Johannesburg - One former England player predicts the world will see the first billion-pound transfer within the next 20 years.
Some have likened the August football transfer window to Black Friday – a frenzy of irrational shopping.
People buy a year’s supply of toilet paper, only to find out a week later that they can’t afford to buy ham and cheese for the children’s lunch box. Or they splurge on an extra TV set when what they really need are new tyres for the car.
In the soccer transfer window, the same impulses are at play. Club owners buy players they have no use for and often realise a few months into the season that they wasted their money.
The sums spent this month would be enough to feed a Third World country, cure its malaria problem and enable it to vaccinate its children against measles and chicken pox.
This window will be best remembered for catapulting transfer fees for soccer’s stars into unknown galaxies. Think about it – when Real Madrid bought Ronaldo for €94 million (R1.4 billion at today’s exchange rate) in 2009, we held our palms to our open mouths in amazement. When Gareth Bale completed a €100 million move to the same team in 2013, it was asked if one player could really be worth that much. The same question was asked when Paul Pogba joined Manchester United for €105 million last season.
All these figures now pale in comparison to the €222 million PSG paid Barcelona for Neymar, and the €180 million it paid for young Kylian Mbappé to move from rivals Monaco. The €105 million that Barcelona paid Dortmund for Ousmane Dembélé, Neymar’s replacement, looks quite ordinary.
Even the lower fees – if one can call them that – are astronomical. The €44 million Manchester United spent to get Nemanja Matic from Chelsea seems low. As is the €44 million they paid for Monaco star Tiémoué Bakayoko. Next season, the €85 million Manchester United will fork out to beat Chelsea to get Romelu Lukaku’s signature will hardly elicit shock.
Many football luminaries have expressed outrage at the spiralling fees. They argue that it is distorting the market and concentrating power in the hands of a few. What is making the situation worse – and raising xenophobic hackles – is that much of it is being fuelled by money from the Middle East, where playboy barons view owning a football club no differently to having a fleet of Bugattis and Maseratis.
In England, the nationalist sentiment that drove the bangers and mash brigade to Brexit is offended by the Arabian, American and Eastern European tycoons who prefer glamorous foreign superstars to home-grown talent.
Even Manchester United manager José Mourinho, who has achieved much of his success at various teams by spending lavishly on big talent, has complained that this trend is dangerous for football.
Former England star Stan Collymore – who in 1995 broke the record with a €9.2 million transfer from Nottingham Forest to Liverpool – has called for this “silly money” culture to be reined in.
Collymore was enraged that even average players such as Kyle Walker are now in the €40 million to €50 million range.
“Sometime soon, one of football’s governing bodies is going to have to step in and sort out this transfer madness once and for all. Where it ends, I don’t know, but in the next two decades, mark my words, we will see the world’s first billion-pound player,” Collymore wrote in The Mirror.
Collymore is probably being conservative with his prediction of two decades. After all, it took only one season to leap from Pogba’s €105 million to Neymar’s €222 million record fee.