Neymar is now the highest salaried athlete on earth, but that doesn’t sound like his primary motivating factor in moving to Paris Saint-Germain. In a series of Instagram videos posted after the move, Neymar said that his father didn’t want him to leave Barcelona. He did it anyway because, in his words, “an athlete needs challenges.”
As long as Neymar was at Barcelona, he would be compared to Lionel Messi. Even after Messi retired and Neymar became the club’s biggest star, he wouldn’t have been able to escape Messi’s shadow. If he scored 73 goals in a season, fans would have focused less on the incredible accomplishment and more on analyzing how it stacked up against Messi’s famed 73-goal season. So he left.
In swapping Barcelona for PSG, Neymar has put a huge challenge in front of himself. There is no one to hide behind if he fails and no one who will receive more credit than him if PSG wins the Champions League. He’s also betting on his ability to make PSG into a bigger club than it is right now. As Gary Lineker put it...
Oh Neymar, there is only one direction to go from @FCBarcelona and that's backwards.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) August 2, 2017
That’s certainly true right now. But at Barca, he was blocked. Neymar thinks he’s taken one step back to give himself a better path to take two steps forward.
Can PSG get as much global exposure as Barcelona?*
In terms of television coverage, PSG has some work to do, but it’s not impossible for them to get on TV as often as Barcelona in key markets. They’re lucky that Brazil isn’t an issue — La Liga and Ligue 1 are equally accessible on Brazilian TV. Neymar’s biggest fans were already watching Brazilian stars play for PSG, and now even more Brazilians will be flipping over to PSG when they play at the same time as Barcelona.
The picture is a bit less rosy in China. Ligue 1 is on LeSports, which Christopher Lau of Wild East Football tells me is less accessible than the networks La Liga is on, PPTV and Guangdong Sports. However, Lau believes that Neymar’s move could ignite huge interest in PSG among Chinese soccer fans, which could cause these deals to change in the near future. PSG’s ability to cut into the dominant market share that clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich currently hold in China will be key to their long-term success.
And then there’s the United States, where PSG and Barcelona are both on a channel owned by PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi — beIN Sports. Since the channel went on the air, Barcelona games have pre-empted everything, causing PSG matches that overlap to be shown on a delay. It’s possible that Neymar’s capture could cause beIN Sports to change its broadcast strategy and put more PSG games on live TV, even if it means pushing Barca and Madrid to online-only or Spanish-only channels. BeIN Sports USA did not respond to a request for comment on this matter.
PSG has also been a second-tier team in terms of Champions League coverage, with Premier League clubs, Barca, Madrid and Bayern getting top billing. Interest in Neymar will lead to some tough decisions at FOX about which games to feature.
Branding opportunities at Le Meurice for, like, six days
Barcelona is a wonderful cosmopolitan city that rich and famous people often visit, but when it comes to celebrity-spotting, Barcelona is no Paris. While FC Barcelona often provides an excuse for famous people to visit Catalonia, celebrities are in Paris on a daily basis for every reason imaginable.
As cynical as this sounds and as revolting as it may be to serious soccer fans, it’s important for Neymar to become a huge global brand with penetration among people who don’t watch soccer. Instead of Neymar pointing at Calvin Harris, expect to see Jay-Z and Beyoncé pointing at Neymar in pictures in the near future.
Sorry about that; let’s talk about the soccer part of this move
Ultimately, Neymar made this move to have a chance to be recognized as the best soccer player in the world. He wants to be the best player on a Champions League-winning team, and he wants to win the Ballon d’Or. That’s going to be difficult at PSG.
Ligue 1 is widely considered to be Europe’s fifth-best league, and goals racked up in that competition don’t count for much in the eyes of Ballon d’Or voters. Zlatan Ibrahimovic finished fourth in 2013 Ballon d’Or voting but otherwise didn’t get much respect for his accomplishments in a PSG shirt. His finishes in the last three votes: 13th, 11th, 13th.
Champions League, then, is everything. It doesn’t matter if Neymar scores 50 league goals for PSG — if he’s not a Champions League winner or the competition’s leading scorer, he won’t get any respect in the Ballon d’Or vote.
He will likely need to be patient for that. PSG hasn’t violated Financial Fair Play by signing him, but there’s a good chance they’ll be in violation if they don’t sell a couple of players. It’s likely that Neymar’s first couple of attempts to capture a European Cup will be with a relatively thin squad.
So when Neymar says he’s at PSG for the project...
...he better be serious. PSG did not become the best team in the world by signing Neymar. Not even close. They can be by the end of his five-year contract, but it’ll take some very smart management.
Money isn’t everything, but it makes this a low-risk gamble
Neymar wanted to leave Barcelona to lead his own club, but if he never wins anything, his contract isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Even if Neymar never wins a Ballon d’Or or Champions League and ends up being branded a “failure” at PSG, he will have made more money than he would have at Barca. It’s a lot easier to greet failures with a positive attitude when you have a nine-figure contract. Additionally, Nike already has a lot invested in him, and they’ll promote him even more now that he’s the biggest star on his team.
But of course, Neymar doesn’t plan on failing. He’s betting on his ability to turn a second-tier team into the biggest club in the world. He wants to be recognized as a superstar who accomplished this feat.
Gary Lineker is wrong. The ceiling for Neymar’s personal legacy is higher at PSG than it would have been at Barcelona. He should be praised for betting on himself to reach it instead of staying comfortable at a club that other people built.