Welcome to NeyWatch, a series in which we catch up with the daily, often contradictory updates on the hottest story of the summer.
It seemed like Barcelona’s official confirmation that Neymar was on his way out of the club would usher in a calmer, final stage of the transfer saga that had previously confounded at every turn. Well, that was wrong. We are in full on Nick Young Face territory now.
Earlier today, lawyers representing Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain went to La Liga headquarters to deposit the €222 million that would trigger Neymar’s release clause and allow him to sign with PSG. On its face, this is all exactly in line with the somewhat bizarre protocols mandated by Spain’s release-clause laws. Pay the money, take the medical, sign the contract, and all of this could finally be done.
As is typical in this soap opera, things did not go so smoothly. Right as Neymar’s and PSG’s lawyers went to hand the check over to the league official in charge of this stuff, the official—probably sporting something between a sneer and a shit-eating grin—went all, Hm, actually no, we’re not taking your money, and sent the lawyers on their way. Yes, the league rejected the ostensibly entirely legal and contractually-stipulated payment of Neymar’s release clause, seemingly for no good reason. This is absolutely insane and insanely petty.
La Liga’s move, though, wasn’t entirely surprising. Just yesterday Javier Tebas, the head of the Spanish league system, gave an interview stating that the league would not accept the payment of Neymar’s release clause. This went hand in hand with his and Barcelona’s earlier threats to report PSG to UEFA immediately upon payment of the buyout clause under the theory that paying that enormous sum would put PSG in violation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. In the interview, Tebas explained what he sees as the fundamental problem with the potential Neymar transfer, and why his office planned to do everything possible to prevent it from going through:
The problem is that Neymar is being taken by a financially-doped team that competes with an advantage. The problem is the state-backed clubs, they need to be stopped.
Putting aside the very real potential dangers of a state-backed club circumventing the rules all other clubs have to abide with shady under-the-table deals using nominally unrelated entities to pay for things like transfer fees or salaries or the like, neither Tebas nor Barcelona have any jurisdiction here. UEFA is the body that investigates FFP compliance issues, not any domestic league and not any individual club itself. There’s no such thing as “filing a FFP complaint” to UEFA, because UEFA already checks every transfer and every club’s finances. Spanish law mandates every contract have a release clause, and there’s no exception that allows them to be rejected if the current employer has a problem with the potential new employer’s business practices. It’s all nothing but baseless posturing.
In addition, not only does paying a release clause itself—even one as enormous as Neymar’s—not automatically constitute a FFP violation (PSG could potentially sell about four players and make up the vast majority if not the entirety of the release clause amount), but the transfer stage is not even where these things are adjudicated. Not even UEFA can prevent a valid transaction in the middle of a transfer window just because it might run afoul of FFP, and La Liga or Barcelona definitely can’t do so. And yet that appears to be exactly what La Liga just did by refusing to accept the release clause payment that Neymar’s and PSG’s lawyers brought them today. It is simply outrageous.
While La Liga’s rejection this morning seems on its face like a bunch of legally unsupportable bullshit, it is possible that the league had a valid technical justification for turning the sum down. From the Guardian:
La Liga is understood to have also explained that it is unclear on the origins of the money and that under its regulations only Spanish clubs have the guaranteed right to buy out a contract. The league has repeatedly accepted buyout clause deposits from foreign clubs. It would not be able to reject the money if Neymar himself turned up to pay it.
Now this could make some sense. One of the biggest reasons why Neymar’s exit from Barcelona always looked at best exceedingly difficult and at worst nearly impossible is because of the specifics of release clauses in Spain. They must be paid in cash, upfront, in total, and by the player himself. This means PSG would need to scrounge up all of €222 million, find a way to get all that money into Neymar’s bank account in a way that doesn’t look suspicious to the FFP investigators who will look into it, and on top of that pay what has been reported to be about €70 million in taxes on the €222 million given to Neymar. In other words, even for an infinitely rich club like PSG, this transfer stood to be an extremely costly and legally confusing operation.
Because Barcelona were stridently against selling Neymar and because the league didn’t want to lose one of the biggest stars in all of sports to some oil-rich upstart in a league nobody cares about, it makes some sense that both of them would force PSG to jump through each and every hoop without a single slip-up during the process of taking Neymar away. Thus, if PSG really were trying to circumvent the all the taxes and potential FFP violations that might arise from following the exact letter of the release clause law, and came to La Liga’s office today with lawyers “representing” both Neymar and PSG but who in reality had come to deposit a check written by PSG proper, then you could see how the league could rightfully reject the payment. Doing so is petty, counterproductive, and makes both the league and Barcelona look terrible, but it is justifiable.
The latest reports say Neymar’s and PSG’s people will make another attempt to pay the clause today, this time by depositing the money directly with Barcelona, which is apparently procedurally acceptable. We’ll have to wait and see whether this time the money will come directly from Neymar, or if Barcelona will just accept it anyway. (It’s not exactly clear that the league’s stunt today works in Barça’s favor, as it would be in their best interest for all this to be done with as soon as possible so they can go about signing reinforcements with the money before it’s too late.) No matter what, this transfer is set to be dumb and ridiculous and captivating right to the very end.