Welcome to NeyWatch, a series in which we catch up with the daily, often contradictory updates on the hottest story of the summer.
Good news PSG fans: After the weight of probability that Neymar winds up leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain has gone from “hm, doubtful” to “whoa, this might be real” to “holy shit, it’s going to happen!” to “well, actually maybe not” to “oh shit, the deal is definitely dead!” to, most recently, “fuck man, who the hell knows,” the latest reports on the matter imply that the pendulum has swung back to “yeah, everything points to him going to Paris.” But also, bad news PSG fans: It now appears that, actually, PSG might not be able to fund the move at all.
The front page of today’s L’Équipe is dedicated to Neymar. The report claims that PSG and the Brazilian have entirely signed off on contractual terms, dotting all the i’s and inserting each and every comma between the nearly unending string of zeros that are to make up his gigantic salary. All that’s left is the formality of triggering the release clause. After that, Neymar will be theirs.
Only, instead of talking about the release clause, L’Équipe’s story instead says PSG want to negotiate transfer terms with Barcelona. This is because, as has been clear from the outset, the release clause business is incredibly tricky, and unless either PSG find a suitable workaround or Barça further humiliate themselves in front of the rude Qataris who want to steal their beloved superstar by doing PSG a huge favor, the entire deal might fall through here and now.
A Spanish release clause, you may remember, is a funny thing. In order for the release clause to work the way it is meant to (meaning for a buyer to stump up a pre-agreed amount of money that will automatically compel a potential seller to accept the fee and allow their player to negotiate a new contract with the buyer), the release clause amount must be paid by the player himself, upfront and in total. So for PSG to get Neymar out of the contract that Barça have no interest in letting him out of, they would need to hand the player a lump sum of €222 million by a mechanism that would pass official muster (UEFA inspects these release clause payments and the player must have a justified reason for having that much cash on hand; this process is meant to prevent clubs from using these clauses to circumvent the Financial Fair Play rules, since release-clause payments of this sort don’t count as transfer fees in UEFA’s books) so that he could bring the money to the Spanish soccer association and in effect terminate his contract with Barça.
Earlier reports said PSG had already come up with a way around this, the most commonly cited plot being for the state-owned Qatar Investment Authority to “pay” Neymar €222 million under the pretext he was being hired to promote and advertise the coming 2022 World Cup. (Great job, FIFA, yet another way in which allowing Qatar to buy the World Cup has eroded the foundation of the sport by letting the Qatari-owned PSG cheat their way into signing one of the world’s biggest stars.) However, €222 million in cash is a whole lot of money, and who knows if UEFA would buy this justification.
On top of that, the French government would apparently adjudge that money sent to Neymar essentially as an advance on Neymar’s salary. Because of that, any cash sent to Neymar for him to trigger his release clause would be taxed as income. Thus, as L’Équipe reports, the total amount PSG would need to pay Neymar for him to trigger his clause would end up being more than €300 million in cash. Even for an oil-rich ownership group like the Qatar royal family, that is a whole lot of dosh to conjure up at the drop of a hat.
Hence why PSG now want to negotiate—though the chances of Barcelona playing ball don’t seem very high. Firstly, Barcelona really don’t want to lose Neymar. Neymar is ridiculously good as a player, is potentially the one man on earth capable of filling Lionel Messi’s shoes when the Argentine starts to slow down, and is insanely valuable from all sorts of other perspectives. Barcelona losing Neymar, especially to a nouveau riche outfit like PSG, would be an embarrassment of historic proportions. In light of all this, it’s hard to see them being too willing to meet PSG at the negotiating table to aid in their own degradation.
There are, however, two almost sensible reasons why Barça might sell Neymar to PSG outright rather than via the release clause. The first is that Barcelona have long coveted PSG’s Marco Verratti, who is just about the Platonic ideal of a Barça player and whom Barça have been after for years. It’s not unthinkable that Barcelona would accept a swap deal here, one that, for instance, sends €140 million in cash plus Verratti their way in exchange for Neymar.
The second reasonable alternative for Barcelona to sell is that they could stand to make even more money this way. Obviously, a regular transfer fee paid out in yearly installments, as most transfers these days are, rather than a single big payment and without the burdensome tax the French authorities would tack on top of any potential release clause payment would be worth a lot of money to the Parisians. Because of this, Barcelona could charge PSG a good deal more than €222 million to sell Neymar. As embarrassing as losing Neymar would be, sending him off in exchange for something like €300 million wouldn’t be all that bad a consolation.
Nevertheless, neither scenario seems all that likely. For one, PSG would almost certainly do everything in their power to keep hold of Verratti in any potential Neymar deal. Signing one superstar while at the same time losing the one they’ve already got makes very little sense. And for Barcelona, selling one of the club’s crown jewels to PSG would be such an ignominious move that it could quite conceivably result in the club’s entire board getting booted and would tarnish the club’s name forever. Plus, as Catalan paper Sport reports, Barça have especially little interest in negotiating with PSG over Neymar after the way PSG refused to open negotiations with Barcelona over Verratti this summer. So Barça answering PSG’s call and hammering out a deal sounds like a non-starter.
This whole ordeal is to a large extent a dick-measuring contest between two of the longest, most expensively manicured cocks in world sport, and the measuring stick is a big ol’ knife. One false move and either club runs the risk of seeing their member sliced clean off. And regardless of all the talk about release clauses and taxes everything else, it’s still Neymar himself who wields the blade and ultimately will decide which dong is declared bigger and which one gets hacked off, stuck through with a rope, and worn by the other club as a trophy. Hopefully for all involved Neymar has steady hands.