Neymar, PSG and the increasing irrelevance of the transfer fee

Neymar’s £198million move to Paris Saint-Germain is the latest in a string of expensive transfers in the parallel universe that is the football world.

Last summer, Paul Pogba’s £89m switch to Manchester United broke the world record, with the same club signing Romelu Lukaku for a similarly high fee a year on.

Philippe Coutinho, who cost Liverpool £8.5m from Inter Milan in 2013, would fetch a nine-figure fee, although his club are adamant they will not sell. Even 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe is being touted as someone who will potentially go for more than £150m should he leave AS Monaco.

The figures in a market so inflated, not just in England as it has been in the past, but all over Europe too, are only half the story. Clubs are now so wealthy that even mega-bids are not convincing them to cash in.

RB Leipzig, a club established in 2009, turned down a £66m offer for midfielder Naby Keita, who they signed for £12m last summer and who can leave for £48m in twelve months time. In times gone by, the money would be too good to turn down – that is no longer the case.

Liverpool – the team who offered the £66m – find themselves in a comparable situation with the aforementioned Coutinho, with Jurgen Klopp claiming they will not sell for any price. With no buy-out clause in the Brazilian’s contract, signed earlier this calendar year, Liverpool are in a strong position, and with ample finances, are under no pressure to make a quick buck, as they might have had to in the past.

The money floating around in football has long been astronomical; unfathomable to most, and incomparable to any other industry. The transfer of Neymar, though, has catapulted that to another level.

Who knows whether these sort of fees are unsustainable. The trend previously would suggest the value of transfers only tends to go one way: upwards. As yet, there is no sign that they are letting up.

Football inflation is like nothing else, but from Papin to Pogba, via Shearer, Figo, Zidane and the two Ronaldo’s, the world record transfer fee has been broken sixteen times since 1992.

Never before have transfer fees begun to regress, and whilst that is not to say it will never happen, it would be unprecedented and is perhaps difficult to imagine. Certainly for now, they continue to increase.

The real question to ponder is whether transfer fees even matter anymore.

Be it because of a wealthy owner in the case of Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, huge revenues for the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, or colossal television deals for any Premier League side, money spent purely on the transfer fee is becoming less important.

Wages are still potential stumbling blocks for some (Tottenham, for example, are loath to break a strict structure, rightly wary of having one player on double the money of anyone else and the problems that might cause), but the higher transfer values soar, the more normal it will become to consistently splash massive money on individual players.

If ‘Club A’ want £180m for ‘Player X’, but ‘Club B’ open the bidding at £150m, what is another £30m when you are prepared to go so big to begin with? Around the year 2000, £30m would have been a near-world record fee in itself; now (in this example) it is only an extra 20% on an initial bid.

Clubs now have more money than ever before. They don’t have to sell assets, and at the same time can afford to pay more than ever for ones they want to acquire.

There is no guarantee that big bids will be accepted in this new scenario, as the Keita case proves, but big deals are still being done on an increasingly common frequency.

Transfer fees are less relevant than ever, and as they continue to rise, will get ever closer to becoming insignificant.

Football clubs have hit a cash goldmine, and eye watering fees are increasingly very much the norm.