They say the market finds a way. Which, I suppose, is not so much a political capitalist statement as commentary on the entrepreneurial, creative, and/or exploitative nature of humanity. The ongoing saga of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play, Qatar, Barcelona, PSG, and the guy at the center of it all, Neymar showcases the best and worst of humanity’s struggle to govern itself. As the last standing resident wise sage of ESPNFC, Gab Marcotti writes the best take on the entire Neymar transfer issue and if you want the particulars, you can find them there.
Financial Fair Play was instituted to be a safeguard on clubs from spending themselves into oblivion as quite a few did at the turn of the century in an attempt to keep up with wealthier clubs. We all know what happened to Borussia Dortmund in the early 2000s, and under the 50+1 rule, it required a bail-out from none other than Bayern Munich to stay solvent. We know the horror stories of Leeds United and other former English power-houses of the 1970s and 1980s whose owners went on awfully ill-advised financial courses and nearly ruined their clubs. FFP was supposed to fix that. It did. But the unintended consequence merely created the stratified situation in which we find ourselves. The rich, powerful clubs continue to get richer and more powerful while the smaller, yet ambitious clubs are handcuffed in what they can and can’t do to invest in their own club.
So where do we find ourselves today. We have traditional super-clubs whose history, sporting success, and peaking at the right time to catch the wave of global TV and marketing profits like Real Madrid (and a bit of government favoritism), Barca, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich. And we have the ambitious ones with truck-loads of Persian Gulf petro-Euros who have looked to join this fraternity of super-clubs using any means exploitable: Manchester City and Paris Saint Germaine. As Marcotti pointed out in his piece, the way FFP is structured, it remains to be seen if PSG did in fact violate the prohibitions on deficit spending in any way, and it also depends upon UEFA’s interpretation and financial investigations and appraisals to rule on any wrongdoings on the government of Qatar (which frankly was behind all aspects of this entire deal from the start). But even if UEFA reigns in this shady right hand passing money to another party just to get the left hand paid kind of money-laundering, where do they draw the line?
Earlier this year UEFA ruled that RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig can participate in the UEFA Champions League despite the prohibitions that no two clubs with same controlling entities could play. The ruling stated the two clubs had done enough to satisfy UEFA that the ownership of the clubs was sufficiently removed from the Red Bull company to qualify as independent despite all other evidence to the contrary (hello undervalued RB Salzburg transfer to Leipzig list!). This could hit home for us at Dortmund as well. How does a big club without the huge profits keep their marquee players? When Marco Reus extended his contract with BVB during the near-disastrous season of 2014-15, fans across the world expressed their admiration of a local boy’s devotion to his hometown club. The more cynical among us wondered how much of a role Puma’s direct influx of cash into Reus’s wages had to do with the new deal. We know that Puma have a sizable sponsorship with BVB. What happens when Dortmund are tired of playing perennial Bundesliga bridesmade and invite Puma to take a sizable controlling interest in the club in exchange for cash to finance a wage structure and transfer strategy that could keep the world class players they would normally sell?
Regardless of what happens with FFP, Neymar, PSG, and Barcalona, the irreversible knock-on effects of this deal are happening right now. Barca is ready to panic buy and are throwing their Neymar money at Liverpool and BVB. Even if FFP and UEFA heavily sanction PSG for shenanigans in the future, the damage to European football and the aftereffects of this deal will continue. The market will remain over-inflated and other crazy owners, corporations, and even governments will continue to find ways to bypass the rules obviously only meant for clubs with lesser ambitions. As they say in NASCAR, if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.