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Project Neymar: How PSG’s summer of spending changed European soccer

Now that the dust has settled on the summer European soccer transfer window we can finally take a breath and look back at one of the wildest spending sprees in sports history.

This spending was highlighted by Paris Saint-Germain, who bought the next best player in the world in Neymar and “loaned” the next, NEXT best player in the world, the 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe.

The Neymar purchase is worth a reported €222 million, and the clause to buy Kylian Mbappe after his loan ends next summer is worth around €180 million, both of which are new records for money spent on one player.

So if you’re keeping track at home, PSG bought both of the most expensive players ever in the same summer.

Not only were they the biggest fees ever, they dwarf the previous record sum Manchester United paid just last summer for Paul Pogba (around €105 million) and the money Barcelona spent on Ousmane Dembele, Neymar’s replacement.

So how did we get here? How did a club outside the big four leagues in England, Spain, Italy, and Germany stage such a coup on the traditional powers of Europe and flip the soccer world on its head?

Well, mostly money.

In 2011, Qatar Sports Investment, a shareholding company with actual stake in the Qatari state, bought PSG, a team founded in 1970 who had won Ligue 1 only twice before (in 1985-86 and 1993-94) and had very little history or influence besides the fact that it was located in one of the largest cities in the world.

But with the backing of Qatari Sports Investment, and their aggressive chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi, PSG has transformed into the team in France.

They’ve captured the French league in every season since the Qatari takeover, besides the first season in 2011-2012 (when they finished 2nd) and last year (when they finished 2nd).

Losing the French title to an upstart Monaco team last year surely contributed to PSG’s wild spend this summer. But the real reason behind the massive amounts of cash PSG is throwing around right now is their ambition to compete in the Champions League.

That ambition has led to PSG going from buying solid players like Hatem Ben Arfa and Jese last summer to buying fucking NEYMAR and Mbappe.

PSG’s spending has resulted in a massive change in the dynamics of Ligue 1 spending across the board as teams have to react to try and keep up.

Some of this money is trickle-down money from PSG. As Monaco came in second in total money spent, surely helped by PSG, Manchester City, and Chelsea plucking away the talent that led Monaco to the title last season.

The spending in Ligue 1 rose 435% from last summer and equates to more than a half a billion euros.

And none of this even factors in the nearly €200 million price-tag of Kylian Mbappe that will go through next summer.

Naturally, some people aren’t very happy about this. There are supposed guidelines set up by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, aimed at preventing clubs owned by mega-rich financiers, or mega-rich countries, from buying every possible player.

These rules, dubbed “Financial Fair Play” (FFP), stipulate that teams can only spend a certain amount more than they make in a period of 3 years.

But PSG has seemed to find a loophole by only “loaning” Kylian Mbappe from Monaco, although everyone knows he’s officially a PSG player, but the money will supposedly not go to Monaco until next summer.

UEFA has said that they are investigating PSG’s summer spending, but there has been very little in terms of tangible results coming out of the FFP offices since its inception. To suddenly punish PSG now after years of unfettered spending by the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and the Manchester clubs, would seem a bit harsh.

Nonetheless, soccer figures have come out to criticize PSG’s spending, particularly the way they are doing it with the aid of an oil-rich country like Qatar. Spain’s La Liga president Javier Tebas said the “state aid” spending would “irreparably harm the football industry.”

Bayern Munich’s president Uli Hoeness called PSG’s spending “madness” and that his team would not take part in such things,

“I don’t want to buy a player for €150million or €200million. I don’t want to join in such madness. That’s something that we will refuse totally at Bayern.”

But Noel Le Graet, the vice-president of the French Football Federation basically said that all these other clubs and administrators are just butthurt that there’s a new sheriff in town.

Le Graet told L’Equipe that PSG have always honored French rules and that UEFA has turned a blind eye in the past to huge spending by other clubs,

“PSG have always honored their commitments. We can’t make any reproach to them in fiscal or social terms. I don’t see them not respecting the rules in place in France. UEFA is worried. It wasn’t too worried by others at a moment in time, notably in La Liga.”

The French football official also spoke about the role of Qatar in financing PSG’s spending,

“PSG are criticized for getting state help [from their Qatari owners]. We can’t — as French football officials — be against a big club that wants to rival the best, be against those who govern us, who like Qatar. Political relations between the two countries are of great quality”

And Le Graet highlighted the double standard in UEFA’s dealings,

“I don’t see where PSG would have made a mistake. Financial fair play enables accounts to be cleaned up, but who other than clubs in small nations have been punished? Has UEFA touched Real [Madrid]? Barca? An English club?”

It’s all a bit mad.

The whole ordeal begs a variety of different questions.

Is it “right” for teams to be spending over $200 million on soccer players? It ain’t my money. Is it weird that a country that has a litany of human rights abuses and issues can finance these moves? Definitely weird. Is it kind of funny to see Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Barca upset about the fact that someone else is spending so much money now? Surely.

Ultimately, is it going to be fucking amazing to see Neymar and Kylian Mbappe play for PSG in the Champions League? Hell yeah.