Money, money, money - PSG, Manchester City, and the dull march towards a footballing oligarchy

It’s all just a bit boring, isn’t it?
Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)
Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

In a transfer window that has seemingly prided itself on being the craziest, whackiest, zaniest hodgepodge of excess and plot twists, speculative reports that Cristiano Ronaldo could be on the move this summer feel like yet another drop in an oil-slicked ocean.

At this stage, we are all innocent bystanders to the law of diminishing returns. If you were to open your living room blinds tomorrow morning and see a monster truck drive down your street, you’d have a kitten. If you then went up the local Asda and the car park was chock-full of them, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Over the past couple of months, PSG have ravaged the elite European market like a plague of locusts, feasting on Bosmans and selling dreams of Champions League glory with all the pizzazz of a travelling Monorail salesman.

Lionel Messi poses with his PSG jersey next to President Nasser Al Khelaifi. (Photo by Sebastien Muylaert/Getty Images)Lionel Messi poses with his PSG jersey next to President Nasser Al Khelaifi. (Photo by Sebastien Muylaert/Getty Images)
Lionel Messi poses with his PSG jersey next to President Nasser Al Khelaifi. (Photo by Sebastien Muylaert/Getty Images)

Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Gini Wijnaldum, and of course, Lionel Messi have all completed free transfers to the only club in world football who you could feasibly imagine using cashmere scarves for their unveiling pics, while Achraf Hakimi and Danilo Pereira have also rocked up for combined fees totalling somewhere around the £70 million mark.

We’ve seen so-called dream teams cobbled together in similar manners before – Real Madrid’s Galacticos and AC Milan’s mid-noughties continental juggernaut both spring to mind - but there’s something about PSG’s iron-fisted talent grab that feels particularly pernicious.

It’s as if their owners watched Space Jam and thought Danny De Vito’s gang of cartoon alien hoodlums were the good guys. Undeniably, there is a burgeoning glut of superhuman talent congregating in the French capital, but this is less Avengers Assemble and more Hyper-Opulent Scavengers Dismantle with brutish, anabolic, near-monopolistic mercilessness.

Granted, clubs have spent big before in a bid to outstrip their rivals, and the apologists will argue that PSG haven’t actually had to fork out much in the way of traditional transfer expenditure for their glimmering new playthings. But in an age of Financial Fair Play and piggybank-decimating global pandemics, all this loophole-threading and account-massaging comes across as, well, morally bankrupt.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)
Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

And that’s not to mention how brattish it all feels. Everybody knows PSG want the Champions League. The burning desire with which they covet Europe’s top title makes Gollum’s interest in the One Ring look like a whirlwind holiday fling, but so far they have been spurned over and over again. So, naturally, they’ve turned to the only logical vehicle left that could carry them to glory - the steamroller.

For a side who approach their domestic duties like a child at a bowling alley who insists on having the gutter guards lifted and using one of those metal slide things, this is like turning up with a hand grenade in their back pocket to deal with any pesky 7-10 splits that might besmirch their scorecard.

Which brings us nicely back to Cristiano Ronaldo and, more pertinently, Manchester City.

If the gossipmongers are to be believed, the Premier League champions are one of the lucky clubs who super agent Jorge Mendes is trying to flog the Juventus adonis to in the latter stages of the transfer window.

This is one of the greatest players of all time, and he’s supposedly being offered around with all the casual abandon of a breath mint. Pep revolutionised the game with tiki taka, now it would seem he could do it again with Tic Tac football.

There are parallels to be drawn between City and PSG - the obsession with continental success, the petrostate backing, the propensity for retail therapy.

And the prospect of CR7 forsaking his time with Manchester United to spend a stint at the Etihad, as improbable as it may be, is equally as disheartening as Messi and co. rifling around in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Ronaldo won’t end up at City, but the fact that he could, coupled with the inevitability that some other wantaway supernova will if he doesn’t, is proof that the Premier League is not immune from this looming PSG phenomenon.

Gradually, what we’re seeing in the very upper echelons of the professional game is a transition towards football for video game devotees - an offshoot of a celebrity-fixated, fast fashion, fast food, synapse-blasting, clout-chasing culture that frazzles attention spans like bacon in a furnace as sensible conjecture lies motionless on the library floor while a grotesque digital hydra, each of its heads sporting the face of an anonymous Twitter avi, stands over it with a bloody lead pipe in its hand, all the time screaming the word “RATIO” with the dulled wit and house brick nuance of a petulant seagull.

In all seriousness though, it’s a culture in which people support individual players rather than entire teams, in which competition is sacrificed at the altar of financial might, in which the very notion of a player like Ronaldo or Messi playing for any club other than a filthy rich, microscopic handful is almost laughably absurd.

Whether it be through exorbitant transfer fees or head-spinning wages, the call of money remains the strongest lure in the professional game, which is quite incredible when you remember the fact that there’s a significant minority of supporters and critics who would have you believe that all footballers are mollycoddled Marxist shills intent on watching capitalism burn. Poor Karl put all that work into getting them to take the knee and this is how they repay him? It’s not very comradely. Or perhaps those same critics think that Marxism refers to the work of Groucho, Harpo, and the rest of their brothers? We’re certainly entering the realms of financial farce at this point.

In many respects, football is a Darwinian venture. The big lads have always strutted about like kings of the jungle, gorging themselves on their poor relations and using their mountainous hoards of silverware as toothpicks.

But there’s a big difference between a perpetual struggle for supremacy, a gradual build to a warranted crescendo, a thrilling chase to ensnare your prey, if you will, and shooting fish in a barrel. PSG’s template for success is less like a lion roaming the savannah, and more like your dad heading down to Tesco on a bank holiday weekend to pick up some quarter pounders for the barbecue. The spoils are the same, but it’s hardly an act of honour or exertion.

And if we’re not careful, we’ll see the likes of City - perhaps along with Manchester United, maybe Chelsea - form a similarly untouchable oligarchy in the Premier League.

Let’s not forget that it was only a matter of weeks ago that Pep was selling us sob stories about how his side simply could not afford to replace the departing Sergio Aguero, and now we face the very real possibility of them buying not one, but two new players for nine-figure transfer fees this summer. (The less said about the European Super League debacle, the better.)

For now though, PSG remain the most blameworthy culprits, and should they finally get their mitts on their jug-eared continental paramour at long last, don’t expect it to be met with a tidal wave of glee from neutral supporters.

Instead, the reaction is likely to be much closer in sentiment to that meme-worthy fella off Come Dine With Me a few years ago who found out he’d lost out to fellow contestant Jane in his own living room, and made no attempt to hide his discontent.

His words, with a few minor tweaks, feel oddly applicable here.

To paraphrase: “You won, PSG. Enjoy the money, I hope it makes you very happy. Dear Lord, what a sad little life, PSG. You ruined our game, completely, so you could have the money, but I hope now you spend it on getting some lessons in grace and decorum because you have all the grace of a reversing dump truck without any tyres on.”