As Brazilian demigod Neymar embarks on a labyrinthine dribble all the way from Barcelona to PSG, the world transfer record is set to more than double overnight. Just under a year ago, Manchester United parted with £89m to attract Paul Pogba from Juventus, a sum in keeping with transfer market inflation over the last decade. But the Neymar deal belongs to a rather different statistical, and moral, category.
With PSG reportedly amassing a fee of nearly £200m, we are entering one of capitalism’s great glass elevator moments. Global finance, which tends to use modern football as a test laboratory, has made another of its skyward leaps into a new normal. Meanwhile most of us are left on the ground, wondering how on earth these soaring figures relate to our daily struggles with the neoliberal economy.
There will, no doubt, be those who will try to rationalise the Neymar deal.
But the argument that £198m for one player makes sense as part of an attempt to expand the PSG franchise – and by extension, the profile of Ligue 1 and French football in general – is likely to strike many as an absurdity.
We can see some similarities between big issues such as the housing market in Britain and the buying and selling of football players between clubs. They both demonstrate how a market-centred economy tends to separate commodities from communities in ways that are irrational and, one would hope, unsustainable.
A recent Momentum video, which by some was deemed controversial, included the hypothetical case of a middle-aged woman scoffing at millennial profligacy, while a caption revealed that a house she had purchased in 1981 for £20,000 is now worth £1.5m. In a parallel statistic from the world of football, Neymar’s reputed £198m fee is put into context by the fact that the record transfer fee in 1981 was just £1.75m (for Paolo Rossi’s move from Juventus to Vicenza five years beforehand). In both cases the increase is, broadly, in the region of a hundredfold.
You don’t have to be a trained economist to note the inflation-dwarfing rises here, or to wonder where the windfall has ended up. Just as money has been redistributed from poor to rich partly by way of a wildly unequal property market over the last four decades, so too has post-1980s European football channelled supporter money – derived from increases in ticket sales, merchandise and TV packages – directly into the banks of superstar players (or worse, the retail empires of owners like Mike Ashley).
It is clear that the current climate, in which most involved in the game passively accept the “realism” of marketisation, or else justify player and owner profits on the grounds of “investment”, must change pretty quickly.
In football, as in so many other walks of society, it is becoming increasingly clear that robust government regulation is the only way to counteract the dizzying excesses of big business. Grassroots elements like supporters’ trusts can only achieve so much on their own.
In order to curb the extent to which football’s profits are directed away from public and towards private interests, an interventionist programme that far exceeds the proposals in the 2017 Labour manifesto must be first imagined, then implemented. Only this sort of ceiling can check the dizzying upward trajectory of football’s profiteers.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies