If you follow European football, or the Premier League here in the UK, you will regularly come across stories about fees and wages. These stories confirm that football finances are very different from the financial realities that most of us deal with. Earlier this month I read a news story about French side PSG which takes this idea to a whole new level. Before I get to that, here are a few milestones from the world of football finance that have adjusted, upwards (always upwards), our understanding of how some players are valued and rewarded by their clubs.
Over 20 years ago it was reported that Roy Keane’s wages at Manchester United had increased to £2.5m a year, or £50k per week. This made him one of the highest-paid players in the League. His weekly salary also featured in a chant from opposition fans, after his own goal in a game against Real Madrid contributed to United’s exit from the Champions League in April 2000. To the tune of “Volare”, they would sing: “Oh Keano, woh-oh-oh-oh / Oh Keano, woh-oh-oh-oh / He earns 50 thousand quid / And scores for Real Madrid”. It showed that the details of his weekly pay had become common knowledge among football fans.
Within a few years, stories about the wage structure at Chelsea showed how quickly things were changing. When Michael Ballack signed for them in 2006 it was reported that his salary was £6.5m per year and that both John Terry and Frank Lampard had clauses in their contracts that guaranteed that they would always be the top-paid players at the club. Whatever they had been earning before, their salaries also went up to £6.5m per year. This meant that the annual wage bill for those three players alone was just under £20m. Ballack had left Chelsea by the time Fernando Torres signed in 2011, for an annual salary reported to be £8.5m. This meant that the combined pay for Torres, Terry and Lampard ran to over £25m per year.
By 2014, according to this piece on the BBC website, Wayne Rooney had become the League’s highest paid player, on £300k per week (£15m per year). At least Rooney was playing regularly for the club. By late 2020 Mesut Ozil’s pay packet at Arsenal was £350k per week (£17.5m per year) and he wasn’t even in the squad. According to this story from last year, when Ozil joined Fenerbahce in January 2021 Arsenal were still paying 90% of his wages (£315k per week). That continued for the rest of the season even though he would no longer be playing for them.
Transfer fees are another story of course, and this page from goal.com lists the 100 most expensive football transfers of all time, with values given in Euros. The two players at the top of the list were both signed by PSG in 2017: Neymar (€222m, from Barcelona) and Kylian Mbappé (€145m, rising to €180m, from Monaco). That’s over €400m for two players, before their salaries are taken into account.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, it was a story about PSG that has prompted these reflections. According to the BBC, Real Madrid offered to buy Mbappé from PSG for £137m last summer (yes, we’ve switched back to pounds sterling here). This offer came even though he only had one year left on his contract. Mbappé could sign for Real in the summer of 2022 and PSG would get nothing. His current salary is reported to be around £20m per year. By turning down the offer from Real, PSG have essentially valued Mbappé, just for this season, at £157m. That’s over £3m per week. For one player. He’s a great footballer, I rate him very highly, but we have moved into a world where the value placed on his services for one week is equivalent to a whole year’s worth of Roy Keane in 2000, or 10 weeks’ worth of Wayne Rooney in 2014. If I find that any other players are valued even more highly by their clubs than Kylian Mbappé is in 2021-22, I’ll let you know, but I’m pretty sure that this is some kind of record.