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Has football finally sold its soul to money?

Jack Allsopp tries to make sense of Neymar's staggering transfer to PSG

For the £198 million that Paris Saint-Germain parted with to meet Neymar’s release clause, you could purchase thirteen Alan Shearers, over a trillion Freddos or one-tenth of a British parliamentary majority. £198 million is also the cost of covering the entire city of Barcelona in spaghetti. For Neymar to be worth his weight in a commodity, gold would not do; instead he would have to be made out of plutonium, which costs $4,000 per gram.

But the face value price is not the whole story: when agent fees, the contract’s value and other expenses are considered, the cost of this 25-year-old footballer’s transfer from Barcelona is closer to half a billion pounds sterling. This leads anyone to question whether the beautiful game has finally gone mad, whether this sort of spending is sustainable, and how any human being in any profession could be worth such an eye-wateringly gigantic sum of money.

But in the context of this summer transfer window, Neymar is worth it. Romelu Lukaku, a Chelsea reject who has had two fruitful seasons at Everton, is valued at £75 million by Manchester United. Goalkeepers Jordan Pickford and Ederson have been snapped up this summer for fees equal to or in excess of £30 million; both have never represented their countries at a senior level. Is Neymar two-and-a-half times as good as Lukaku, or seven times as good as Pickford or Ederson? Undoubtedly.

The reputable CIES football observatory rates Neymar as the most valuable footballer on the planet: they have his market cost at €210.7 million, which is almost the same as Neymar’s release clause (€222 million). He is an incredibly prolific goal scorer and supremely skilful footballer with pace, creativity and intelligence. In his short career he has already won La Liga twice, the Champions League once, and established himself as the best Brazilian footballer on the planet (no mean feat, if history is anything to go by). He is also a commercial godsend for the club, with his easy media style, virtuoso performances on the pitch and well-known name meaning that he is practically a brand; he will generate revenue for PSG as soon as he arrives in France.

Yet all this talk of numbers makes one question whether football has become simply a data-driven sport. Today, footballers are judged by their coaches, ex-footballers on the television and the armchair pundits at home by how many metres they run during 90 minutes, how many chances they create, the number of interceptions they make, and so forth. The transfer window itself has become a tournament, presided over by the effervescent Jim White and capturing as much interest as any ordinary Premier League weekend. Ordinary fans are priced out of the game, where a season ticket at the Emirates Stadium costs around £1000, and where you cannot watch Champions League football for free. In the last few years, the big wigs of the sport, Sepp Blatter and all his cronies, have been rumbled for corruption on a frankly disgusting level.

It’s starkly clear that there is too much money in football. It has become, whether us fans like it or not, a multi-trillion pound business, a market with a life of its own, where a pre-game pint and pie costs more than a match-day ticket should be sold at. It is no longer the working man’s game. This is what Neymar represents, and whilst he might be worth it when you run the numbers, the soul of football was sold long before Neymar traded the best club in the world for a Parisian upstart outfit to line his wallet and soothe his ego.

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