It wasn’t, Kylian Mbappé would like you to know, about the money. Admittedly, it may seem – to the childish, the innocent, the uninformed – as if he had spent the last year playing Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain against each other in order to increase its value and get the most profit. possibility of contract. But that, rest assured, is just an illusion.
Money, in fact, barely entered the negotiations, certainly with PSG In Mbappé’s account, this particular topic only came up at the end: There were “a few minutes” of discussions amount he would be paid, he said, but there were several months to pinpoint the precise nature of PSG’s “sporting project”.
Of course, it is not yet clear what form this project will take. Mbappé has denied that the three-year deal he signed last week includes a set of clauses guaranteeing him the right to veto, in effect, various appointments at the club, ranging from managers to sporting directors to players .
Whether the clauses are written does not matter. It’s inconceivable that a club would make the kind of financial commitment that PSG made to 23-year-old Mbappé and not make crucial decisions in front of him. Lionel Messi enjoyed a similar influence in his later years at Barcelona. This is the privilege granted to the best players in the world.
This, however, does not indicate that there has been as much change in PSG’s ‘sporting project’ as Mbappé might want to believe. For the past 10 years, it has been PSG policy to hire gifted superstars at exorbitant prices and cater to their whims. There are countless stories about Neymar’s casual approach to training. At least one manager found that his team fundamentally disagreed with him that they might need to pressure their opponents.
PSG favored a lenient and individualistic philosophy, with little or no thought about structure or system, and it ultimately prevented the club from achieving their greatest ambition: winning the Champions League. To break with that, PSG’s plan appears to be to retain a gifted superstar at an exorbitant price and cater to his whims.
And the cost is exorbitant. Mbappé will receive at least $75 million in salary during his contract, after taxes. There’s a $125 million golden handshake to sign. Factor in the roughly $200m that PSG refused from Real Madrid last summer, and the deal cost PSG around $400m.
It is easy now to be dazzled by the money in football, to feel inoculated against the excesses of the sport. After all, there are so many zeros. After a while the numbers stop offending, climbing higher and higher until it seems arbitrary to draw a line – why is $25 million a year too much, but $15 million per year acceptable? – and the numbers begin to fade in incomprehension.
But they matter in the end, and they matter because of what follows in their wake. Money in football is not really about money. Players don’t really believe they need those extra few hundred thousand dollars, or they’ll be deprived. Yes, they generally (and understandably) want to maximize their earnings from a brief career, but their motivations are often more rooted in power, status, and value.
The parable of Ashley Cole, the former Arsenal defender, who nearly ran off the road because his club offered him $63,000 a week, instead of the $69,000 a week he thought he owed, is not about not a man dismayed by the prospect of impending scarcity. There’s almost nothing, after all, that $3.5 million a year can buy you that $3.2 million a year can’t buy you.
No, what upset Cole was the feeling that Arsenal didn’t value him as much as his teammates or, worse, his peers. Other players of his quality were earning far more than him, he knew, and if Arsenal weren’t prepared to offer the going rate, then perhaps the club didn’t appreciate his contributions as much as they did. thought.
This is the problem with the Mbappé affair. Each time superstar salaries rise, they slowly but surely drag everyone else down with them, pulling the sport’s Overton window further and further into the stratosphere.
PSG will be able to deal with that, of course, when Mbappé’s teammates appear to demand improved terms in light of the new normal. Even $400 million is not a figure that will shake the nation state of Qatar. And maybe his peers among Europe’s elite will be fine too, when Mohamed Salah or Kevin De Bruyne or Vinícius Junior or Pedri begin their next round of negotiations using Mbappé as a starting point.
But further down the food chain there will be a problem. Some clubs will swallow the extra cost of retaining talent, with all the risks that entails. Others will choose to cash in and resell, further driving the wedge between the aristocrats and everyone else.
The statement released the day after Mbappé’s decision by Javier Tebas, La Liga’s outspoken president, was a strange one, fermented almost entirely from sour grapes. Its central principle – that the best way to protect everyone against competitive imbalance was to introduce After of it to the competition he leads – was somewhere between coward and hypocrite.
And yet, underneath it all, Tebas is right. It is dangerous that salaries are artificially inflated by clubs without any constraint on their finances. This poses a threat to the health of football as a whole. It’s, in some ways, not all that different from the core Super League problem.
The problem, of course, is that there is no one, no one at all, willing to do anything about it. Tebas wasn’t the only leader to be provoked by Mbappé’s signing to make a somewhat odd statement. His Ligue 1 counterpart, Vincent Labrune, replied to Tebas reminding everyone that Real Madrid and Barcelona have been found guilty of receiving illegal state aid.
Al-Khelaifi himself took the unusual stance of suggesting that Tebas was worried about Ligue 1 catching up with La Liga, simultaneously misunderstanding that worrying about this sort of thing is the essence of Tebas’ job, and apparently disparaging the league that his club and broadcast network, beIN Sports, have done so much to subsidize in recent years.
(None of this was as strange as Emmanuel Macron, the French president, intervening to persuade Mbappé to stay in Paris: Macron is a sincere and passionate fan of Marseilles, and is unlikely to love anything more than seeing Mbappé disappear in Spain, along with most of his teammates.)
That not everyone saw beyond their own agendas was neither surprising nor outrageous. Tebas’ role is to promote and protect La Liga, just like al-Khelaifi’s role – or one of them, anyway – is to act in the best interests of PSG. is, without a doubt, in PSG’s best interests not only to accumulate as much talent as possible, but to make it increasingly difficult for all of their rivals to keep up.
What is more disappointing is that there is no one, anywhere, who seems willing or able to tackle these issues, not from the point of view of an individual club or a specific league, but with the interests of the sport – the industry – in mind. What is good for PSG or Real Madrid is not necessarily in the interest of the game as a whole; football needs someone in a position of influence to say that, but they are conspicuous by their absence.
The most obvious candidate, UEFA, has shied away from its responsibilities, confounded by its double role of supreme authority of weight and organizer of unscrupulous competitions. It was UEFA that allowed self-interest to fester and venality to flourish. It was UEFA that forgot that for football to function in good health, it must be treated as a collective enterprise.
If not, he risks being fractured beyond repair, the golden goose bound and quartered, sold to the highest bidder in a market twisted beyond reason by a handful of teams – and this description suits both Real Madrid and PSG – and, now, by a single deal, an act of vanity and bravado from a club that refuses to have anything stand in its way, whose vision for the he future is that everywhere should be Paris, for which it is really not a question of money. Because when you’ve had enough, money has no meaning, and there are so many zeros that it loses all meaning.
William Ireland, clearly, has combed through this column. “I’ve seen that the England Women’s Super League is said to be the strongest in the world and I don’t understand why,” he wrote.
“Chelsea have been humiliated in the Champions League for the past two years. Arsenal looked way behind this year. When European teams have faced NWSL sides, Lyon and Barcelona Femení have been paired. had more publicity and more fans, and that’s great, but at the moment it doesn’t seem to be the best in Europe, let alone in the world.
That’s a great point, and there are a few factors that come into play. First, of course, is your general exceptionalism in English. Second, football’s innate Eurocentrism. Third, a degree of hyperbole which is tied, at bottom, to the rapid rise of the WSL.
But the most interesting is the fourth, something noted by at least two Barcelona players: television. A lot of football from Spain’s women’s top flight, for example, is not shown. This makes it difficult for people to know how high the standard is; a lot of what we see is Barcelona winning games, 8-0, and it’s natural, to some extent, to assume that many of their opponents are substandard.
The view of Barcelona’s Norwegian wing Caroline Graham Hansen, certainly, is that this is not the case; she argues that the ease with which Barcelona win games is a testament to their ability, rather than an indictment of their opponents. Until fans can judge for themselves, however, the tendency will be to assume that the league we see the most – the WSL, say, or the NWSL – is the strongest.
Bob Honigmeanwhile, wonders if the presence of the (men’s) World Cup in the middle of next season could “make club teams that are not so dependent on national team players more competitive?
It’s a logical conclusion, of course. Teams whose players get a rest halfway through next season should get the break; the skills gap should, to some extent, be bridged by a greater degree of freshness. I think we can all hope that is the case, but let’s not forget the golden rule of modern football: no matter what, the big teams win.