Each year, we say the same thing it seems. ‘This is getting ridiculous.’ ‘Surely the bubble is going to burst?’. With the world record in transfer fees seeming to be broken every summer, the inflation rate in football appears to be outstripping any other industry. Estimates indicate that clubs across Europe’s top five leagues have spent an incredible £3.48 billion in this transfer window alone, which doesn’t close until 31st August.
But what appears to have inflated beyond control, more than the total amount of spending clubs are doing, is the amount of money now being paid between the top clubs for individual players. Paul Pogba became the first €100m plus player when he transferred from Italian champions Juventus to Manchester United last summer. It was at that point that most people might have thought the crazy spending would end. Instead, fees have only increased and the world record fee was again smashed this summer with Brazilian superstar Neymar swapping Barcelona for Paris in an astonishing €222m deal.Embed from Getty Images
Brazilian superstar Neymar swapped Barcelona for PSG in a mammoth €222m deal this summer
We now live in a world where any player of a decent standard is being sold for between €50m and €100m and anything below €40m is almost considered a ‘bargain’. In fact, Neymar’s gargantuan fee has changed the market completely, with many clubs being forced to reevaluate the buy-out clauses in the contracts of their best players. Where, at one time, a buy-out clause of €200m was seen as an arbitrary figure no-one would pay, thereby securing a club’s best asset, it is now of little or no consequence. As money continues to flood into the game, so its’ value is diluted and prices are pushed higher, at a rate far exceeding normal rates of economic inflation.
Observing all these goings on from my laptop, there is a part of me that has become resigned to it. I developed the attitude that if the money is there and clubs are willing to spend it, why should anyone have an opinion on the fee of a player or their value? That is something I still believe – but there is one deal, supposedly near completion, that still rankles with me slightly.
French wonder-kid Kylian Mbappé is the subject of significant interest from the aofre-mentioned Paris Saint Germain. Known to be Monaco striker Mbappé’s boyhood club, a move is looking evermore likely, with a transfer fee of as much as €140m being suggested. He is likely to become the most expensive and best paid teenager in the history of world football, with figures of between €200,000 and €250,000 a week thought to be on offer to the 18-year-old.Embed from Getty Images
French wonder-kid Mbappé is likely to follow Neymar to Paris, for a fee in the region of €140m
Given the incredible increase in money being spent, it would be easy to become numb to the figures being suggested. While most people would accept the amount of money being spent on individuals who simply play a sport is beyond obscene, it’s also the more general viewpoint that the money is in the hands of clubs because we, as fans, put it there. Aren’t they then free to spend it as they want?
On the whole, I would say the answer is yes. Whether you think it’s morally right to spend €222m on Neymar to play football for your team, what can’t be argued is that PSG know what they’re getting for their money. They are acquiring a proven winner with a solid goalscoring record who, if he isn’t already, is likely to become the best player on the planet over the next decade. PSG know that having a player of Neymar’s ability and commercial viability will see them earn their money back in no time, and plenty more on top.
Where my problem with the Mbappé deal comes in is that, for me, it seems a much bigger gamble. There’s no denying the kid’s talent. Since making his senior debut for Monaco in 2015, he’s made 41 appearances and scored 16 goals. His lethal touch in front of goal helped the team win their first Ligue 1 title in 17 years, as well as complete a brilliant run to the semi finals in the Champions League. Mbappé was part of a vibrant young side including side including talents such as Thomas Lemar and Benjamin Mendy that knocked out illustrious opponents like Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund. A brilliant first full season in senior football, no doubt. But worth €140m? I’m not so sure.
The football snob in all of us likes to think we’re on top of the hot prospects across Europe and that we heard of the next big thing before anyone else. But I’m sure most people reading this, myself included, hadn’t heard of Kylian Mbappé before this time last year. Yes, his arrival on the scene has been explosive and his quality utterly undeniable – but I’ve yet to see anything to suggest that this is a player who’s current standard of play will be maintained far into the future.
Mbappé helped secure Monaco’s first Ligue 1 title in 17 years last season
So often in the past, we’ve seen money be invested in young prodigies who’ve failed to live up to the initial excitement. Kerlon, Keirrison, Michael Johnson and the infamous Freddy Adu are just a few of the names who have enjoyed blistering starts to their senior careers for it all to then, for a multitude of reasons, fade into footballing obscurity. The reasons for each player’s fall from grace are hard to define and were as unpredictable as their meteoric rises to fame. And none of them had anywhere near €140m spent on them after only a season in the senior game.
Mbappé doesn’t even need to look very far to see a much more recent, much more relevant cautionary tale. Former team mate Antony Martial swapped Monaco for Manchester back in 2015. Joining Man United for an initial £36 million, with the potential to rise to in excess of £50 million, Martial was hailed as the future of French football. The Red Devils paid over and above the going rate in the market at the time to secure his signature and, yet, it hasn’t exactly worked out for the youngster. While he’s showed flashes of the brilliance that brought him to England, he’s been unable to hold down a regular starting place, either for first manager Louis van Gaal or current gaffer Jose Mourinho. The concurrent rise of Marcus Rashford has been particularly problematic for Martial, with the England prospect often taking Martial’s place in the side.
Now, I’m not naive enough to think Mbappé is similar to any of those previous examples in terms of his ability. He is undeniably one of the most exciting prospects to take to the world footballing stage in the last 20 years. The point is, though, that Paris Saint Germain and, indeed, any club chasing Mbappé, have no idea what his future holds. In Neymar, PSG were getting a proven, reliable player of quality who had shown his worth over a sustained period at the very highest level. The same cannot be said of Mbappé. He’s one match away from, at best, a severe dip in form and, at worst, a career-ending injury. How wise would a €140m investment look then?Embed from Getty Images
Things haven’t gone brilliantly for Antony Martial since his big money move to Manchester United two years ago
Of course, the same could be said of any player. Neymar could go out this weekend and enter a poor run of form or end up injured for the rest of the season. The point is, though, that evidence falls in his favour. Given the career he has built for himself, it’s unlikely (unless he’s extremely unfortunate) that anything is going to happen to stop him progressing at the rate he has been over the last decade. Mbappé, meanwhile, has built his considerable reputation on one season that could be forgotten as quickly as it came.
I’m not saying PSG or any other club shouldn’t take a risk on Kylian Mbappé. All transfers are risks and investments are made in players with clubs fully aware they may just be throwing their money away. But I guess what I’m trying to say is this – why would PSG stake quite so much money on one player as in the case of Mbappé? Yes, the market has demanded that inflated prices become the norm but, even in that context, is this amount really necessary for an 18-year-old? I really hope I’m wrong to have my reservations. I, like most of the rest of the footballing community, have followed Kylian Mbappé’s rise to stardom closely over the past 12 months. I hope, if he does go to PSG, his career flourishes there. But I can’t shake that feeling that PSG just might end up regretting throwing quite so much money at the youngster. Whatever happens, it’ll be fascinating to watch this story unfold.