So whose side are you on in the fallout following Kylian Mbappé's decision to stick with Paris Saint-Germain? Watching the amazing outrage in Spain, with the press implicating the Frenchman of lacking class and La Liga branding the deal as "outrageous", has raised eyebrows. But not as many as PSG being able to stump up a EUR200m-plus plan for the world's best player-- in spite of making a EUR224m loss last year.
There are no good people here, only a gnawing anxiousness that the laws of financial gravity are being defied to the additional detriment of the game we like. As La Liga put it in an unprecedented attack, the transfer revealed that state-owned clubs, such as the Qatar-run PSG, "do not regard and do not wish to respect the guidelines of a sector as essential as football" and that "sporting stability" was at stake.
They are big claims and La Liga has backed them up with a vow to file a complaint to Uefa and the EU. Yet Real Madrid are hardly paragons of virtue in this area. Last year they were central to the European Super League project, which threatened the sporting stability of European football far more than Mbappé staying with PSG. Just recently they were also among 4 Spanish clubs bought by the EU's highest court to pay back millions of euros after it ruled they had taken advantage of state help.
PSG have independently brushed off La Liga's attacks, with one executive firmly insisting to me that its EUR224m loss was allowed under the current Uefa monetary fair play guidelines, which were loosened up because of the pandemic. It is likewise comprehended that at a PSG board meeting this month it was revealed that Lionel Messi made the club EUR15m last season, even after all his costs were taken into consideration.
The message was clear. Yes, Mbappé's deal is crazily costly. But the club think they can make that cash back and follow Uefa's new monetary fair play guidelines that enter into effect in 2025.
Maybe. But cynics will hope the guidelines are more robust than the previous version, which showed easier to circumvent than the Maginot Line-- with PSG and Manchester City among those found guilty. There are likewise well-founded fears that state-run clubs are producing inflationary pressures in the transfer market, while PSG's president Nasser al-Khelaifi's enormous influence throughout Uefa and the European Club Association is also impossible to disregard.
To my mind, though, the response to Mbappé's new deal goes beyond the reasonable squeamishness about sovereign wealth funds running clubs. It is likewise about how easy it is for the teams to entrench their advantage and destroy leagues. Would anybody bet against PSG, who have won 8 of the past 10 Ligue 1 titles, winning next year? And the year after that? Or Bayern Munich, who have won 10 Bundesliga titles in a row, another procession?
Naturally there are exceptions-- look at Manchester United. However while English football is certainly more unforeseeable, as was seen again on a significant final day, Manchester City have actually still won 4 Premier League titles in 5 years and simply eight clubs have ended up in the top three in the past 25 years. Eight!-- the very same number as in the first five years of the Premier League in between 1992-93 and 1996-97, when Norwich, Blackburn and Aston Villa all challenged for the title.
Data from the site Sporting Intelligence, which tracks player incomes throughout numerous leagues and sports, reveals there is a strong link in between the quantity a club spend on earnings and where they finish in the table. But it does not need to be that way.
In the United States, where income caps, high-end taxes and drafts for college players ensure that the major leagues are kept spicy and dicey, the difference is plain. Major League Baseball has actually had eight World Series winners in the past decade and five further teams finishing as runners-up. Simply put, 13 of the MLB's 30 teams have defended the sport's greatest price in the past 10 years.
In the NHL, meanwhile, 14 of the league's 32 clubs have actually played in a Stanley Cup final since 2012. In the NFL the figure is 13 out of 32, with some teams able to go from also‑rans to Super Bowl competitors within a couple of years.
Strangely enough, however, that absence of football's competitive balance has not dented the game's appeal. One explanation, based upon in-depth analysis of the information by the economists Dr Babatunde Buraimo and Dr Rob Simmons, is that TV audiences are far less interested in enjoying competitive matches than they were-- and rather they want the big names, regardless of the opposition.
And there is nobody bigger than Mbappé today. According to one football executive I talked to, the deal stresses an even bigger shift in power in favour of players, more of whom are content to diminish their agreements intentionally so they get all the cash from a new deal.
That executive likewise explained that it made good sense for Mbappé to wait and play off PSG and Real Madrid. And also for PSG to pay a big signing-on fee rather than have to sign another player from a rival club.It is tough to argue with that. However whether football's ghoulish freakonomics is as useful for the rest of us is another matter totally.