As a staunch Manchester United fan, I have waited with bated breath for the best part of a fortnight awaiting news that Lucas Moura, the latest teenage sensation from Brazil, has finally signed for the club and has announced his desire to wrest back the title from Manchester City. Imagine, then, my utter dismay of reading that Paris Saint-Germain have gazumped United in the bidding war and have agreed a transfer fee with Sao Paulo for the wonderkid.
On paper, it seems like a no-brainer for Lucas. On the one hand, there is Manchester United; perhaps the biggest football club in the world with a fierce tradition and strong European credentials who play in the strongest league in Europe. Then there is PSG, runners-up in the weak French league to Montpellier, fourth seeds in the latest edition of the Champions League and a history that stretches all the way back to 1970. The chasm between the two clubs on the pitch could hardly be bigger.
Now let’s talk figures. A controlling stake of PSG was brought by the Qatari Investment Authority (QIA) in 2011. The QIA is Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, which essentially means that everything the state earns is invested into this fund. Therefore, PSG’s owners have the potential to pump £100 billion annually into the club. This means that PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti can sign effectively any player that is willing to move to Paris, play in an under par league and be paid mammoth wages in return. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Silva have already agreed to do just that this summer. They join the likes of Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta amongst a pool of talent worth €200m.
Manchester United are at the other end of the financial spectrum. Financially, they are in dire straits. They are owned by the notorious Glazer family who seized control of the club in a leveraged takeover in 2005. Depending on what figures you trust, the Glazers have taken nearly £800m out of the club since 2005 and have saddled them with debts that currently stand at £420m. The highlight of the summer for the fans of Manchester United was not the unveiling of a marquee, multi-million pound signing, but the announcement that the club were to float on the New York Stock Exchange in order to raise funds to pay off the debts. Under the Glazers, the transfer strategy has changed dramatically. United used to dominate English football with big-money signings. Nowadays, young and talented players are recruited with the aim of selling them on in the future for a tidy profit. The likes of Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and Nani are testament to this. United can however pay out when they want. Shinji Kagawa moved to Old Trafford for £17m last month, for example, but they simply cannot compete with the oil rich juggernauts of PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea.
With Lucas Moura moving to Paris, he will no doubt be earning wages that match his large fee. At 19, his potential is considered to be massive. He has represented Brazil 15 times already at such a tender age, and some consider him to be a better prospect than Brazil’s young darling Neymar.
The Moura deal just goes to highlight the importance money possesses in today’s modern footballing world. Just over a decade ago, Roy Keane shocked English football fans by demanding £52,000 a week to stay at United. In comparison, Danny Welbeck had a solid debut season last year, and was rewarded with a deal worth nearly £50,000 a week. One final comparison: Zinedine Zidane smashed the world transfer record in 2001 when he moved to Real Madrid from Juventus for about £45m. Zidane is considered the best player of his generation, and one of the all-time footballing greats. Today, that fee would probably get you a decent centre midfielder who is on the back of an encouraging debut season, or a goalscorer in a mid-level league who banged in a mighty 20 goals last year. One thing is for sure, Lucas Moura is under immense pressure to succeed when he moves to PSG. Should he be the next Denilson, however, then the €45m fee would merely be a drop in the ocean for the clubs wealthy owners. Or should that be a drop of oil?
The future of soccer is unsustainable. You know its morals are wrong when you watch Samuel Eto’o, a multiple Champions League winner and one of Europe’s most deadliest strikers, move to the war torn region of Dagestan to play for FC Anzhi Makhachkala for wages of £350,000 a week. Closer to home, Wayne Bridge, a one-time England international, cannot even make it to the Manchester City bench yet he takes home a reported £90,000 a week. Over the last two seasons, he has amassed twenty-three league games for West Ham and Sunderland, and in the process he has earned £8.6 million. Something has to change, and fast.