PSG bring into question FFP credibility

It is unlikely that we will forget this summer’s transfer window in a hurry. Football now appears to have entered uncharted territory, with PSG’s extraordinary flurry of transfer activity. The signings of Neymar for €222 million and Kylian Mbappé on a season-long loan, with a call option to buy for a touted €180 million in June 2018, are somewhat farcical.

With Qatari backers at the helm, PSG have completely uprooted any sense of conventionality in the market. Their titanic struggle with La Liga over the pursuit of Neymar was unusual, as it involved the need to trigger a release clause in the Brazilian’s contract. In Spain, a release clause can only be activated by a player buying himself out of his contract. Once Neymar’s team of lawyers had deposited this cash with La Liga, the league's officials decided to reject the payment. The Parisians simply paid it to Barcelona instead.

Why did La Liga behave in such a way? Well you are sort of seeing those reasons pan out as you read this. As of Friday 1st September, UEFA announced that they were launching a legal investigation into alleged overspending by PSG, and a subsequent flouting of financial fair play (FFP) rules. Such rules dictate that a club cannot breach losses in excess of €5 million for the 2017/18 season, or €30 million if an owner covers the other €25 million. It seems almost unequivocal that the French side will have to be put onto the naughty step.

What are the potential sanctions likely to be? Could we see the Parisian club kicked out of the Champions League? That would send the strongest possible message to other clubs with intentions to splash the cash in January. More likely consequences may include the withholding of Champions League prize money, while PSG could be forced into reducing the size of their squad in order to meet their astronomical expenses bill. And we haven’t even considered the possibility of a transfer ban - fans of Barcelona will remember the same punishment dished out to them by FIFA in 2014, for significantly lesser offences.* An unprecedented move at the time.

Away from the legal ramifications of PSG’s alleged misdemeanours, we are now witnessing a heavily inflated market for footballers. Neymar’s move from Barcelona to the French capital was a whopping 138% more than what Paul Pogba cost Manchester United in August 2016. In response, the Catalan giants signed 20 year-old French prodigy Ousmane Dembélé from Borussia Dortmund for a staggering €105 million plus add-ons. Earlier in August, Liverpool had rejected a third bid from Barcelona for their Brazilian winger Coutinho in the region of €130m. Only yesterday, the Anfield club rebutted rumours that they were holding out for €200m. The domino effect is alive and kicking.

What does the football world say about all of this? Now we all know that Arsène Wenger is the most prudent of managers when it comes to spending. His reaction to Manchester United’s €105 million acquisition of Pogba was to urge that all clubs put “values and identity” above buying success. Roll on one year later and Arsenal had a €100m bid for Monaco winger Thomas Lemar fall through, after the player rejected a move to the Emirates. In its aftermath, the pandemonium was all too evident on ArsenalFanTV, as supporters berated Wenger for a lack of ambition.

The best perspective of where we are in 2017 is perhaps left to Barcelona director Albert Soler however.

"We used to be the ones that led the market and now countries and investment funds are leading it. Countries have become the main agents in the football world."

Say no more.

*FIFA handed down the 14-month transfer ban in April 2014, when Barcelona were found to have violated Article 19 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players by signing international players under the age of 18.

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