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Money in Football

Plenty has been said about the recent transfer of Brazilian footballer Neymar from Barcelona to PSG for a world record fee of €222 million. People have discussed, and articles have tried to explain, why one of the best players in the world would choose to leave one of the world’s biggest clubs, where he was regularly winning trophies, and was an integral part of what many have called the greatest attacking trio of all time.

Explanations have centred around the idea that Neymar, now aged 25, is entering what will be the most important stage of his career, not least because next season will end with a World Cup, and he doesn’t want to spend those years in the shadow of Lionel Messi.

Ever since leaving Brazil, there has been a feeling about Neymar, both from himself and those around him, that his career will be defined by whether or not he wins the World Player of the Year Award. Some people will consider this admirable ambition. Others, however, will call it egotistical, a dependence and insistence upon individual accolades that shouldn’t exist in a team sport. And others will say it has nothing to do with ambition or awards – it’s all down to money.

Neymar's startling wages don't really change the perception of modern day football. The sport and money have been intrinsically linked for as long as most fans can remember.

That’s because the money Neymar is reportedly earning at PSG is staggering. It’s  believed to be £26,780,000 a year, £2,232,000 a month, £515,000 a week, £73,571 a day, £3,065 each hour, £51 a minute, 85p a second. Yet these figures, though startling, don’t really change our perception of modern day football. The sport and money have been intrinsically linked for as long as most fans can remember, and few people will argue with the idea that players at the highest end of the game are paid far too much.

As such, a bigger potential change to money in football came this week with the announcement from Manchester United player, Juan Mata, that he was starting an initiative to try and give something back.

Last year Mata admitted that he and other professional footballers earn ‘obscene’ amounts of money and ‘live in a bubble’. The Spaniard, understood to earn about 150,000 a week, said: ‘With respect to the world of football, I earn a normal wage. But compared to 99.9% of Spain and the rest of the world, I earn a silly amount.’

It’s perhaps this belief that last week led Mata to announce that he would be donating one per cent of salary to charity, and to call upon his fellow professionals to do the same. He wrote in his blog, ‘It’s a small gesture that can change the world’, adding that ‘[footballers] have so many opportunities simply because we play a children’s game.’

What Mata proposes would be a welcome step forward in making charitable gestures from footballers more commonplace and consistent.

Just how grand a gesture it is from Mata will undoubtedly be cynically questioned. Put in simple terms, if a footballer earning £100,000, as many in the premier league do, were to follow Mata’s lead, their weekly salary would only fall from £100,000 to £99,000. It’s not much of a sacrifice, and people may suggest that if they’re going to donate to charity, the should donate more.

Mata is understood to earn £150,000 a week at Manchester United.

This attitude, however, would somewhat miss the point, because what Mata is suggesting is undoubtedly a step forward. Footballers donations are not completely new. When David Beckham played for PSG, he donated all his wages from his five-month contract to charity; after the Grenfell Tower, Raheem Sterling made a ‘substantial’ donation to the affected residents; and Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly donated £5 million to help the aid effort in Nepal following the devastating earthquake there.

What Mata proposes, would be a welcome step forward in making gestures like this more commonplace and consistent. Estimated wage bills vary depending on the source, but no matter where you look, Mata’s Manchester United teammates are thought to earn well over £200 million a year in combined wages. If they all donated one per cent, this would be £2 million a year going to charity.

Add in the other nineteen premier league teams, who are generally reported to pay their players somewhere between £25 million a year and £225 million a year, and the total Premier League wage bill approaches something like £2 billion. One per cent of this would produce £20 million, which, put into context, is a third of the £60 Children in Need raised in its entire 2016 campaign. It’s a huge amount of money when gathered together, and considering the wages most premier league players are on, they probably wouldn’t notice it missing from their pay packet.

As we head into the new season, Neymar’s big money move will continue to be the topic that generates conversation; but when it comes to money in football, hopefully it’s Juan Mata’s actions that set the precedent going forward.

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