The free transfer has started its flashy rebranding. Often seen as a mere tool of the day laborer or the last chance for prominence from a star fading with a lesser team, it has emerged again, as a way for players and agents to regain bargaining power and control the narrative of their careers. More recently, it has been shown as yet another reminder of a dangerous financial divide in pandemic-era football.
With the signing of Real Madrid legend Sergio Ramos on Thursday to a two-year contract following the expiration of his contract in the Spanish capital, Paris Saint-Germain have made clear what was already quite evident: this is the era of the super rich.
After a disappointing season in which they finished second in Ligue 1 to Lille and pulled out of the Champions League in the semi-finals, PSG are not just making a splash in the hottest names with the highest prices in the conventional sense. Just because you can buy the most expensive players from other clubs for exorbitant fees doesn’t mean you necessarily have to.
Rather, this summer, PSG is exerting its financial influence – one that, importantly, is not tied to game day and TV revenue – in a different way, focusing on a single metric that is and is not. easy to quantify. How do you create a winning culture in a club without a winning tradition, at least from a global sense, rooted in its DNA? PSG’s answer is simple: you attract the winners.
Entered Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, a Champions League and Premier League winner still in the prime of his career. The ultimate champion arrives in Ramos, a World Cup champion and two-time Euro Cup winner with five La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies to his name. And enter the 22-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, finalist of Euro 2020 and the most coveted goalkeeper in the world. prior to enters its prime. Each one arrives, or will arrive, in Paris in a free transfer.
Far from being “free” due to high player salaries, bonuses and agent commissions, free transfers can be a misnomer. They have become the usurped tool of the mega-rich for the salaries that a team like PSG can offer a loose player. Few can match them, not even a giant like Barcelona. By pulling Wijnaldum out of an expected deal with Barca, PSG’s inflated salary package proved to be the difference. The Dutch star admitted that he will earn more in Paris before stating doubtfully that his “choice has nothing to do with money.”
By signing players like Wijnaldum, Ramos and Donnarumma for free, PSG achieves two goals: cultivate a winning culture and prevent your enemies from doing the same. Burdened with huge debt and desperate to level their books, the transfer prospects for Barcelona and Inter Milan this summer are limited. That is why Barcelona has added three own signings, although on a smaller scale, in Memphis Depay, Sergio Agüero and Eric García.
From a more pragmatic perspective, PSG adds even more depth to a squad that is one of the deepest in Europe on paper. Donnarumma will compete and then is expected to supplant veteran goalkeeper Keylor Navas in a position where the slightest improvement can make a difference. Wijnaldum adds pedigree and sublime intuition for a great goal to a packed but talented midfield that saw Danilo Pereira’s loan on loan this summer. And Ramos will now bring his experience and championship knowledge to an already formidable central defense corps that already has Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe. Achraf Hakimi, the club’s big splash of non-free transfers this summer with a € 60 million ($ 70.9 million) arrival from Serie A champions Inter Milan, fills the void at the right-back.
But finally, and most importantly for the future of PSG, the signings show a bet on two players in particular: Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, faces of the franchise that are constantly linked with movements towards traditional European powers. The buzz around Neymar should subside after he signed a new deal until 2025, but Mbappé’s plan, as of now, is reportedly to see the final year of his deal to the point where he It could technically become the most coveted free transfer in the world. That is, unless PSG can show him that his environment and his future are worthy of his loyalty. Winning Ligue 1 is not enough. It is the Champions League where the legacies are made and where the energy of Qatar Sports Investments is directed. That has always been clear at PSG and why a UCL semi-final outing to Manchester City last season hurt more than losing the league to Lille. Mbappé, who at 22 already has a World Cup title and a closing moment of the Eurocup under his belt for France, knows it, and that is why the fact that the club does not overcome that final obstacle is part of the reason for his uncertainty.
A move for a leader like Ramos and budding talents like Hakimi and Donnarumma doubles down in that chase for an elusive Champions League trophy and proves a critical point: where else in an age marked by the consequences of reckless spending? and the possible austerity of a pandemic? Are you going to find a club that keeps pushing for more while the vast majority are forced to cut back?
The options are few. And whether it’s attracting free transfers, offering what it takes to keep players like Mbappé and Neymar or seeking more stars through the conventional transfer route, PSG continues to show that their sights are still set on the bigger prize.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.