When Rafael Hernandez glanced upon yet another report on Neymar’s departure from Barcelona, he did not take it too seriously. A respected journalist and a long-time Barca fan, Hernandez knew from his sources that the club’s board were pretty confident of keeping hold of the star player. Then he saw where the report had come from — Brazilian sports portal Globo Esporte.
“They’re very reliable,” Hernandez says. “Then a friend at the club told me he had agreed a deal with PSG and they were trying to make him stay. I knew he was a goner.”
Paris may be decked in the green and blue of the Brazilian flag over the weekend, but a pall of gloom hangs over Barcelona. Neymar's departure is not just about the loss of a player they thought would replace Leo Messi. Ever since the turn of the millennium saw Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola reap what Johann Cryuff had sown many years ago, Barca, along with Real Madrid, were kings of the transfer market.
Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG, they had enough money, but if the Spanish duo wanted a player, they got him. Ronaldinho, Henry, Fabregas, Ibrahimovic, Suarez and Neymar himself — all players coveted by other clubs, all players who ended up at Camp Nou. But that is over now. Barca wanted Neymar, desperately. He did not. The last time that happened, Luis Figo had a pig's head thrown at him for wearing Real's whites.
“Absolutely, Barça has been humiliated and everyone has seen it,” says Hernandez. “We went for Verratti and they took our most valuable player after Messi and who most wrongfully called his heir. Barça will suffer for it, definitely.”
They have upwards of $200 million to compensate for their humiliation, which a flustered board will be tempted to use to raid Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund for the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele. Making up for the vacuum Neymar has left is difficult, but filling in the hole he has blown off may take years.
Is any player worth £198 million? No one knows, but last year the question was 'is any player worth £89 million?', the sum in question being what Manchester United paid to lure Paul Pogba away from Juventus. But after Neymar, nobody is going to be furrowing eyebrows over the £75 million United spent for Romelu Lukaku or the similar sum Chelsea paid for Real Madrid's Alvaro Morata.
Hell! Manchester City paid almost as much for Kyle Walker, a 27-year-old right back yet to win a trophy in his career, as Real did for the record shattering purchase of Kaka, just eight years ago. The world did not need Neymar to realise the transfer market is inflated, but he has just underlined that point and highlighted it with a magic marker.
But perhaps it is not as inflated as we think it is. Perhaps we are just not looking at it right. In 1996, when Newcastle United paid £15 million for Alan Shearer, they were buying one of the best strikers of his generation, guaranteed goals.
But what PSG bought was someone who moved an estimated £18 billion worth of merchandise last year, endorses over 20 of the world’s biggest brands and whose combined social media footprint rounds up to around 160 million. Oh, and he's quite handy on the pitch too.
Baljit Rihal knows a thing or two about the transfer market.
The London-based agent has been involved in deals across the world, including in India. He was instrumental in Steve Coppell going to Jamshedpur FC and Iain Hume ending up at Kerala Blasters. “It had become obviously very inflated,” he says.
“But more than anything, I think clubs are looking at the commercial aspect of the deal and how they can recoup their money, factoring in shirt sales, sponsorship, image rights. So with regards to that, I can see why PSG would want to invest in a player like Neymar.
“Perhaps he will be able to help them win the Champions League.
But apart from the fact that he's a good player, he's a brand. And PSG themselves are looking to become a global brand. If you are to compete with the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona, you have to buy these types of players.”
Just hours after the club confirmed Neymar's capture, a PSG spokesperson claimed that the club’s value had risen overnight by half a billion euros. Neymar is yet to see a football field in France but has already scored.
What does seven Italian warships and Neymar have in common? All are offensive signings made by Qatar this week is how the joke goes.
A ‘state-sponsored' club is how La Liga chief Javier Tebas chose to describe PSG and it couldn't be closer to the truth. The name on the contract might read PSG, but it is the hydrocarbon-fueled gulf state that Neymar has effectively signed for.
Take how the whole move happened, for instance. Neymar was roped in by Qatar as an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup for an estimated 280 million euros. He takes 220 million of that and buys out his Barca contract, effectively signing for PSG on a free. Nobody is even trying to be subtle here.
But what has Qatar got to gain from a Brazilian playing for a French club in France? For years, the gulf state has been investing in sports in a bid to boost its profile overseas. Asian Games in 2006, 2022 World Cup, 2019 Athletics World Championships, PSG, the list goes on.
Another $20 billion has been earmarked for the same, the country’s minister of economy said last year, all an effort to make them look good. It is perhaps no coincidence that Neymar’s transfer comes at a time when Qatar is navigating a major diplomatic crisis, shunned by their Arab neighbours on charges of funding terrorism.
On the topmost floor of the Qatar Football Association office in Doha, there is a war room with a number of large screens, each allowing the highest officials to monitor 24x7, how their money is being spent at the respective World Cup venues. It will be no surprise if they add one more screen there to see what Neymar is up to.