The 222-million-euro transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain has exposed financial fair play as a myth once and for all. It's time for a football revolution, writes DW's Joscha Weber.
Jürgen Klopp is a good coach. However, he became a fan favorite in Mainz, Dortmund and Liverpool not just by winning games but because he appears to be well grounded, authentic, and calls things as he sees them. Klopp has often said in public what the average fan is also thinking – and he has done it again.
"I always thought financial fair play was meant to prevent something like this, but it seems like financial fair play is more of a recommendation than an actual rule," the Liverpool manager told German public broadcaster ARD during an Audi Cup broadcast.
Once again, Klopp touched a nerve with his spontaneous response on the sidelines of the Allianz Arena pitch. Not just the Liverpool manager but millions of football fans are also shaking their heads about the dizzying dimension of the Neymar transfer. The question is: Does football stick to its own rules? The answer is: Unfortunately not.
UEFA's Potemkin village
Financial fair play is little more than empty words. It's a well-meaning attempt to get to grips at least partially with the turbo-capitalization of professional football. Clubs have been finding ways to skirt the rule for quite some time, in fact essentially from its very inception. Paris Saint-Germain's payment of 222 million euros ($262 million) to Barcelona has exposed this attempt as a failure. In other words, financial fair play has been unmasked as a Potemkin village.
Financial fair play, adopted by UEFA in 2009 and implemented in 2013, "is about improving the overall financial health of European club football," according to the UEFA website. The crux of the rule is that clubs are allowed to spend a maximum of five million euros more than they take in annually over any given within a period of three years. In exceptional cases, a deficit of 30 million euros is also allowed. Given the 222 million (taking into account bonus payments, salary and commissions, in total, the deal is likely worth more than 500 million euros) PSG have paid for Neymar, they stand no chance of complying with financial fair play, especially since their balance in the current transfer window without this mega deal is just one million euros to the good. Spanish league President Javier Tebas, who did what he could to try to block the transfer, has good reason to be angry about what he has described as "financial doping." The millions that the Qatari owners are pumping into their Paris Saint-Germain plaything are endangering both competition and football.
The fans have a lever
Paris is by no means alone; many other European football heavyweights make a mockery of financial fair play. The temptation of bringing in huge stars is simply too great, not only due to the sporting success but the marketing opportunities that come with them. In actual fact, racking up transfer deficits such as in the case of Neymar is punishable by various sanctions, including the exclusion from competitions and the withdrawal of titles or awards. The problem is that these sanctions are never imposed. So financial fair play is a toothless tiger - perhaps because UEFA actually wants it that way. The fee paid for Neymar will not be the highest ever for long, and the transfer fee of 18-year-old jewel Kylian Mbappe is bound to be somewhere in the same stratosphere.
It's now time for the fans, who finance all of this through their pay-TV subscriptions, tickets, jerseys, scarves or even club shares, to take a stand. The voices of protest are already being heard but they need to become much louder. It's time for a football revolution. The clubs will seek to recover the astronomical transfer fees and salaries from their supporters. At this point the fans have to show that they are no longer prepared to accept this. Things have simply gone too far. Football has become a purely commercial venture, and if you choose to go along with it, it's your own fault.