Neymar to PSG: The Transfer of a Generation

I was far too young to remember Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid.

In the summer of 2009, I was an 11 year old boy focused on my hometown St. Louis Cardinals and the first sports team I ever loved, the St. Louis Rams. International football couldn’t have been further out of my mind and I don’t think I even knew Ronaldo’s name. 

Cristiano’s world record transfer shattered a world I didn’t yet know existed.

For 94 million euros, the world’s best player was moving on from the club and manager that had nurtured him into a worldwide superstar in order to take on the world at Real Madrid. While that fee now seems somewhat tame compared to what we’ve seen recently, his 1 billion euro buy-out clause remains mind blowing.

More than 80,000 fans packed Real’s Santiago Bernebeu in order to greet the next heir to the Madrid throne. The football world stopped for one day in order to try and wrap its collective mind around the biggest transfer spectacle ever seen.

Nearly 10 years later, the football world has been shaken again, in a way that even the groundbreaking transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo could not do. With the announcement made official today, FC Barcelona’s Brazilian starlet, Neymar Jr, is transferring away to join Paris Saint Germain.

Earth shattering does not even begin to do this justice.

At 25 years old and already easily one of the very best players in the world, Neymar still conceivably has yet to truly enter his prime. His best years of football could still be ahead of him and he will now truly have his own stage on which to display his otherworldly talents.

For the past 4 years, Neymar has played on a Barcelona team that belonged to Lionel Messi. As brilliant as Neymar could be at times, he was living and playing in Messi’s shadow, and as much as we all wanted to anoint him as Messi’s heir, he was always going to be second fiddle.

However, playing at a club as big as Barcelona, there never was much speculation about Neymar potentially moving away. In Ronaldo’s case, he always seemed destined to move away from Manchester and the Real Madrid rumors followed him all throughout his final 2 years at United.

Up until about 3 weeks ago, Neymar was a Barcelona player, the sky was blue, and we all had bigger things to focus on. The timing and swift nature of this whole saga plays a huge role in the reason why this is not just the most expensive transfer of all time but also the most significant.

On July 17th, things started as a rumor that PSG could and would trigger Neymar’s outlandish 222 million euro release clause. That got us talking, but it didn’t seem to be anything serious. Then, that rumor quickly snowballed into more rumors about training bust ups involving Neymar, his desire to leave, PSG’s continued seriousness about triggering the clause, and suddenly this wasn’t just a rumor.

Over the course of nearly 3 weeks, the world’s 3rd best player moved away from the world’s second biggest club in the world’s biggest league to play for a 2nd place team in the smallest of Europe’s big 5 leagues.

Setting aside the fact that this will absolutely shatter Paul Pogba’s previous transfer fee record, the significance of Neymar’s move to Paris is generation defining.

The greatest attack of our generation – Messi, Suarez, Neymar – is no more. The heir to Lionel Messi’s Barcelona throne has moved his talents to Paris. PSG have just purchased easily the biggest and best player in their club’s history. And, in the most expensive and significant transfer of all time, the player has chosen to move from FC Barcelona, one of the most historic and prestigious clubs in the world, to a second place Ligue 1 team.

That last part, the fact that Neymar chose PSG over Barcelona asserts a fact that we can’t ignore anymore. Much like what we’re seeing in the NBA, international football is run by the players now.

As Kyrie Irving’s whining and complaining has shown, executives in the NBA aren’t truly in charge anymore. The players get what they want, and the transcendent talents of the game – LeBron, Kyrie, Steph, Durant, many others – are able to extort executives and manipulate situations however they please.

Neymar, one of the transcendent players in today’s football landscape, manipulated this situation how he wanted. Barcelona’s Brazilian wanted a move away from the Camp Nou and was determined to make that happen. To drive that point home, Neymar and his representatives informed Barcelona executives this morning that they would be paying the release clause after PSG’s bid was blocked by La Liga.

Neymar made up his mind on Paris, and nothing was going to stop him. Setting aside the money, what kind of precedent does this set for a generation of footballers to come?

With Roma legend Francesco Totti now retired, the era of players spending a long, loyal career with one club is over and Neymar’s transfer is the final nail in a coffin that was carefully and efficiently built this summer.

After a poor 2016-17 season, Arsenal have missed out on Champions League football for the first time in over 20 years. Gunners’ superstar Alexis Sanchez has publicly made it clear that he isn’t interested in playing on a team without Champions League football. Although they publicly insist Sanchez isn’t going anywhere, Arsenal’s hands are tied and Alexis is in control of the situation.

Juventus legend Leonardo Bonucci, at 30 years old and having spent the last 8 years with the Italian kings, shockingly and suddenly moved to AC Milan this summer. Having seemingly spurned transfer attempt after transfer attempt over the course of the past year or so in favor of staying at Juve, Bonucci apparently decided that he’d had enough and forced a move away.

As much as prominent managers like Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, or Arsene Wenger like to paint the picture that they are in charge and call the shots, Neymar’s transfer proves that the business of football is truly a players’ game now.

When we look back on the state of football 5 or 10 years from now, this day will be the first that we study. A precedent has been set by one of the world’s best players, and you can expect dozens to follow in his footsteps and make their demands known. Players like Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele are already beginning to clamor for a move to Barcelona because they see an opening.

What happens in the near future will shape our generation of football as we know it, Neymar has made sure of it.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Neymar to PSG: The Transfer of a Generation

Top 5 Most Intriguing Champions League Group Stage Matches

Dortmund vs. Real, anyone? No? How about Bayern Munich-Atletico Madrid? Barcelona-Man City?

The annual contesting of the UEFA Champions League is always something to look forward to on the football calendar, and after some lackluster – and, frankly, unnecessary – play in games, the group stage is all set. The 8 pools were set up today, and there are some seriously good fixtures on the slate.

Now, I just want to point something out really quickly. How weird is it to not see Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Wolfsburg in the Champions League draw? It’s pretty weird for me. Anyway, let’s get straight into the most interesting group stage matches.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid

Starting off with a bang, the reigning champions draw German powerhouse, Borussia Dortmund in an opening matchup that should be filled with enough fireworks to go around.

Real Madrid UCL
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Real need no introduction. They sport a front line that includes the best player in the world and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric – as if he needed any more of an introduction – made some noise at the European Championships with his sparkling play on the Croatian national team alongside Ivan Perisic.

Madrid’s squad last season was as deep and strong as we have ever seen, and the addition of Alvaro Morata and a presumably much stronger and reinvigorated James Rodriguez will make them just as dangerous.

On the other side are my dark horses in this tournament. Dortmund gave traditional juggernaut, Bayern Munich, all they would handle all the way through the Bundesliga season in 2015-16. And, sensing a potential changing of the guard, Dortmund went out and spent over $110 million on 8 transfers.

Highlighting the group is former Dortmund star, Mario Gotze – who was swiped away from the aforementioned Bayern Munich. Alongside Gotze is another German national, Andre Schurrle, and a couple of 19 year old prodigies, Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor. The new stable of strikers will join Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and form an incredibly formidable attack.

Borussia Dortmund Squad
Dortmund Squad. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Now, all of those glamorous transfers were mostly made out of necessity, as Dortmund lost Ilkay Gundogan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels, but I believe the strong attack will make them an incredibly dangerous team that could potentially make huge waves with an upset here.

Also, remember the last time these two teams matched up in the Champions League with Los Blancos as a heavy favorite? Yeah, watch out for Dortmund.

Group A: Arsenal vs. Paris Saint Germain

On the surface, this matchup seems like a very even matchup between French and English powerhouses, but, unfortunately, this is probably the most predictable of the fixtures i’m going to be highlighting. Does that mean it’s not going to be entertaining? Absolutely not.

Make no mistake, this is an offensive GEM of a match. Brilliant players are all over the pitch from both sides. Theo Walcott, Angel di Maria, Granit Xhaka, Adrian Rabiot, Marco Verratti, David Luiz, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Calum Chambers; the quality on the pitch – with regards to strictly offense – is remarkable.

Now, if this match had taken place a year ago, PSG would run away with it. The French champions were firing on all cylinders with Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading up the attack, but now that he’s gone? I still favor PSG, but the Gunners do have a shot in both legs.

Both clubs will advance to the knockout round – considering that FC Basel and FC Ludogorets round out group A – and that could be the only way this matchup isn’t a spectacular scoring fest. But I’m going to pretend that both clubs go full bore and we get some lovely, high scoring football.

Group E: Bayer Leverkusen vs Tottenham Hotspur

Here’s the one you disagree with. You can’t agree with me on everything, but I really like this matchup.

Chicharito vs Alderwierld? Yes, please.

I really don’t care what you say, this game is worth watching just to see what kind of magic Chicharito pulls out of his hat against Mauricio Ponchettinho’s bunch.

Chicharito
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Also, who knows, maybe Tottenham regains the form that made them the Premier League runners up from just a season ago and put on an offensive clinic led by Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Maybe not, but still, the offensive potential in this game is too good to ignore. All hail Chicharito.

Group D: Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid

Holy nuts, whoever put this matchup together clearly wants to cut the riffraff and get straight down to the business of separating the best football clubs in Europe.

A rematch of one of the two semifinals from last year’s Champions League, both teams remain mostly unchanged, with the only significant transfer between the two being Bayern’s heist of Mats Hummels from their German rivals, Borussia Dortmund.

The fact that both of these clubs remain mostly unchanged is reason for excitement because holy wow what a matchup this is.

Antoine Griezemann and Yannick Carrasco have had their coming out parties, and they join Fernando Torres on a club that has silently competed in two of the last three Champions League finals. And guess what, Atletico is set to be just as good as they’ve ever been.

Griezmann and Carrasco
Photo courtesy of ESPN FC

On the other side are the German champions and their stable of ridiculous talent. From Manuel Neuer to Robert Lewandowski, Bayern is almost stupid stacked with talent. Kingsley Coman, Renato Sanches, Arjen Robben (forget about him?), Arturo Vidal, David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Julian Green; it’s almost unfair how talented this Bayern side are.

FC Bayern Munich v FC Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Round of 16
Photo by Lukas Barth for Getty Images

I didn’t need to hype this match up any more than it already was, but Bayern-Atletico twice in the group stage? Thank you, God.

Group C: FC Barcelona vs Manchester City

And now, your main event of the group stage.

Pep Guardiola’s main task at Manchester City has been made crystal clear: win the Champions League. He’s been given all of the money the clubs has to offer, and completely free reign to go get any player his heart desires in the name of winning the Champions League.

Following two squash matches against clearly overmatched Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti, City are through to the group stage where they draw the title favorites, Barcelona.

Nolito and Delph
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Barca return to the Champions League with a vengeance following their failed pursuit of the first back-to-back title win in UCL history. But, while Barca stood pat this summer and didn’t really get any better – in their defense, it’s hard to get better when your attacking trio is Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi – Manchester City went out and just about owned the transfer market.

In total, City brought in 9 transfers for just over $240 million, highlighted by Everton defender John Stones, Barcelona starting keeper Claudio Bravo, and Shalke wonder boy Leroy Sane. The talent on the field will be evident, and this will be an extremely tightly contested matchup, but let’s get to the off-field storylines that really make this a game worth watching.

The aforementioned Pep Guardiola has been clear that his ultimate goal at City is to win the Champions League, and to do that he has to go through his former club. The City boss made his name at Barcelona, and knocked them out of the Champions League last season while with Bayern Munich. Revenge will be in the air and Pep will be hungry to prove his side belongs in the upper echelon of elite football powerhouses.

As I mentioned in the transfers section of this blurb, Claudio Bravo is Manchester City’s new keeper, and the former Barcelona #1 will be making his homecoming during the leg of this matchup contested at the home of the Spanish champions. Also, the last time Bravo and Lionel Messi squared off, the Argentinian fired a now infamous penalty shot high over the bar of Bravo’s Chilean goal to give Chile their 2nd straight Copa America title over Argentina.

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Argentina at Chile
Photo by Adam Hunger for USA Today Sports

So, on top of the fact that this is as good of a football matchup as you can possibly get, the extra storylines make this fixture as much of a ‘can’t miss’ as the Champions League group stage has to offer.

……….

Considering the madness that football has provided us with lately, we could be staring down the barrel of a Benfica-Leicester City Champions League final. Would you rather see something like a Bayern-City final? Of course you would, but for the first time in a while, I can’t confidently guarantee that we’ll see traditional powerhouses in the semifinals and final. Strap in, this could get wild.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Top 5 Most Intriguing Champions League Group Stage Matches