When football’s most expensive player Neymar was debuted in front of the world’s media at Paris Saint-Germain this summer following his world record £200m move to France from Barcelona, there was only one competition up for discussion.
Neymar’s arrival was seen as the Qatari-owned club’s big play in their search for the one major trophy that has eluded them thus far — the Champions League.
“I want to write history here,” said the Brazilian at his unveiling. “This is the only reason. There are new challenges and I want to help write the history of the club. Our biggest challenge is the Champions League. ”
Chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi struck a similar chord. “It’s our dream to win the Champions League,” he said.
“With the arrival of Neymar Jr, I am convinced that we will come even closer to realising our greatest dreams.”
If PSG do write history this year, Neymar, whose campaign is all but over due to a broken metatarsal, will not be the author. And unless they can overturn a 3-1 first leg deficit against reigning champions Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes tonight, they will for the second consecutive season have failed to reach the quarter-finals of Uefa’s elite competition.
That would not only come as an embarrassing setback to “the project” after making an epochal shifting signing this summer, it would raise even more questions about the other Uefa property that has loomed like a spectre over the Neymar deal — financial fair play (FFP).
Perhaps even more regular this summer than wistful talk of Neymar guiding PSG to Champions League glory was the club having to respond to queries about how it could justify such a transfer fee — not to mention the loan later agreed for Kylian Mbappe from Monaco — and still meet the Uefa FFP requirements designed to restrict financial losses and stop clubs spending beyond their means.
PSG’s capture of Neymar and Mbappe — on an initial loan before a £167m fee is paid next summer — has triggered cries of foul play from rivals.
La Liga president Javier Tebas accused them of “peeing in the pool” of FFP rules while Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp argued that FFP was “made so that situations like that can’t happen”. Uefa’s Financial Control Body have even opened an investigation into the club.
If PSG do not beat Real Madrid, expect that scrutiny to only increase. FFP regulations limit clubs to a maximum loss of €30m (£27m) over the three seasons ending with the current campaign.
For a club like PSG, those are tight margins and an early exit from the Champions League will make them even tighter. PSG earned €55m from their European campaign last season. A year earlier, when they went one round better and made the quarter-finals, they made €70.8m.
It makes up a far larger chunk of their revenues than it does for Premier League clubs, who enjoy much larger TV income at home — PSG earned €57.9m from Ligue 1 last season.
PSG insist they have everything worked out and that Uefa’s financial watchdogs have nothing to worry about.
Yet the issue may have less to do with the figure published on PSG’s bottom line and more to do with whether Uefa considers all their income — over half of which comes through sponsorships and other commercial deals — to represent fair value. Many of PSG’s deals are with Qatari companies and thus considered related party transactions by Uefa, who may deem them to be of inflated value.
“PSG have the benefit of support from a sovereign wealth fund which has allowed them to generate very good commercial deals,” Kieran Maguire, football finance expert at Liverpool University, told City A.M.
“If you take a look at where PSG are compared to other clubs they are far higher in commercial stream than you’d expect them to be for a club of that international stature. The cost isn’t an issue. It’s really a case of how strict Uefa are going to be when it comesto looking at PSG’s commercial income.”
PSG have already fallen foul of the rule once before when they were fined €60m in 2014 and had their Champions League squad size temporarily cut from 25 to 21 players. The consequences could be even more severe should they fail it again — Uefa could even kick them out of the competition they crave winning the most.
“Uefa were very keen when they introduced new regulations two years ago to introduce sports-related penalties,” said Eddie Marshbaum, director of sports integrity at advisory firm Quest, told City A.M.
“That can be deduction of points, withholding of revenues from Uefa competitions, it can be a prohibition on registering new players, it can be disqualification from competition.”
That would be an unprecedented decision. But PSG and their £200m man Neymar know better than anyone that precedents are there to be set.