Kylian Mbappé’s saga shows that the power of football lies in the players, not in the clubs | Football
So Which side are you on in the fallout following Kylian Mbappé’s decision to stay with Paris Saint-Germain? Watching the extraordinary outrage in Spain, with the press accusing the Frenchman of lacking class and La Liga calling the deal ‘scandalous’, has raised eyebrows. But not as much as PSG being able to offer a €200m-plus package for the best player in the world – despite losing €224m last year.
There are no good guys here, only a nagging unease that the laws of economic gravity are being challenged to the detriment of the game we love. As La Liga put it in an unprecedented onslaught, the transfer showed that state-owned clubs, like Qatar-run PSG, ‘don’t respect and don’t want to respect the rules of such a sector. important that football” and that “sporting integrity” was at stake.
These are big demands and La Liga have backed them by pledging to file a complaint with UEFA and the EU. However, Real Madrid is not a model of virtue in this area. Last year, they were at the heart of the European Super League project, which threatened the sporting integrity of European football far more than Mbappé remaining with PSG. Recently they have also been one of four Spanish clubs ordered by EU’s highest court to repay millions of euros after it ruled they had received state aid.
PSG have privately brushed off La Liga attacks, with one manager insisting to me their €224m loss was allowed under UEFA’s current Financial Fair Play rules, which have been relaxed due to the pandemic. It is also understood that at a meeting of the PSG board this month, it was revealed that Lionel Messi netted the club €15m last season, even after taking everything into account. its costs.
The message was clear. Yes, Mbappé’s contract is incredibly expensive. But the club believe they can recoup that money and comply with UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules which come into force in 2025.
Perhaps. But cynics hope the rules are more robust than the previous incarnation, which proved easier to circumvent than the Maginot Line – with PSG and Manchester City among the culprits. There are also well-founded fears that state-run clubs are creating inflationary pressures on the transfer market, while PSG chief executive Nasser al-Khelaifi’s huge influence over UEFA and the European Association clubs is also impossible to ignore.
In my opinion, however, the reaction to Mbappé’s new deal goes beyond the understandable delicacy of club-run sovereign wealth funds. It’s also about how easy it is for teams to consolidate their advantage and ruin leagues. Would anyone bet against PSG, who have won eight of the last 10 Ligue 1 titles, next year? And the year after? Or Bayern Munich, who have won 10 Bundesliga titles in a row, another procession?
Of course, there are exceptions – look at Manchester United. But while English football is certainly more unpredictable, as we saw again on a dramatic final day, Manchester City have still won four Premier League titles in five years and only eight clubs have finished in all three. first in the last 25 years. Eight! – the same number as in the first five years of the Premier League between 1992-93 and 1996-97, when Norwich, Blackburn and Aston Villa all contested the title.
Data from the Sporting Intelligence website, which tracks player wages across multiple leagues and sports, shows there is a strong link between how much a club spends on wages and where it finishes in the table. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In the United States, where salary caps, luxury taxes and drafts for college players ensure the major leagues remain spicy and risky, the difference is stark. Major League Baseball has had eight World Series winners over the past decade and five other teams have finished second. In other words, 13 of MLB’s 30 teams have battled it out for the sport’s biggest prize in the past 10 years.
In the NHL, meanwhile, 14 of the league’s 32 clubs have played in a Stanley Cup final since 2012. In the NFL, the figure is 13 of 32, with some teams able to go from non-officials to contenders to the Super Bowl within a couple. of years.
Curiously, however, this lack of competitive football balance has not dented the game’s popularity. One explanation, based on detailed data analysis by economists Dr Babatunde Buraimo and Dr Rob Simmonsis that viewers are much less interested in watching competitive games than they once were – and instead they want the big names, regardless of the opposition.
And there’s no one bigger than Mbappé right now. According to one football executive I spoke to, the deal emphasizes an even bigger shift of power in favor of the players, most of whom are content to deliberately terminate their contracts so that they get all the money from a new deal.
This executive also pointed out that it makes sense for Mbappé to wait and face PSG and Real Madrid. And also for PSG to pay a huge signing fee rather than having to sign another player from a competing club.
It’s hard to argue with that. But whether the macabre phantasmagoria of football is so beneficial to the rest of us is another matter altogether.