By John Simms
I’m sure no one would argue with me when I say that David Luiz is not worth £50 million. Even in relative terms it’s a crazy amount to spend on a player of his quality. He is undoubtedly a good defender but at the current going rate that fee could buy almost any other player in the world. He has sparkled in patches for Chelsea but is error prone and has a tendency to get carried away, losing his position and making rash challenges when his team needs him most. While he may yet develop into a world class player, he is as unreliable as he is entertaining.
Not only is the fee eye-wateringly high but only eight days before the transfer was announced his new club Paris Saint-Germain were sanctioned by UEFA under the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules for overspending. They were fined £48 million for their indiscretions and had their European Squad size reduced, a punishment that could turn out to be very costly at the business end of the season. What makes their decision to splash out on Luiz stranger is that if they can get their finances back into shape within three years two thirds of the fine will be returned, £48 million clearly isn’t much to them.
PSG already have arguably the world’s best centre back in Thiago Silva but spent nearly £15 million less on him. While defensive veteran Alex seems to be on his way out this summer, they also bought another Brazilian, Marquinhos for £27.5 million last year. Including Luiz, that’s almost exactly £100 million spent on centre backs in 3 years. Time may show this to be a wise investment but in a league as uncompetitive as Ligue 1 it’s hard to understand the need for it (the last team to beat them to the title was Montpelier, a club with a total annual budget of around £30 million). Even fellow big spenders Monaco cannot match PSG for wealth or for such a star studded squad.
Is this transfer part of a long term strategy or just a big middle finger to UEFA?
PSG have a huge disparity in their wealth and profitability compared to other clubs. Real Madrid made more than twice as much from TV revenue alone last season, even bereft Manchester United made 30% more. On the flip-side, while the Glazers who own Man United have a personal fortune of around £4 billion and Roman Abramovich is worth around £14 billion, the Qatari Investment Authority which owns PSG has a wealth of £170 billion! What’s more, their wealth is expected to sharply increase in the near future due to increased exploitation of Qatar’s vast natural resources. Unfortunately for PSG this huge wealth does not a sustainable club make, FFP rules only count income streams directly related to the club itself. PSG must have some kind of plan for how they can balance the books in the future. The potential is there, Arsene Wenger commented a few years ago on how unusual it is for a club to be sat on a population centre of 10 million people with no real local rivals to challenge them for support.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman of PSG previously stated that the club plans to invest primarily in great, young talent both to create a strong squad but also to increase the club’s marketability. This sounds great on paper but few of their transfers have given them value for money and they are clearly happy to pay far above the odds to get their man. Even stranger is their habit of letting unwanted players go for nothing. Only one transfer has made them any money, that of Sakho to Liverpool. He is a bright young talent, home-grown and a great ambassador for the club, he had already captained the team and was showing real promise. Why sell him and then spend £32 million buying a player who is arguably worse? The only youngsters of real note they have brought in have been Verratti and Lucas Moura. While they paid nothing for the Italian, Lucas cost them £40 million, nearly double what Luis Suarez cost Liverpool, the evidence certainly doesn’t imply good bussiness acumen on Paris’ part.
There may be method to les parisien’s madness. Those who can remember Florentino Perez’s first stint in charge of Real Madrid may remember struggling to comprehend how the club managed to make any money at all. They broke the record for the highest transfer fee two years running and in the process assembled a team so marketable that they overtook Manchester United as the world’s richest club, all despite not winning anything of note between 2004 and 2006. This is undoubtedly a case-study that PSG should pay close attention to in their quest to stay in the black. The real jewel in their crown is the effervescent Zlatan Ibrahimovic, love him or hate him he is a joy to watch. He is arrogant, dominant and gifted and while his public pronouncements of his own genius have become a bit comical, it all adds to his box office potential. Does Luiz even fit the bill? He is great to watch, adventurous and attacking, a player who has an infectious love for the game. But is he actually good enough? When Real Madrid bought Figo and Zidane they were the best players in world football, Luiz clearly isn’t. Ibrahimovic is undoubtedly one of the best, but there is something a little depressing about watching him bully the mediocre defenses of Ligue 1 day in day out. Another important fact to note is that Real Madrid funded their spending spree with the £390 million sale of their training complex in 2000. PSG’s equivalent is a shady £200 million sponsorship deal from the “Qatari tourism authority”, let’s just say FFP auditors were not fooled by that one.
The final possibility is that Al-Khelaifi and his paymasters in Qatar are buying Luiz in a fit of pique, not because there is any sense in it but simply to show that they can and will buy him regardless of what those pencil pushers at UEFA say. Immediately after the sanctions were announced he proclaimed that “the players I want, I will have”. This does still beg the question as to why Luiz was on that list and why it is worth risking further punishments to purchase him. Recent years have shown that you can never underestimate the egos and megalomania of the average football club owner. From the ever intriguing Vincent Tan to the erratic Mike Ashley, their success in other areas does not always translate into the footballing world. Vincent Tan’s reputed insistence that Cardiff only sign players with eights in their birth dates is a comical reminder of the potential for owners to put a spanner in the works. Roman Abramovich was just a guilty, his engineering of Shevchenko’s abortive time at Chelsea cost them not just £30 million but also reputedly Jose Mourinho.
While their owner’s enigmatic nature makes it hard to assess where PSG are pulling at the moment, their strategy does seem unfocused, not many youth players, not many marquee players and too much spent on players of only fair quality. Only time can tell where they will end up financially in future. While Luiz may enjoy dominating a sub-standard league, he is not an addition that will breed future European success and neither is he a player to increase shirt sales in foreign markets. It could be seen as part of a wider game of brinksmanship with UEFA, seeing how far they will go with sanctions for clubs. A ban from the Champions League has been mooted as the ultimate penalty for breaking FFP rules and would certainly cost any club dearly in TV rights and exposure but is it a realistic possibility?