In August 2017, French football club Paris Saint-Germain spent $262 million to acquire Brazilian forward Neymar. The figure wasn’t just astronomical, it was unheard of as a club paid more for one player than most football teams around the world pay their entire squads for years at a time.
The fee PSG paid to Spain’s Barcelona to acquire Neymar didn’t even include his salary. Neymar’s five-year contract before tax will make him $350m, and by the end of the player’s deal, PSG will have been on the hook for around $600m.
PSG’s outlay for Neymar isn’t something a mere football club can easily pay. So, why can the Parisian club afford the vast sums Neymar is earning? The club’s owner, Qatar Sports Investment, is headed by Nasser Al-Khelaifi. The club’s ownership group has direct relations with the Qatari government and with the country hosting the 2022 World Cup, the deal for Neymar was seen as propaganda move. The decision to allow the Middle Eastern nation to host the World Cup didn’t go down well with football fans, experts and even players. The country’s weather wasn’t the only problem with Qatar’s selection, as the country has a terrible human rights record that has seen thousands of foreign nationals brought into the country to work jobs for low pay. It has also led to many of these same workers forced to live in terrible conditions. Claims have been made Qatar’s tourism board will also pay Neymar as an ambassador for the World Cup, which would see the organization pick up some of the player’s salary.
But Neymar’s world record signing by PSG wasn’t just about getting football fans excited about the World Cup in four years. In June 2017, a Saudi-led alliance cut ties with Qatar. The tiny Arab nation of 2.57 million people was accused of sponsoring terrorism. Qatar went on the offensive after it was accused of supporting terrorists and it grabbed headlines by investing in companies around the world and buying Neymar. The headlines took Qatar’s alleged support of terrorism out of the headlines and put Neymar’s picture on the front cover of newspapers around the globe. By throwing around silly amounts of money, Qatar turned a negative situation into a positive campaign that changed the common person’s opinion of the nation.
On the pitch, Neymar’s signing hasn’t changed much for PSG. Although the team didn’t win the French domestic league last season, the team won the four previous titles in consecutive years. This year’s Ligue 1 has been completely ruled by PSG and it will once again capture the French title.
The real trophy PSG sought was the Champions League. However, the club was once again eliminated in the quarterfinal stages. Neymar didn’t even feature in the team’s second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal as the player recovered from an ankle injury at home in Brazil, as PSG crashed out of the competition.
Now with just a few months left in the football season, PSG’s decision to part with $600m over five years doesn’t look to be money well spent. Rumors of the Neymar being unhappy in Paris are being reported, and a possible move to Spain’s Real Madrid is possible. Whether the Spanish team would stump up the money to sign him is unknown, but parting with comparable money seems unlikely.
PSG’s incredible transfer fee for Neymar shows money cannot buy success, at least not with just one player. Yet, while the team’s fortunes in the Champions League weren’t turned around by Neymar, his signing did exactly what the public relations experts would have hoped nearly a year ago. It gave a positive spin on the negative headlines associated with Qatar. Can PSG comeback next season and win the Champions League? Of course, the club certainly can. But one Champions League trophy can’t justify the money spent by one football club.