A study of the modern superstar: Why Neymar does not deserve Barcelona abuse for PSG move
When Neymar announced to the media that he had decided to join Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona “for a greater” challenge, he was met with derision. When he said he was following his heart, he was accused instead of following his wallet.
After a €222 million deal that many Barcelona fans thought – or at least hoped – was impossible, the Brazilian has plummeted from hero to villain, facing accusations of blind greed.
Neymar does not, however, deserve to face such criticism.
Fans may point to figures of old, the mythical one-club man, as the norm in days of old. This is a romantic notion that is little more than that. What they forget, however, is that often these players were handcuffed to the club with a ball and chain round their ankles, given few employment rights until the Bosman Ruling in December 1995 changed everything.
Since then, footballer’s wages have exploded to unimaginable levels. Neymar, for example, will earn in two minutes what many people will take an entire day to make.
As reportedly the second highest paid player in the world with an annual salary of around €29m, behind only Shanghai Shenhua’s Carlos Tevez at €37.5m, he offers an extreme example, but the average Premier League player last season earned £2.8 million on average, according to the Global Sports Salary Survey.
These are unimaginable figures for the everyday person.
It is also unimaginable for Joe Bloggs to be offered a pay rise equating to twice their salary. Despite the massive wage Neymar was on at Barcelona – reportedly €16m a year - the lure of being able to nearly double that in Paris was too much.
Yes, he was moving for the money, but no, he does not deserve criticised for it.
Just as football is now a business, players have become businessmen, selling their wares to the highest bidder. A select few offer unconditional loyalty - Joseba Etxeberria, who offered to play his last season at Athletic Bilbao for free, being one – but these men are a rare breed.
Even those heralded as one-club legends can have tainted legacies. Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, for example, only remained at Anfield in 2005 when he was offered a giant pay rise amid interest from Chelsea that seemed set to drag him to Stamford Bridge.
Neymar is working along the same principle, just as Barcelona exploited his talents on the field and marketability off it to extract every possible cent from his presence at Camp Nou.
Now it is PSG’s challenge to profit from his presence both on the field and as a brand. Initial reports suggest that they sold almost €1m worth of Neymar branded shirts from official club shops on Friday alone, with supply struggling to keep up with demand. It is this kind of financial injection that they are banking on to allow them to stay within the confines of Financial Fair Play (FFP) legislation.
They are acutely aware of the draw that Neymar offers and have paid him handsomely in return for effectively promoting their club.
“Before Neymar signed the club was worth €1bn and now it is worth €1.5bn,” president Nasser Al-Khelaifi claimed at the player’s presentation to the media on Friday. “Today he’s the most expensive player ever, but in two or three years will he be?
“I’m sure we’ll make more money than we’ve paid.”
While some may disparage the player for having moved to Ligue 1 – a less competitive league than the England or Spain, for sure, though not nearly by the margins critics might suggest – he remains at a team harbouring serious ambitions of winning the Champions League.
Had he arrived in Paris a year earlier, there is little chance that Barcelona would have achieved their stunning 6-1 success over PSG in March that saw them progress past the Parc des Princes side. It was, as Neymar said, “The best game I’ve ever played.”
He was truly the difference.
Out of the shadow of Lionel Messi, and to a lesser extent that of Luis Suarez, at PSG he now has the opportunity to create a personal legacy. Regardless of what he achieves at Camp Nou, this Barcelona generation will be known as the team that Messi led; in Paris, it’s all about Neymar.
Fans must understand that each time players open their mouths, they are acting as politicians, carefully measuring their words for maximum short-term benefit but often with a longer game plan in mind.
PSG fans should, therefore, pay little heed when Neymar says he has “followed his heart” to join them. It is not a flaw in his character, it is just part of the game.
Barca have been spoiled in the past due to the loyalty of their crop, often due to the close connection they feel to the club and the prolonged period of success it has enjoyed.
Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and, to an extent, Gerard Pique, who had a brief sojourn with Manchester United, are among those stars to have come through the ranks and fiercely defended the club’s honour. Barca are lucky: most teams do not have such a loyal core.
Neymar’s move is a taste of reality for the Blaugrana. It’s bitter but it’s modern football and the player doesn’t deserve to bear the brunt of it.