I was waiting for a bus in Stockbridge, here in Edinburgh, when a bloke came out of the post office, crossed the road, and got into a huge lime green and black Maserati. As he turned the ignition, it roared into life with a noise that sounded not dissimilar to my old petrol lawnmower put through a 100 watt Mesa Boogie amp. The sound bounced off the tenement walls on each side of the road, making everyone turn to look at what was creating this unholy mechanical growl.
As the car moved off, a woman in her 60s who had the look of a Woodstock veteran in a freaky-tie-dyed silk scarf and old blue denim jacket turned to me and with a scowl said: “I think that’s awful. He’s just so rude and selfish. I don’t know how we can live with himself, disturbing the peace like that.”
I agreed with her. “It actually sounds like the car is broken, but I think he likes the attention. You don’t buy a £100,000 car in green and black if you don’t want to be noticed.”
She looked at the car again and shook her head. “Who does he think he’s impressing? Having a big expensive car seem so old-fashioned. It’s just a car and he’s just a man.”
It was nice bit of street philosophy, and as the bus arrived, I got on and looked out of the back window to see the vivid metal monstrosity sitting in a traffic jam, revving its engine impatiently. But no matter how much noise it made, no matter how much money it had cost, it still had to sit in line with all the other cars, impotent and useless to affect change, all self-regarding pretension punctured by something as mundane as a roadworks. Just a car. Just a man. It was a lesson.
The next day the Neymar transfer was announced. £198 million. What do you think about that figure? Where do you put that in your emotional, sporting and moral landscape? We read the arguments about it about how it is stupid money, or how it is actually affordable. How it is the Qatari owners of PSG trying to bleach their country’s slave labour blood from their hands and look important enough to be allowed to host a World Cup that many people, with good reason to know, think was obtained through bribery and corruption. Though quite how dropping a couple of hundred million for a footballer makes you look anything other than an amoral regime, I have no idea.
One of the reasons it seems so ridiculous is because Neymar isn’t a high-end indestructible robot, he’s just a bloke with terrible hair, like the rest of us. He’s one accident with a big bottle of tomato sauce away from breaking a toe and being unable to play for six months; he’s one gardening accident away from losing a foot; or one badly timed tackle away from rupturing his ACL. And then what? All that money hasn’t bought you any advantage. All you’ve got is an expensive broken thing.
Either that or more prosaically, he could just lose form, play poorly and contribute little. It happens. Especially when someone is under a lot of pressure to live up to a huge fee.
To invest so much in one asset is surely a terrible idea on any level. Clearly the amount of money is small potatoes to them but that doesn’t make the Qatari owners suddenly seem respectable. Instead, it makes them seem like figures of fun, or at worst profligate and immoral. Spending a lot of money on a footballer doesn’t make you a big player, it makes you a small player pretending to be big.
It is self-evident that one man can’t turn a team into world-beaters, anyway. It’s like putting all your money into a house made of ice and hoping that you don’t get a warm spell.
Spreading the risk across three or four players would make more sense, but then this isn’t about sense, it is about showing off. Buying yourself a cheap second-hand car makes more sense than buying a Maserati because you just get stuck in traffic anyway, and rather than being the recipient of the envy you hoped to attract, you merely become a laughing stock.
If PSG’s owners think they’re going to get more respect for spending £198 million, they are sadly mistaken and, rather than set a trend for ever higher fees, it will serve as the perfect illustration of the folly of such grotesque old-fashioned, out-of-touch, horrible financial vomiting.
As I sat down next to the bus stop woman, I told her it was still stuck in stationary traffic. She had one final, rather understated comment to make about the Maserati driver.
“Well I’d rather be on a bus any day. Spending all that money in order to try and make yourself look good never works. Quite the reverse.”
Amen to that.