It would take a financial commitment from Paris Saint-Germain of approximately €620 million to get Neymar what new car owners would call “on the road.”
Football’s top-end finances is now so gross, so complex and so lacking in true transparency that we must all estimate here. But you won’t be far wrong if you add: €220m to exercise Neymar’s buyout clause, close to €50m in the taxes it would generate, the same sum for a signing-on fee and a five-year contract of €30m in tax-free salary (it means PSG pay the French authorities at least the same sum again each year given the income tax laws there).
Now frankly, if a club, even a petrodollar-rich one, is willing to write that kind of love letter to a player, then Neymar is quite entitled to look at the deal and think very strongly about saying yes. You’d think about it. I would too — and we’d be liars to deny that.
Perhaps some of us would choose the truism that “the grass isn’t always greener.” No doubt some of us would conclude that when we are talking about the relative difference between tens of millions at one club and slightly more at another, the quality of one’s environment would be the determining factor.
One of the things that you learn as you meet top footballers, their agents and their families is that in the majority of cases, there is no such thing as “enough money.” Sometimes, as notable exceptions, players will accept a wage reduction to play specifically where they wish to play (Javier Mascherano took a seven-figure drop to seal his move to Barcelona) and sometimes, footballers will be extraordinarily generous with their time and money for charitable causes.
But whether by nature (greed and insecurity) or by nurture (getting caught up in the isolated bubble of what everyone else is earning and the constant prodding of an agent’s “we can get more…”), the majority of elite footballers simply don’t consider the idea that what they have is just fine.
So to ignore the fact that Neymar potentially accepting PSG’s very clear wish to sign him, and damage Barca in the process, is primarily related to money would be ultra-naive.
It’s true: Neymar is wealthy, has a luscious contract for the next four years with Barcelona and would stratospherically increase his sponsorship, marketing and advertising power over the next 12 months if, say, Barcelona win a Liga and Champions League double and Brazil, as they may do, win the World Cup. However, only the innocent or naive will think that the offer of much more money right now is something that most top footballers easily ignore or reject.
Having said all that, if Neymar goes against his recent words about being content at the Camp Nou after his “best season yet,” chooses to move to the French capital and plays in an inferior league, then it seems clear that there will have been other factors in the decision.
The word here in Barcelona, for the majority of his time in Spain, is that he could be far better counseled if his father wasn’t the dominant force in his professional life. How Neymar Sr. and Jr. spend their leisure time, how they construct their financial world, whether they do or do not flirt with other elite clubs each summer despite economic bliss at Barcelona, whether Neymar ties and re-ties his laces to please his boot sponsors: There are a variety of very serious questions hanging over the head of this talented 25-year-old. Some of which pertain to the type of advice, support and instruction his father gives him.
Maturity is the issue. Maturity and that hard-nosed, ruthless focus that runs through every top professional footballers and consistently pushes everything else out of the way when it comes to determining whether they, and their team, reach the absolute limit of their potential week after week, season after season.
For all his outrageous skill and improving focus and maturity over the years he has been at the Camp Nou, Neymar isn’t in that category yet. He isn’t yet ruthlessly dedicated to excellence like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta or Toni Kroos. So let me explain a couple of issues for him, or for you if you’re watching this saga unfold.
Two major footballers who have departed FC Barcelona in the past couple of decades can serve as pretty clear guides for the Brazil international. Right now there are a lot of cheap “Luis Figo” and “Traitor” accusations floating around on social media. For the moment, I think that the case of Yaya Toure is slightly more pertinent.
Figo is a potential equivalent not because players who move like this are “traitors,” but because he was an ultra-dominant footballer at Barca who moved to a bitter rival via a buyout clause being exercised. Let’s leave aside the fact that it was Madrid, not PSG, he joined in the summer of 2000 because nothing will ever hurt Barca fans as much as a hero joining Los Blancos at the height of his powers.
Although PSG are a regular and increasingly dangerous Champions League rival, they can’t compare directly. But if Neymar is faced with an appetizing choice to accept PSG’s offer, he can look back at Figo’s decision making and conclude that the Portugal international, despite his infamy in Catalunya, got it right. He judged that Barcelona weren’t well run, he reckoned that Madrid were on the up and he got a massive financial “thank you” for crossing the divide.
Over the next three seasons he won seven trophies while his ex-Barca teammates won precisely none. Whatever you think of his actions, Figo’s decision, in percentage terms, was the right one.
Now take Yaya Toure. While the Pep Guardiola revolution was hitting ramming speed, with Toure playing a significant role in it, he was shoved out of the Camp Nou. Now Toure has done well at City, make no mistake. But he missed out on not only the all-time apogee of football at Barcelona, but potentially the high point of all European football the year after he was booted out in 2010. More to the point, he’s to win as many trophies in his seven years at City as he did in three at Barca — and he has never again even sniffed a Champions League win.
How is this helpful to Neymar?
For all that he’s still reviled by some fans, Figo made his own decision, took responsibility for what was always going to be a career-defining choice and steered his own destiny. Plus, crucially, he got it right. Toure allowed outside forces and an association with the outspoken Dimitri Seluk to seemingly control his destiny.
The former was controversial, but the latter was immature and ill-advised.
It’s both true, and wholly natural, that a footballer of his ability, age, nationality and marketability should yearn to not only step out of Messi’s shadow, but to make a determined pitch to convince the world that he’s No. 1.
If Neymar really thinks that playing in France and, say, helping PSG to their first Champions League win is a step that can help him establish himself as a Ballon d’Or contender and can help him brand his reputation as an all-time great, then he’s entitled to his logic and his choice. He’s a Figo — especially should he conclude that Barca are currently on the slide.
But if PSG gazumped Manchester City for the signature of Dani Alves to increase the attractiveness of their dressing room to Neymar — and if this is the type of factor that attracts him into making what is likely to be the single most important decision of his career — then Neymar is, frankly, bonkers. He’s a Yaya.
As for Barcelona, if they are landed with €220m and spend wisely to add intelligence, equilibrium and technique to their midfield and forward lines, there’s no real reason why this should be a serious setback. But this isn’t a column about Barcelona: it’s aimed at Neymar, his thought process, his decision-making and the consequences.
I make no bones about believing that moving like this, to PSG in particular, appears to be a decision based on the wrong reasons and should be one Neymar decides to reject. The opportunity for a guy like him to continue tormenting the world alongside Messi and Suarez, and to arrive at the World Cup next summer without huge disruption, a new league, a new language and a new climate to deal with, should be the dominant factor. Says me, at least.
What makes me most cynical, however, is if Neymar is currently in the “Ultra Yaya” position of being moved around by the guy who’s supposed to be giving him the best possible counsel. If Neymar’s father is guiding his son that PSG is the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City simply because that will be the more lucrative path for Neymar Sr., then it’s time for somebody to pull back the curtain and show the player that he, in fact, is the magician and that he, without question, should be taking control of this situation and making his own decision.
If he’s to leave (or stay), let it be for Figo-logic, not for reasons of being buffeted about by external forces like old Yaya. If you want to show the world you’re No. 1, that you’re “The Man”, Neymar, then act like one.
Whether you stay or go, choose the right option for the right reasons.