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Neymar to PSG: With era-defining move, Brazilian forward has chance to shake-up footballing world

“It's sad people think Paris Saint-Germain move was motivated by money”

Neymar, on the occasion of his world record transfer, had this to say during his official PSG unveiling at the Parc des Princes. He also added that he moved in search of a new challenge, happiness and titles. For Barcelona supporters though, the first statement might be difficult to swallow, evoking memories of Luis “Judas” Figo’s controversial transfer to Real Madrid under more acrimonious circumstances in 2000.

The dizzying transfer fee more than doubled the previous world record (Paul Pogba to Manchester United for €105 million) for the first time in 85 years. Even in this era of burgeoning television deals, this figure seems an extravagance.

New Paris Saint-Germain signing Neymar Jr poses with the club shirt. Reuters

New Paris Saint-Germain signing Neymar Jr poses with the club shirt. Reuters

A casual onlooker presented with the basic facts of the Neymar transfer might scoff at his press conference as well; a record eye popping transfer fee of €222 million (nearly £200 million) and a salary of €30 million (after tax) is bound to be a lightning rod for criticism. To casually brush off comments that money wasn’t a motivating factor is a bit daft considering how much he and his family stood to gain from this transfer. Let’s look at the real cases where money didn’t matter, shall we?

In the year 2000, Fernando Redondo moved from Real Madrid to AC Milan after winning the Champions league. On a side note, he was the player who backheeled the football around the Manchester United defender Henning Berg, recovered it at the by line and passed the ball with laser-guided precision to an onrushing Raul Gonzalez who just had to put the ball into an empty net. After moving to AC Milan, he would injure his knee severely in pre-season training and miss close to two and a half years before donning the Rossoneri jersey in a competitive match. Since he was unable to play for his new employers, he refused his salary (which was £2.74 million a year) until he returned to full fitness.

The other prominent example in recent memory is that of former Spanish and Athletic Bilbao winger, Joseba Etxeberria. For more than 13 years, Etxeberria was a regular on the flanks for Bilbao. Then, at the age of 31, after playing second-fiddle in many appearances, Etxeberria agreed to extend his contract by one more year — his last season as a professional — and play for his beloved club side for free. Yes, you heard that right: Free. What is more, this deal was signed in October; he could have very well waited until December end and then spoken to other clubs to bag himself a deal.

After looking at these two outliers, Neymar looks like a gold-digger in comparision. But to be entirely fair to Neymar, most people in his position would have made a similar choice. Stop rolling your eyes for a moment and imagine that one of the top companies in the world offered you your dream job, with an increased responsibility, profile and a steep pay hike to boot. Being ambitious, would you jump over? If you nodded in agreement, it only suggests that our holier-than-thou attitude is hypocritical.

Instead, a more pertinent question would be to question Neymar’s other motives for the move. For the moment, let us ignore the UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations and assume everything is hunky dory. What would really motivate Neymar — a vastly talented footballer yet to reach the peak of his powers — to move to a club like PSG?

Neymar wanted to move away from the giant shadow of Lionel Messi is the angle that renowned sports journalists from The Guardian and BBC have gone with. At Barcelona, he was bound to be Messi’s wingman until he was ready to hand over his baton.

Messi is probably one of the greatest football players of all time and it is certainly no shame playing second fiddle to him; but what would be Neymar’s defining image when he calls time on his career? Would he be remembered as a player who defined an era and pushed the envelope or as someone who was “merely great” in an all-conquering Barcelona team with Messi the only constant?

Remember, David Villa, Samuel Eto, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez (not counting Thierry Henry or Ronaldinho) — all fantastic footballers in their own right — had to make way for the little one. Going by Neymar’s own words of wanting a new challenge, this can be viewed in a new light.

Then again, to be remembered as an era-defining footballer owning his own slice of history, one needs to play an influential role in accumulating team titles. At one point of time it was the FIFA World Cup, but now the focus has shifted to feats in the domestic and UEFA Champions League. The last time a footballer was awarded for his feats in an international tournament was in 2006 —when World cup winning Fabio Cannavaro won the World Player of the year (and before that, the original Ronaldo in 2002). No doubt, being surrounded by talented team members helps when the awards come calling in the yearly Zurich gala.

By moving to PSG, Neymar is guaranteed of domestic success. After all, PSG had won Ligue 1 four times in the last five seasons, apart from three domestic cups. Monaco did well last season but with its squad being torn apart by major European clubs, it is hard to see it repeating the feat. But continental success is a different beast; even a club like Bayern Munich which dominates their domestic league last won it in 2013. Then what chance does PSG have?

At the present, the Spanish clubs have a stranglehold on the European competitions, and PSG’s last few campaigns have been stuttering at best. But supremacy doesn’t last forever in football; the dominance of Italy, Spain and then England seemed everlasting before a swift fall started a new cycle. Perhaps the Spanish clubs are riding the crest of a wave, but is the French club poised to take over?

It is worth remembering that a certain West London club was not one of the top footballing destinations in the world until it was suddenly enriched with Roman Abramovich’s petrodollars in 2003. For years, they made the UCL semi-finals, before winning an improbable final in 2012. Though their aura has dimmed over the last few years, one mustn’t forget that Chelsea were a European backwater 15 years ago.

Perhaps this transfer is the shake-up the footballing world needed to move away from the Spanish hegemony. Yes, players like Ronaldinho (before he was a star), Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Beckham (both after their prime) played for PSG but this time it is different. Nothing says that you’ve arrived like holding on to your much sought-after players (like Marco Verratti), and nabbing a footballer on the cusp of era-defining greatness from one of the superclubs instead.

One of the most marketable athletes of the world wanting to become the main man of a successful team and play in one of the iconic cities of the world is a no-brainer, but whether he gets to make history on the pitch remains to be seen in the days to come.

Updated Date: Aug 05, 2017 11:34 AM

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