Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Neymar, an 'out of control' transfer market and why Philippe Coutinho and Virgil van Dijk could still get their moves

Even if no signing goes as sensationally high as Neymar’s, Barca’s next deal is influenced by it and their necessity to buy, thus creating a knock-on effect for Liverpool and then Southampton

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 18 August 2017 08:05 BST
Neymar's move has sparked a transfer trail across the continent which has ramped up valuations
Neymar's move has sparked a transfer trail across the continent which has ramped up valuations (Getty)

On Wednesday, Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger set as unmoving a stance as possible for this window and insisted Virgil van Dijk is “not for sale”, but there are some close to the club who believe there is still a degree of flexibility to that.

They feel that the hierarchy are just waiting for Liverpool to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, so that they can then charge the Anfield club even more for the Dutch defender. Maybe above £80m.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have set as strong a stance on the Brazilian as Southampton did with Van Dijk and have no public will to sell to Barcelona, but there are similarly some who believe that there is a price Anfield just couldn’t turn down. That price is probably much higher than it would have been even a month ago, thanks to Neymar’s record-breaking transfer to PSG.

Since Barca sold the Brazilian star for £198 against their will, anyone they want to fill the player’s shoes will immediately be priced in relation to that deal. Coutinho may not be as good as Neymar but he is a seriously talented young midfielder who Barcelona would mould into one of new focal points of their team, so £160m would seem fair - and very difficult to turn down.

This is one of a few big reasons why so many fees are now so high, why someone as admittedly talented as Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele can be priced at over £100m after just six good months, and why everyone from Arsene Wenger to Carlo Ancelotti to Jose Mourinho has complained about a market that is “out of control”.

That market is certainly out of sync with inflation. While Alan Shearer’s record transfer to Newcastle wowed the world in 1996, that price of £15m would be just over £25m today. That is a mere 13 per cent of Neymar’s deal.

Neymar signed for PSG for £200m (Getty)

The football business itself has of course drastically transformed in the 21 years since then, and is barely recognisable in a commercial sense. Clubs have transformed as businesses. As one indication, Exxon was the biggest company in the world in 2005 at £363bn. Its worth has more doubled in 11 years, compared to how Manchester United's market cap over the same timescale more than tripled. The growth of football clubs has thereby outstripped broader industries, further explaining this escalation in transfers.

The broadcasting money in the Premier League, in particular, has created a seller’s market where everyone sees English clubs coming, and thereby immediately jacks up their prices, so that full-backs now go for more than £50m. And that is still despite the fact those same English clubs have been generally reluctant to go so high and don’t want to be seen spending too easily for fear that a market precedent could set.

Neymar's sale has had huge ripple effects on the transfer market (Getty Images)

Many at the top end of the game and directly involved in its commercial side feel that this is far from the case with Paris Saint-Germain. There is a belief from some that the French club are trying to “short-squeeze” the market, and pay huge amounts and huge wages for as many big-name players as possible, knowing in the long term that only very few clubs will be able to afford them.

It remains to be seen whether that fear is justified, but it will have only been deepened by widespread accounts that Real Madrid simply can’t match the deal that PSG would be willing to give Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe. One source has it that the teenager’s entourage went to the Bernabeu hierarchy explaining what is on the table from Paris, but that Madrid could not get close to it.

It is also why the size of the Neymar deal may have seemed unique but could yet have common effects, as illustrated by the suspected transfer trail from the Brazilian to Van Dijk. Even if no signing goes as sensationally high as Neymar’s, Barca’s next deal is influenced by it and their necessity to buy, thus creating a knock-on effect. That’s why the valuation for a player of a certain standard at the top end of the scale is now breaching £100m.

Real Madrid can't match the deal PSG are offering Mbappe (AFP/Getty Images)

The economist in Wenger once again spotted this before anyone, arguing just after Paul Pogba’s 2016 transfer that “it will not be long before we see a £150m or £200m signing”. It has all escalated, and won’t stop until the money coming in does, as Wenger also argued back then. “Since I started in the game I said, at some stage, it has to stop but as long as football develops and becomes more popular you would say that more money will come in. “

It doesn’t mean that short-squeeze approach is absolutely destined for success, or that it will completely distort the market. There are still only a finite number of players that can be bought by the wealthiest clubs, amid a huge global player population. As Monaco have shown, a lower-scale investment in proper scouting can still have much greater returns.

Wenger foresaw the days of the £200m transfer fee (Arsenal FC)

We also still see a market where Juventus have been able to buy Blaise Matuidi for £20m. This is one offset by outrageous expenditure. Just like with Real Madrid themselves in 2009 - when they twice broke the world record with Kaka and then Cristiano Ronaldo - they then have to offload players just to create squad space, in situations that suddenly favour the buyer.

It emphasises that, even in a market that is “out of control”, some composed thinking can still go a long way. Money may still talk louder than anything in football, but it doesn’t always have the last word.

But a suitably outrageous price may still mean, however, that the last words in the Van Dijk and Coutinho situations are “yes, we’ll sell”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in