Neymar’s move to PSG from Barcelona will make him the first player in 85 years to more than double the previous transfer record. An already inflated environment will feel the consequences.
Bernabé Ferreyra, according to his River Plate team-mate José Manuel ‘El Charro’ Moreno, never used to let his status as the world’s most expensive player bother him. “Bernabé earned as much money as he wanted but he was not concerned with keeping it,” he said. “He gave other people a lot of money, without asking for anything in return. When he shook your hand, you could be sure that you had a friend for the rest of your life.”
But 85 years since the Argentinian striker moved from Club Atlético Tigre to the club nicknamed ‘Los Millonarios’ for £23,000, Ferreyra has finally lost his record. Neymar’s impending move to Paris Saint-Germain in a £198m transfer from Barcelona not only makes the Brazilian the latest name to join the list that began in 1893 when Willie Groves became the first £100 player after joining Aston Villa from West Bromwich Albion. The 25-year-old also becomes the first player since Ferreyra – who went on to score an incredible 187 goals in 185 appearances for River before retiring at the age of 29 – to more than double the existing transfer record.
Even to those who have become used to the spiralling costs of the market in recent years, the numbers are incredible. Whereas Ferreyra’s fee in 1932 – the first time a non-British player had broken the record – was 110% more than the £10,890 Arsenal had paid Bolton four years previously for David Jack, Neymar will cost a whopping 138% more than the £89m Juventus received from Manchester United for Paul Pogba last summer.
To put that into context, the closest any player had come to beating Ferreyra was Johan Cruyff, who moved to Barcelona for £922,000 in 1973, eclipsing the £500,000 Juventus invested in Pietro Anastasi five years previously. Diego Maradona also came close on two occasions when he moved to Barcelona in 1982 and then to Napoli in 1984, although since then only Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 (£80m to Real Madrid, beating Zinedine Zidane’s £46.6m in 2001) has got near.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Neymar’s record will last as long as Ferrerya’s. In 1949, Derby’s purchase of Johnny Morris from Manchester United for £24,000 finally ended his reign as the world’s most expensive player, a 17-year run that has yet to be beaten. Even after a record-breaking summer that had seen Premier League clubs already spend £650m on players – the fourth highest figure in history – by mid-July, it would still take something to overtake Neymar in the foreseeable future.
The inevitable consequence of the domino effect in the market means that a few deals may come close in the coming weeks though. An already inflated environment that has seen Kyle Walker and then Benjamin Mendy become the most expensive defender in history following their moves to Manchester City from Tottenham and Monaco respectively is redefining the parameters of the modern transfer.
Now, with nearly £200m burning a hole in their pockets and under pressure from their supporters, Barcelona will go in search of a high-profile replacement, with Atlético Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann the latest name to be linked.
They are also understood to have held talks with representatives of Ousmane Dembélé, the young France forward who performed a tribute to Neymar after clashing with a Borussia Dortmund team-mate in training over the weekend. Both would usually command fees in or around the £100m mark, yet the cost of players has never been more relative.
Barça’s pursuit of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool, who were considering paying £70m for Naby Keïta despite the midfielder having played only one season for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, is a case in point. Reports of an improved £89m bid for the Brazilian this week have been denied by Liverpool, with Jürgen Klopp once more reiterating that his playmaker was not for sale.
In the current market, and with the player having signed a new five-year contract in January, they could justifiably hold out for a fee way in excess of £100m.
But the landscape has changed and player power will always be victorious in the end. Neymar is believed to have been convinced of the need to leave Barcelona by his father, who coincidentally stands to make a slice of around £35m from seeing his son make history.
Kylian Mbappé, the 18-year-old Monaco prodigy who has been chased by some of Europe’s biggest clubs this summer including Real Madrid, also happens to be advised by his father in a game that has become dominated by so-called super-agents.
With Barça, who would love nothing better than to snatch the signing of the hottest prospect in world football from under their bitter rivals’ noses, having made contact in the last few days after Mbappé reportedly decided he wants to leave the French champions, they both have some big choices to make in the coming weeks.
Ferreyra certainly would not have known what to make of it all.