Neymar to PSG: The politics behind the transfer saga
Forget sport, this mammoth deal is about the global status of everyone involved
With the football world transfixed by the saga of Neymar's £198m move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, could there be more to the deal than meets the eye?
On the face of it, it is just a transaction between two football clubs - albeit one that smashes the world record fee for a player and appears to signify a shift in power, with a club from the footballing backwater of France outmuscling a Spanish superpower.
But in reality, the main drivers in the deal are as much political as sporting.
PSG are owned by Qatari Sports Investment (QSI), an arm of Qatar's vast sovereign wealth fund, as Richard Conway of the BBC explains.
That means PSG represent more than just Paris on the world stage. Its ambitions reflect those of its owners, who are facing a crisis.
"Qatar is locked in a bitter dispute with its Arab neighbours - so this transfer has a distinct political overtone as it seeks to show it will not be diminished or cowed by an ongoing trade blockade and a diplomatic war of words," says Conway.
"Having secured the World Cup in 2022, Doha sees PSG as one of the ways through which the state can achieve its ambitions."
If Neymar moves, it would be the "most political transfer in football history", says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph.
"There is almost no level on which Neymar moving to PSG would be anything but political - or financial, which is often pretty much the same thing. In no sense could it be called 'sporting' - a 25-year-old seeking out a higher challenge on the field of play.
"Qatar, newly framed by their neighbours as a pariah state, needs good news."
The old order
When Qatar chose to invest in PSG, they knew they were buying an upstart club that was not part of the European elite.
Under Qatari ownership, the club's footballing mission has been "to break the Champions League-winning cartel of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus. They want the glamour, the profile and the branding", says Hayward.
Neymar brings a little taste of that glitz, but it remains to be seen what the player gets from the move. "PSG need a player of his profile far more than Neymar needs a move to PSG."
Even if it all comes to nothing, it will not have been in vain as far as PSG are concerned, says Pete Jenson for Mailonline. Simply getting this far counts as a success as it will have unsettled the old order.
"Barcelona pride themselves on being 'more than a club'," says Jenson. "It’s written into the seats of their stadium. But this summer the Neymar circus has shone an unflattering light on them and revealed a once proud institution as weak, directionless and suddenly very unconvincing on the world stage.
"No matter how things finish up with Neymar, and nothing can be ruled out in this pantomime played out across three continents, it is clear that they have been given the runaround by a 25 year-old kid and his agent father."
The one question that remains unanswered is why Neymar, the pawn in the wider game, would agree to leave the mighty Barcelona, where he plays alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, to ply his trade against the likes of Caen and Guingcamp.
Part of the reason is money - the Brazilian will be paid more than £500,000 a week if he signs - while another relates to recognition. "We are led to believe Neymar is tortured by the prospect of never being World Player of the Year, and by having to fester in the Messi-Ronaldo shadow," says Hayward.
It is a huge gamble, however. "However brightly he shines in Paris in a team of excellent players but few household names, Neymar will lack the global reach his brand ambitions demand, unless he leads PSG to that Champions League and wins the Fifa gong, in which case everyone would owe him an apology."