ISFri at the time – in 2017 – the commission that Paris Saint-Germain paid to Barcelona for Neymar was extraordinary: £ 198 million was 125% more than the previous record, established a year earlier when Manchester United signed Paul Pogba from Juventus. Transfer records are not simply broken by that amount in the normal course of things. It was a signed declaration, an agreement designed not only to land the player, but to emphasize PSG’s financial power, to highlight their super-club status by inflating the market to a level to which only the mega rich could compete.
Three years later, with football suspended all over the world and the main leagues in desperate search for ways to start the games to avoid the financial apocalypse, the world seems very different. A model based on constant growth received a sudden shock.
Whatever the new reality when football eventually returns, regardless of whether a sense of social responsibility has been established or, as seems more likely given the direction of travel in the past three decades, the game focuses more on the elite and closer and closer to a franchise facility, there will be an adjustment.
Even those clubs supported by sovereign wealth funds will find themselves hampered by the restrictions of financial fair play that will inevitably follow the economy in general. The indications are that FFP will be relaxed for a year or two so as not to penalize clubs that suddenly, and because of them, have found their revenue streams blocked, but it seems that the desire to return to a free-for-all expenses.
Before Neymar, the transfer record had more than doubled only twice. In 1903, Small Heath (now Birmingham) purged £ 500 on Barnsley’s inner Bns Green, quintupling a ten-year record that had remained since Aston Villa broke the three-digit barrier to acquire Scottish striker Willie Groves from West Bromwich. In 1932, River Plate signed center-forward Bernabé Ferreyra from the Tiger for £ 23,000, canceling the mark established four years earlier when Arsenal had purchased Bolton’s David Jack from the inside, carrying £ 10,890 and bringing the record out of Britain for first time. Green’s streak remained barely nine months, but Ferreyra has been the world’s most expensive player for 17 years. Neymar’s record could presumably hold up long.
Ferreyra is an outlier for a variety of reasons. The Argentine game was experiencing a period of rapid growth, fueled by radio broadcasts that brought comments from Buenos Aires to the jungles of Tucumán in the north to the dusty buttresses of the Andes in the west to the freezing cold of Tierra del Fuego in the south, bringing the young nation together .
Argentina had reached the final of the Olympics in 1928 and the World Cup in 1930, both times suffering defeats against neighboring Uruguay which only increased the desire for success. The country’s league had gone professional in 1931, generating a new wave of interest and leading to a boom in membership in the larger clubs.
Although the coup d’état against Hipólito Yrigoyen in 1930 had started in Argentina década infame, the years of corruption, repression and economic decline that ultimately led to Juan Perón’s seizure of power in 1943, when Ferreyra was signed, the full impact of the Great Depression had not yet been felt. It was a huge success, famous for a fierce shot that brought him an average goal in a game for eight seasons. Ferreyra’s popularity actually financed the construction of El Monumental, but when the global crisis hit, particularly in the industrial areas where football had previously thrived, no other clubs came close to a draw.
It was only with the surge in appearances in the United Kingdom after the Second World War and then with investments in Italian clubs by local industrialists that the record was again put to the test. Striker Johnny Morris, after falling with Matt Busby, was sold by Manchester United to Derby for £ 24,000 in 1949 and the record dropped four more times in the next three years.
Ferreyra and Neymar’s situations are similar in that River and PSG made their purchases aware that the agreement would project an image of wealth and power. In both cases, the player was celebrated enough to justify the expenses even when the edge of the cliff suddenly appeared. But what happens now for clubs, what now for transfers, during the crisis? “It is somewhat inappropriate to see speculation about transfers for hundreds of millions under current circumstances,” said Manchester United executive vice president Ed Woodward last week. “There is a great disconnect between those stories and the economic realities that soccer teams have to face in general.”
Revenues will drop. There will probably be a period of several months in which matches will be played without complete stages. United’s revenue during the game was £ 110 million last year; which cannot be easily replaced. A severe recession seems almost certain. Sponsorship, advertising and commercial revenue will decrease. There will be a decrease in subscriptions to TV channels which, together with the reduction in advertising, will reduce the broadcasting agreements. Nobody knows how travel can continue to be influenced, reducing the feasibility of international tournaments and foreign tours. This is the biggest financial success facing the game since the 1930s.
But the word used by Woodward seemed appropriate – “inappropriate”. The clubs shot staff. They asked players to defer wages or to cut wages. If there is a severe recession, how can a club justify spending £ 200 million on a player in a time of mass unemployment and poverty, particularly if they have asked the government or the players to get away with it?
The perspective of the big problem will change. Not that the likely alternative – the big clubs with the resources to ride the difficult times in despair of the weaker ones and grabbing their players at bargain prices – is more palatable.
In any case, Neymar’s tax is likely to remain for years as Ferreyra did, as a totem from a previous era in which elite football believed in its eternal ability to generate money, the era of trust, al border with arrogance, before the virus hit.