Johannesburg - When Uefa introduced the Financial Fair Play rule a few years ago, it did so in the hope that the already uneven playing fields of European club football would not be eroded further.
The €222 million (R3.5 billion) transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to French club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) earlier this week would suggest that Europe’s football governing body has failed in its attempt at fairness.
When the rule was introduced in 2010, Uefa said that it was “about improving the overall financial health of European club football”.
In terms of the rules, clubs could, over a three-year period, only spend €5 million more than they receive. There is a provision that allows clubs to spend a further €30 million if the money comes directly from the club owners.
In other words, to buy Neymar for €222 million, PSG would have to sell players for €185 million. Transfermarkt.de value their entire squad at €584.65 million, so if they were to stick to the Fair Play rule, they would need to sell most of their squad.
However, on Thursday, the club released this statement: “Paris Saint-Germain is very happy to announce the arrival of Neymar Jr to the team. On Thursday, the Brazilian striker signed a five-year contract in the presence of the club’s representatives. Neymar Jr is now committed to the French capital’s club until June 30 2022.”
Needless to say, PSG did not go into their first Ligue 1 match of the season with Neymar and 10 unknown amateur players after selling their other star players – Julian Draxler, Ángel Di María and Edinson Cavani.
Instead, they made use of a loophole.
The Brazilian striker, who is said to be on a €45 million-per-year contract, paid the amount stipulated in his buy-out clause himself.
That, in itself, is not uncommon.
When former Bafana player Glen Salmon joined Dutch club NAC Breda from SuperSport in 1999, the transfer was nearly scuppered because Dutch regulations stipulated that foreigners had to earn a certain high wage, which Breda was unwilling to pay for the talented striker.
To get around the problem, the club inflated Salmon’s salary and the youngster paid his own transfer fee, thereby paving the way to a successful career in European football that saw him play close to 200 matches in the Eredivisie. He also played in Greece and in the Uefa Cup.
A small difference
There is, however, a not-so-slight difference, in that the money Salmon had to pay to SuperSport was peanuts compared with the €222 million Neymar paid.
And that, of course, begs the question: Where did the Brazilian get the money to be able to do that?
The answer is simple – at the same time as he was negotiating with PSG, he was taken on board as an ambassador for the 2022 Qatar World Cup, with a payment that exceeds the €222 million his lawyers paid directly to Barcelona on Thursday, after La Liga officials earlier refused to accept it.
The reason Qatar would do such a thing is obvious – PSG is owned by the Qatar Investment Group.
So, in effect, Neymar was offered as a “free” gift to the club by the club’s owners, but in a way that did not fall foul of the Fair Play rule.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp was one of the first to criticise the transfer.
“It seems to me that Fair Play is more like a suggestion than a rule.
“But any club can buy a player for that money … if they are owned by a country. I hope that this is not a sign of things to come, but it might be,” he said.
“At the moment, there are two clubs in the world that can afford such a thing: PSG and Manchester City, and everybody knows who owns them. [City are owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group].”
Klopp is not the only one who has reservations about Neymar’s transfer. Barcelona, who stipulated the €222 million buy-out clause because they thought the amount was so high that it would not be paid, issued a rather frosty statement.
“On Thursday afternoon, Neymar Jr’s legal representatives, in person, visited the club’s offices and made the payment of €222 million in the player’s name with regards to the unilateral termination of the contract that united both parties.
“As such, the club will pass on to Uefa the details of the above operation so that they can determine the disciplinary responsibilities that may arise from this case.”
It seems likely this is not the last word in the Neymar transfer saga, and it is now up to football’s governing bodies to find a way forward if they want the Fair Play rule to actually mean fair play.