I have loved football all my life. I have played since I was 4, watched since I was 5 and checked the football news every day since I can remember. The sport, in short, has been my life. I get excited every weekend when matches are on – it’s what gets me through the week. But, for the first time, my love for football has reached a crossroads.
Money in football has been ridiculous for a while now. In the last decade we have seen transfer fees balloon exponentially. The reasons being the short-lived careers of players and the involvement of TV. Football has become a massive brand, and the success of that brand depends on its best performers. With so much money in the main channels, SkySports and BT Sports, as well as individual clubs’ tickets, merchandise and branding, paying the best players sky-high wages and forking out record money for transfers is no more than a result of economics. You have the best players, you have the best brand. Football is now a business, and it’s thriving.
Obviously, to see your beloved game morph into a business model is upsetting, but it has many positives to it: more air time on television, more entertainment surrounding events and more excitement around games. The business part has its plusses and negatives, but as a consumer, I mostly benefit from the football brand.
The business model itself is not my main concern, however.
Neymar Jr., one of the best players in world football, will imminently embark on a north-easterly dribble from Barcelona to the French capital, Paris, in a transfer that is about to break every record around. His move will cost football giants Paris Saint-Germain nearly half a billion pounds over the course of his contract agreement, with Neymar earning 865,000 euros a week. That is enough to feed 8 African villages of 300 people for a year. It’s enough to pay off over 28 student loans a week. It is nearly 600 times the weekly earnings of the average lawyer in the United Kingdom.
Neymar said he has joined “one of the most ambitious clubs in Europe”… “Paris St-Germain’s ambition attracted me to the club, along with the passion and the energy this brings.” It is difficult not to take his words with a pinch of salt – but in all honestly, the problem here is not the player, but the game. On Thursday the transfer was snubbed by the Spanish League, La Liga, on the grounds of a breach of the Financial Fair Play rules. There are a number of conflicting ideas as to how this hurdle was avoided, but it seems that the gist of the story is as follows:
Qatar Sports Investment paid Neymar 300m euros to be the Qatar World Cup ambassador for 2022 (this so happens to be when Neymar’s new contract will end). Neymar and his team then paid Barcelona 222m of that sum in order to activate his release clause, effectively allowing PSG to sign him for free. Basically, the country of Qatar enabled the transfer to go ahead through a financial loophole. To put this into perspective, back in 2011, Qatar Sports Investment bought PSG in a deal that valued the entire club at 100m euros. Now, a single player is worth over 200% of that value.
Football seems to have become a big ballooning cauldron of corruption, income inequality and greed. It has been like this for a while now, but it’s been possible to turn a blind eye to it. I don’t think that’s possible anymore. Granted, Neymar’s career will be over in 10 years, and so he, and other footballers, have a case for earning relatively more money to those in professions with longer careers. But Neymar, and all the others, are already successful brands that will have no trouble finding a new career after they hang up their boots. Nothing, nothing, justifies the wages he will get. Yes, it is simply a result of economics, but you would have to be out of your mind to suggest that a wage of nearly 1 million euros a week is justified for a profession that involves neither saving lives nor inventing something ground-breaking. I do not think it is a justified wage for anybody.
We are witnessing capitalism at its very finest and darkest. How is a footballer entitled to an amount of money that could have a seriously profound impact on many people’s lives? Neymar’s wage is enough to save lives through vaccination programs, create education or health programs – even subsistence or aid during periods of famine in third world countries.
What makes it worse is that we, the fans, are part of it, with our ticket purchases and TV subscriptions. We are contributing to the wealth inequality that we see in football today. But, it’s a stupid proposition to suggest we should stop investing our money into a sport that we have loved all our lives. There needs to be a government intervention, a re-calibration of football’s moral compass, where we see a ceiling on the prices of transfers and wages, so that Neymar’s story does not become the first of many.
So, I am at a crossroads with my love for the beautiful game. One path will lead me to an oblivious utopia, to a land with an “it’s not my money” attitude and where only what happens on the pitch matters. The other path, however, leads to a sporting Silicon Valley, littered with profiteers and business magnates, where the compulsory priority is branding and where the game comes second. I want to turn down the first path, but my driver looks to be taking me down the other.
words by Will McCartney