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.