to climb down the ladder despite being only 25 years of age. Chelsea got a cool £60 million (approx) for the deal, but the real reason for Oscar’s Chinese Super League switch was a £400,000 weekly wage. Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s highest earner, gets £200,000-a-week. With China providing a hugely lucrative option, football agents in Europe are seemingly holding the clubs to ransom as far as player transfer is concerned. “There is serious money out there in China, it’s frightening how much there is. That’s where ultimately I see our challenge coming to the Premier League. It will not come from Italy or Spain. They will always be there in some shape or form, likewise the Bundesliga,” agent Jon Smith told Express Sport.
What is a super agent?
The answer is simple; Jorge Mendes, with Cristiano Ronaldo being his crowning glory added by Diego Costa, James Rodriguez, David de Gea and Jose Mourinho among his most high-profile clients. Raiola has now reached that level, brokering the Pogba deal last term and taking so many players to United.
Season ticket prices have gone up exponentially over the past five-six seasons in English football. Arsenal reportedly sells them for £2,013, Spurs £1,895, Chelsea £1,250 and United £950. And these were 2015-16 figures. Arsenal, United, Liverpool have frozen their prices since. West Ham have brought it down. A BBC study last year showed the average cost of the cheapest matchday ticket in the Premier League rose by 20%, between 2011 and 2015.
Former FA chairman David Bernstein is leading it on behalf of the Football Supporters’ Federation. “Even if they are being done within the existing regulations, figures of those sorts of size in agents’ commissions are just immoral. It might not be illegal but it’s immoral,” Bernstein told Telegraph Sport, when controversy broke over Raiola’s alleged £41 million fee from Pogba’s transfer.
“…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,” Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said. The deal could have a massive financial impact in the future. Big-spenders are crazily inflating the market. And there’s a fear that eventually the bubble will burst.