Crazy money!

Neymar’s transfer exposes dark underbelly of beautiful game’s finances


The summer’s most protracted transfer saga came to an end last week with Neymar swapping the claret and blue of Barcelona for the red and blue of Paris Saint-Germain.

What made the circus surrounding the biggest transfer in football history so distasteful and ominous was the obscene amount of money that changed hands. For starters, this was not only the first £100m transfer in football history, it also smashed the previous world record — £89m paid by Manchester United to Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer — by a whopping £109m. Apart from the £198m release clause paid to Barcelona, the player himself will earn more than £500,000 a week as well as a signing-on bonus of £40m. 

All this from a club that has already fallen foul of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations once.

Uefa came up with the fair play rules to prevent clubs benefiting from “sugar-daddies” with deep pockets, a concept that first reached English shores with Roman Abramovic’s buyout of Chelsea. Since then, the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have benefited hugely from the oil money of the Middle East, with wealthy owners investing significant personal wealth into the clubs and acquiring top players at extravagant prices.

When France legend Zinedine Zidane moved from Juventus for Real Madrid for a then world record fee of £45m, it shook the foundations of football. Since then, the world record has been broken several times, Real Madrid responsible for three of them. But none witnessed the seismic shift that is being seen as a fallout of the Neymar saga.

The amount of money floating around in football now is obscene, to say the least. The Premier League stands to receive £10.4bn — £5.3bn for the broadcast of live matches by Sky and BT and ancillary deals, plus another £5.1bn from the sale of overseas rights for a three-year period — which will be divided among the 20 top flight clubs in England.

While this deal came as a boon for the smaller clubs, which were no longer compelled to sell their best players, it also armed the bigger ones with additional cash flow. Football clubs, these days, have dedicated commercial departments that oversee the marketing of the club brand, ensuring that the revenue keeps flowing even if the performance on the pitch fails to match up. This allowed the bigger clubs to throw wads of cash in front of their smaller rivals, inflating the entire transfer market as a result.

TV money aside, sponsorships also play a big role in football these days. Club owners will allow any and every company on Earth to use their club’s image to promote a brand — as long as they are compensated handsomely for it. Manchester United’s 40 plus global and regional partners, including official paint and tyres partner, are a case in point.

Gareth Bale’s £85m transfer to Real Madrid in 2013 was just one example of a European heavyweight flexing its financial muscle. The Spanish giants signed a player who had played just a couple of seasons in the Champions League and while exciting, was nowhere the exceptional talent to command a world record fee. Four years earlier, Real signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £80m from Manchester United. The Portuguese, however, was a Ballon d’Or winner by that time and was already being seen as the best player of his generation.

A sign of how insane sums change hands during transfers is seen through Monaco’s valuation of Kylian Mbappe. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene last season and European heavyweights Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United have been on his trail. Monaco have put a £160m valuation on the player, who has played just 40 league games for the Principality club, translating to around £4m per match.

Clubs like Real Madrid not only changed the transfer landscape, but also began a system where newspapers with connections to the club were used to unsettle a player to force the selling club’s hand. Paris Saint-Germain followed a similar approach with the Neymar deal.

But even then, Barcelona believed it had a firm grip on the player considering his release clause. Many clubs now insert insanely high buyout clauses in contracts to thwart potential suitors. But that didn’t deter Paris Saint-Germain and it shook the football world when it coughed up the sum, including tax, to La Liga.

La Liga president Javier Tebas, in an interview, raised the question of the club’s capacity to afford the fee. “In terms of PSG (Paris Saint-Germain), it is a clear case of financial doping, with the club and the state. PSG’s accounts show that they have a larger commercial income than Real Madrid and Manchester United, which is to say that the value of their brand is greater than those clubs. Well, that is impossible,” he told Spanish newspaper AS.

In another interview to Catalan radio station RAC 1, Tebas said: “What we want to understand is the origin of this €222m, if it is illegal. If Manchester United were to come, there would be no problems, we would have nothing to say because it is not a doped club. PSG is a state-run club and we have to end this situation as soon as possible.”

Allegations over the source of the club’s finances have arisen before as well. The club is owned by a sovereign wealth fund which invests Qatar’s vast oil and gas wealth in overseas companies. On paper, it is owned by Qatar Sports Investments, a business venture of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who is a minister in the Qatar government, and club president.

In 2013, the club signed a £167m contract with the Qatar Tourism Authority, later found to be in breach of the Financial Fair Play rules. The sponsorship deal was deemed to have an unfair value by Uefa’s independent investigation panel. The Qatar Tourism Authority is also a branch of the Qatari state and the deal between the two was deemed by Uefa to be a “related party transaction”.

There were even suggestions that Neymar would pay his own release clause by signing a £270m contract for five years to become an ambassador for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar. This goes to show how Paris Saint-Germain, as a football club, and the Qatari state are intertwined with each other. There have already been allegations of Qatar bribing Fifa officials for the rights to host football’s most iconic championship.

Clubs have long been leeching the fans who have maintained loyalty through thick and thin, turning the beautiful game into a business. Exorbitant season ticket prices, especially in England, new jerseys every year, replicas of which are sold at princely sums, take a lot out of the fans’ pockets. These marquee signings, many would claim, are nothing but a means to compel them to spend money on tickets.

Liverpool fans love to harp on legendary manager Bill Shankly’s famous saying: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” For football club owners, it is about squeezing the maximum amount out of the fans’ pockets.

Football garnered the support that it has through its simplistic roots — just a few boys or girls and a ball are all that is required to have a good time. Business has ruined that beautiful game.

Manchester United: In search of an identity

Scattergun approach to transfer market undermines club’s traditions

 

Manchester United have announced the signing Romelu Lukaku for £75m from Everton. The Red Devils now hold the top three positions for transfer fees paid by an English club, including the world record — Paul Pogba (£89m from Juventus), Lukaku, and Angel di Maria (£59.7m from Real Madrid).

This marks a stark change in the club’s transfer policy. In the summer of 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson pulled out of a deal to sign Brazilian winger Lucas Moura because he refused to meet Sao Paulo’s €45m valuation of the player. Instead, he signed Robin van Persie for £24m from Arsenal and the Dutchman fired United to their 20th league title.

Sir Alex announced his retirement in 2013. And since then, United’s transfer business has been turned on its head by the club hierarchy. David Moyes was greeted with the token signing of Marouane Fellaini as the club’s repeated attempts to bring an expensive marquee player failed. They went after Cesc Fabregas, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, and even blew Real Madrid out of the with a reported £100m bid for Gareth Bale. None of those players came.

While United fans would shudder at the thought, even Sir Alex was responsible for the mess the club was in. He left the club with an ageing squad, an academy in need of a complete overhaul, a faltering scouting network, and, most importantly, an incompetent successor.

While the first three were more down to the owners’ unwillingness to shell out big bucks, blame for the last completely falls with Sir Alex as he handpicked David Moyes as the man to succeed him.

Moyes proved to be an expensive failure and lost his job before the end of the season after it was confirmed that United would miss out on qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. In came Louis van Gaal, coinciding with the club owners loosening the purse strings, afraid that failure on the pitch would translate into loss of revenue off it.

When Louis van Gaal, a manager with a proven pedigree of promoting academy talents, was hired, it was expected that he would steady the ship. But his reign was marked by a general lack of direction. Despite a gaping hole in midfield, only Ander Herrera was bought in 2014 for an anchorman role. Instead of strengthening at the back, he signed di Maria. The loan signing of Radamel Falcao was another curious decision. For man who wanted to play possession football, signing an out-and-out target man made no sense.

The following season was stabler as the Dutchman realised he needed midfield backup and brought in Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Then he splashed £36m on an untested teenager in Anthony Martial. While he did promote from the academy, it was more due to necessity than choice.

It was humiliating for the manager of a club with the pedigree of Manchester United, and the board, that their two best players that season were a 19-year-old last-minute panic buy (Martial), and an 18-year-old academy graduate (Marcus Rashford) who was picked in the side because the former was injured.

United can never be accused of being stingy in the transfer market. They paid the British record fee for Roy Keane (£3.75m from Nottingham Forest in 1993), made Rio Ferdinand the world’s most expensive defender in 2002, paying Leeds United £30m for the England man, and signed the two most expensive teenagers in history at that time, paying Sporting Lisbon £12.24m for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003 before shelling out £27m for Wayne Rooney the following summer. The club have a rich history of promoting players from within to complement the expensive purchases. Sir Alex used the academy to good effect with the Fergie’s Fledglings, Sir Matt Busby did it with the Busby Babes — United have always had an academy graduate in their matchday squad since 1937.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho has restored balance somewhat. Having known for some time that United would turn to him if and when they sacked van Gaal, he had identified the positions that needed strengthening and went about his business without much fuss. He wanted players who could get the club back to its glory days and United’s deep pocket meant Juventus squeezed out £89m for Pogba.

But that deep pocket and willingness to spend has not always turned out positively for United.

Several players have used United’s interest, or press reports about an apparent interest, to either sign improved contracts with their current clubs, or get better terms with a potential new team. Throughout the summer of 2015, Sergio Ramos played United before signing on an improved deal with Real Madrid. Dani Alves did exactly the same at Barcelona. James Rodriguez and Monaco used United’s alleged interest in the player to get top dollar from Real Madrid in 2014 — such instances are abundant and are reflective of the haphazard manner with which the club have begun to go about their transfer business.

Even this summer, the club made a fool of itself in the very public chase for Antoine Griezmann. Fan channels on YouTube had already photoshopped images of the Frenchman in a United shirt, made videos of what to expect from the player at Old Trafford — all before the player himself announced that he would stay at Atletico and signed a new deal.

Gone are the days when the press would hardly get a sniff of a signing before he was paraded at Old Trafford. Pressure from sponsors to gain maximum visibility, including driving a new arrival from the airport to the training ground in their branded cars, have also played its part to create such a dismal scenario.

Mourinho, however, deserves the credit for instilling stability in the club’s transfer policy, handing over a list of targets long before the end of the season so that the board can begin talks early, instead of going gung-ho in panic mode and signing whoever is available.

That still doesn’t excuse spending £75m for a 24-year-old with no UEFA Champions League pedigree. At least Lukaku will get a long time to repay that faith, and the investment.

Wayne Rooney’s legacy

Is the former striker really a Manchester United legend?

 

Wayne Rooney put pen to paper on a two-year deal with boyhood club Everton, bringing to an end a 13-year trophy-laden career at Manchester United.

Despite the 31-year-old holding the scoring records for both United and England, opinion is still divided on his legacy at the club — be it because of his two transfer requests or the swift fall from grace during the latter part of his Old Trafford career. Many United fans see him as a club legend, while many others view him as a mercenary who tried to force his way out of the club, once to bitter rivals Manchester City and then to Chelsea.

Sir Alex Ferguson signed him as an explosive 18-year-old after his exploits for England at Euro 2004 for ₤27m, a then record fee for a teenager. His start for the Red Devils was equally explosive as he netted a stunning hat-trick in a 6-2 win against Fenerbahçe on debut. His first couple of seasons at the club were uneventful as United struggled to keep pace with Arsenal and a nouveau riche Chelsea, going trophyless.

Then came the infamous incident with team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo during the World Cup in 2006, culminating in the Englishman’s sending off.

But it was playing alongside the Portuguese winger that Rooney made the biggest impact. Ronaldo, Rooney and the indomitable Carlos Tevez formed the most dangerous Manchester United triumvirate since the Holy Trinity of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best. Rooney prospered in that role as an attacking focal point. But he never had to bear the goal scoring burden alone as the other two chipped in with regular strikes.

Unfortunately for Rooney, however, he will always be judged alongside Ronaldo. Towards the beginning of his career, Rooney was head and shoulders above the Portuguese. But Ronaldo spent hours in the gym perfecting his physique, and even more in the training ground honing his skills. Rooney never bothered about all that.

He was a street fighter, a one-man riot squad who depended more on the fire in his belly than technical nous honed with hours on the field. That’s not to say that he was not technically gifted — Micah Richards and Joe Hart stand testament to that. Rooney was capable of moments of sheer brilliance, but he could also frustrate with his lack of application and fitness.

His best season in United colours was in 2009-10, as the club, reeling from the departures of Ronaldo to Real Madrid and Tevez to City, relied heavily on Rooney for goals. He delivered too, scoring 34 goals in 44 matches as United won the Football League Cup. That was one of only two times that he scored over 30 goals in a single season during his 13 years at the club.

That was more down to his lack of fitness than application. Over the years, injuries played a significant part in his reduced role at the club. Robin van Persie’s arrival also curtailed his role as the club’s figurehead.

Despite Louis van Gaal naming him club captain, Rooney was never the leader like Roy Keane that United fans expected him to be. The Dutchman saw him as a midfield general but Rooney was a passive influence from deep, never being able to exert himself as he wanted to. He flitted in and out of the side and despite leading the club to silverware in van Gaal’s last season and Jose Mourinho’s first seasons at the club, he was never the first name on the team sheet. The desire was there, he still wanted to play, and be an automatic starter, but he was no longer the player that he was to warrant such a treatment. Mourinho slowly eased him out of the side last season and the writing was on the wall from that moment on.

Andy Mitten, editor of United fanzine United We Stand, said: “The move is best for all parties. Rooney will be remembered well by United fans when the dust settles, a club legend who scored more goals than anyone and was a leading light in one of United’s greatest sides.”

Both Rooney and United reaped the benefits from their 13-year association, winning the Premier League five times, UEFA Champions League once, FIFA Club World Cup once, FA Community Shield four times, Football League Cup thrice, FA Cup once and the UEFA Europa League once.

But he should not expect a statue outside Old Trafford.

Romelu Lukaku: A £75m gamble

Is the Belgian striker the right man to fire Manchester United to glory?

 

Manchester United splashed £75m on Everton forward Romelu Lukaku after growing frustrated in their chase to sign Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid.

That is a significant outlay on a player who has not yet played for a big club and, at 24, will most certainly be expected to fire on all cylinders as United look to mount a challenge for the Premier League.

Chelsea signed him from Anderlecht for £18m as an 18-year-old in 2011, but except a handful of appearances, he has spent much of his senior career at mid-table also-rans West Bromwich Albion and Everton. These are big clubs, but Manchester United is bigger, perhaps the biggest in the world, and that comes with its own unique pressures.

It’s also interesting that Jose Mourinho, who sanctioned Lukaku’s sale to Everton in 2014 after a successful loan spell the previous year, questioned his attitude.

“He wanted to play for Chelsea, but clearly only as first-choice striker — and at a club of our dimension it’s very difficult to promise a player that status. We want to be inside financial fair play rules, you have to analyse these situations,” the United boss said at that time.

The Belgian has since gone on to score 71 goals in 133 matches for the Merseyside club. At Everton, he played with a lot of freedom than what Mourinho will afford him at Old Trafford. He was the big star there; at United, he is one among a plethora.

While United snapping him up from under Chelsea’ noses was a coup, a report in The Liverpool Echo will make the situation uncomfortable for the player, manager, and the fans. The report says Mourinho insisted on Chelsea not inserting a buy-back clause during Lukaku’s sale, suggesting that he did not believe the Belgian would develop sufficiently, and that such an option would be worthless in the long run. As a result, Chelsea took the £28m that Everton offered instead of selling him for a lower value with a buyout clause.

Lukaku, as a player, lacks the finesse and the class that traditional strikers who have played in the famous red had. He is a flat-track bully and a target man who can be used a battering ram. At Everton and West Brom, he played with freedom. At United, he’ll be expected to break down teams that camp outside their own penalty box. In this respect, Morata would have been a better player, having played for two of Europe’s biggest clubs in Juventus and Real Madrid. Real wanted £79m for him, but United chose to pay £75m for Lukaku.

Reports, however, suggest that the fee could rise even further with £15m in add-ons and a £10m waiver of Wayne Rooney’s transfer fee ahead of his return to his boyhood club. A potential world record fee is a huge show of faith to a player who has no UEFA Champions League experience. As United return to the competition after a year’s absence, Lukaku will need to quickly delivering. Here, too, Morata, who has led the line for Juventus and Real Madrid, would have been the better option.

Even for the national team, bristling with the talents of Eden Hazard, Dries Martens and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Lukaku is not seen as the real goal threat despite scoring his fair share of goals (20 goals in 57 caps). That speaks volumes about a player who wants to return United to their days of dominance.

His record against last season’s top six makes grim reading for anyone who thinks £75m plus add-ons represent a transfer coup for Manchester United. Lukaku has scored only 16 times in 57 matches against the sextet. Although he scored in both the matches against Manchester City last season, his impact against the other teams does not offer too much hope, at least for the time being.

The Belgian’s prowess in the air is a positive, especially with United losing the physicality of Zlatan Ibrahimovic that got them a lot of goals last season.

His arrival will also add to Mourinho’s problems of finding an attacking focal point. Lukaku is not someone who will track back and start off moves if things are not going his way. He is more traditional that way and relies on his physicality to bully his way through. That may work sporadically against teams in the Premier League’s bottom half. Time will tell whether he is able to unlock Chelsea, Liverpool or Tottenham with that kind of play.

Lukaku will need to adapt and the test will begin from the first time he pulls on the red shirt, even if it’s in a pre-season tournament in the United States.