The times certainly seem to be changing. In its most attention-grabbing form, the new benchmark of €222 million (Dh963.8m) for Neymar has seen the unattainably preposterous become unfathomable reality. Summer madness at its most extreme.
Yet this paradigm-shifting outlay by Paris Saint-Germain is just one aspect of a more profound and all-encompassing trend which has grabbed hold of the market. A reframing is at play, floods of both TV money and largesse from owners combining to alter behaviour.
It can currently be witnessed in Southampton’s stubborness over Virgil van Dijk. From Borussia Dortmund openly detailing why their demands have pushed beyond €100m (Dh434.2m) for a player in Ousmane Dembele which they purchased last summer for €15m (Dh65.1m). Then to the amicable Philippe Coutinho causing civil war at Liverpool to force through his own move to Barcelona.
A paradox is at play. Manchester United this year becoming the first club to surpass the $3 billion (Dh13bn) threshold in valuation by KPMG helps prove there has never been more money in football, yet it appears making transfers is proving more difficult than ever. The art of negotiation is no longer needed. Accounts buttressed by burgeoning revenue streams ensure a steep price is paid, or no deal is made – as Manchester City’s no-expense-spared pursuit of full-backs has shown.
Heating of the market caused by the unexpected payment of Neymar’s release clause has only accentuated this issue.
The way clubs approach transfers and players embrace contract renewals also must change, as the power relationship between football’s two major factions shifts back into the direction of the employers.
The Red Devils’ moneyed manager Jose Mourinho has castigated the “dangerous” spending of “£30million, £40million, £50million in such an easy way” to land targets not from the top level.
Everton have lavished such sums on goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Burnley centre-back Michael Keane, yet look destined to remain outside the top six.
Contracts are now king. If a player has more than two years left before expiry, then all the power is with the clubs. The financial imperative to sell has been negated. Arsenal’s comfort letting star man Alexis Sanchez wind his contract down is case in point.
The decision whether to renew is also now a delicate matter. Coutinho agreed to vastly-improved terms of £150,000 per week (Dh712,380) in January, yet this life-changing sum has potentially cost him the move of a lifetime to Barca. The same applies for Van Dijk and last summer’s renewal.
Do you take the money when offered, or hedge your bets that a better opportunity is to come in the season’s ahead?
In the NBA, LeBron James only ever signs short-term deals to maintain control of his destiny.
The supply chain the market is founded upon has been disrupted. Players moved to Southampton, and even Dortmund, knowing that exemplary performances would lead to transfers away. A tacit understanding of this reality drew players of Van Dijk’s quality to the Saints. But will they now be reticent to make such a move?
Or will clubs seeking to invest be prepared to offer shorter contracts to still be alluring, despite the lack of protection for their outlay?
These facets all add up to make the remaining weeks of the summer more intriguing than ever.