Author Mark Richards
The 2017/2018 Premiership season starts this weekend after another summer of transfer records being smashed. Was Neymar worth the money? And where does it all leave die-hard traditionalists?
1893 – and Willy Groves, a forward, is transferred from West Brom to Aston Villa for the utterly ridiculous sum of £100.
Fast forward 12 years and Alf Common goes from Sunderland to Middlesbrough for £1,000. A thousand pounds! What is the world coming to?
But the madness doesn’t stop. There’s a brief hiatus for the First World War, but in 1928 the Gunners pay the Trotters £10,890 for David Jack. (What? Did you not do football nicknames at school? Arsenal bought him from Bolton.)
Surely that must be that? But no, in July 1962 Manchester United pay a transfer fee that will never be equalled, forking out £115,000 to bring Denis Law back from Torino.
The football world gasps in astonishment. England even wins the World Cup. And then the unthinkable happens. On 9th February 1979 Brian Clough, the Nottingham Forest manager, buys Trevor Francis from Birmingham City: Britain’s first million pound player.
Ten million? We’re into pub quiz territory now. Alan Shearer, Blackburn to Newcastle, July 1996.
And we have very nearly had Britain’s first £100m player, with Paul Pogba falling an irritating £10.3m short when Manchester United bought him last summer. But £100m is just loose change to Paris St Germain, who last week triggered the release clause of Neymar da Silva Santos Junior and took him off Barcelona’s hands for the small matter of €222m (around £201m as I write).
Reaction to Neymar’s transfer
Newspapers were instantly full of ‘what can you buy for a Neymar’ articles. You could match the economic output of some of the world’s smaller countries, buy yourself a private jet and spend the rest of your life flying around the world or (my personal favourite) clone 153 new Neymars, with the BBC putting the cost of human cloning at £1.29m.
More pertinently, you could be paid £50,000 a year, work for ten years and earn what Neymar will apparently earn in one week.
As I write we are little more than 12 hours away from the start of another Premiership season – and another season of record revenues. Thanks to buoyant TV income Premier League clubs’ revenues rose 9% to a record £3.6bn in the 2015/2016 season. Broadcast earnings now account for more than half of the top clubs’ revenues, and that looks like it will only go on increasing.
The clubs’ operating profits exceeded £500m for the third season in a row, with wages rising to £2.3bn – or £46m a week.
Was Willy Groves worth a Neymar?
No, he was not – and neither were any of the other record signings. Aston Villa paid £100 for Willy Groves: adjust that for inflation since 1893 and today they would have paid £11,700. I am sorry to make long-term Manchester United fans splutter into their cornflakes but Denis Law in today’s money cost £2.35m. Even Alan Shearer, bought for £15m in 1996 would only cost £26.5m today – around 1/8th of a Neymar and, bluntly, barely the price of a reserve left-back.
The figures clearly show the vast wealth that broadcasting and a worldwide audience have brought into the game. But £200m? As the great man said, ‘You cannot be serious.’
Is Neymar really worth £200m?
It is not just the transfer fee – PSG will also be paying Neymar €500,000 a week after tax. Can he possibly repay this on the football field? It seems very doubtful. The difference between winning the French league and finishing second is a paltry €2m in prize money. Even winning the Champions League instead of simply making the quarter-finals only adds another €25m. And PSG’s ground has a capacity of 48,000 – but last year average attendances were 45,000 so there is little scope for Neymar to increase match day revenue.
What PSG have bought, of course, is the most marketable footballer on the planet. According to Forbes, Neymar is the only footballer in the world to make more money off the pitch than he does on it. He has 79m followers on Instagram, compared to the 73m of Nike (his main sponsor) and the frankly pathetic 8.9m of PSG. Right now, Nike pay Barcelona €155m a season to have their logo on the team’s shirts: PSG in comparison receive only €24m a year. If Neymar lifts PSG to the level of Barca then, goodness me, he will have almost covered his wages.
What about Qatar?
Neymar’s move to PSG was not just a football transfer, it was a political statement. PSG are owned by Qatar Sports Investments: their president is Nasser Al-Khelaifi, a very prominent Qatari businessman and a member of the organising committee of the World Cup. There is no question that Qatar has used to football to try and polish its image: could we see Neymar acting as a spokesman for the 2022 World Cup? If that happens, then the owners will think they got great value for their €222m, irrespective of how PSG perform on the pitch.
It is all a long way from Accrington
I may as well declare that I am something of a football traditionalist. I believe that Newcastle should always play at St James’s Park, that learning the nicknames of all the 92 league teams should be part of the national curriculum and that any ground that does not offer a cup of Bovril at half time should be closed. Last Saturday Accrington Stanley kicked off their season with a 3-1 over the U’s (Colchester) in front of 1,625 hardy souls. Total gate receipts? I’d guess at £24,000: roughly what Neymar will earn for around five minutes’ work.
But clearly I – and all the fans of Stanley, the U’s, the Hatters and the Glovers, are fighting a losing battle. The football we grew up with is never coming back and, as Arsenal kick-off against Leicester tonight, we are in for another season of record profits, record wages and transfer fees that make you think the world has finally taken leave of its senses. But at least it will give the pundits something new to talk about…
“He’s got a good left foot on him, Ron.”
“Bit one-footed for me, Brian.”
“Doesn’t put much of shift in either.”
“Then again he has got 10m Twitter followers.”
“Has he? Sign him up, son, sign him up…”