Gareth Bale And Neymar Have Different Plans; Both Reflect The Same Issue
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Finally, after months of frustration on both sides, Real Madrid appears ready to offload Gareth Bale, with the Welsh winger headed for Los Angeles FC in Major League Soccer. In other elite-player news, Paris Saint-Germain seems prepared to keep Neymar by offering the world’s most expensive transfer a lucrative contract extension, as it did with Kylian Mbappé not long ago. For Neymar, this would reportedly be a five-year deal.

As the big breakaway edges closer for Bale, who can soon put any troubles firmly behind him, he and Neymar seem to be taking different decisions, with one going and the other staying put. Yet, with discontent never far away from both players, they each represent the same curious reality within super clubs today, which has been growing in relevance for a while—that money is virtually boundless, and what it brings is never enough.

Combined, Real and PSG spent well over €300 million ($317 million) in upfront fees for the players mentioned, with much more in wages. In Neymar’s situation, no team has paid more for a recruit than PSG did for the Brazilian in 2017, whisking him away from Barcelona for €222 million ($234 million).

For all their goals and accolades, critical perceptions have surfaced. For Bale, it has often been over his lack of game time and supposed struggles to adapt to Real. For Neymar, his brilliance has not propelled Paris Saint-Germain to a first Champions League honor. And, of course, there is the expectation that when flush teams invest boldly, anything but the best is not enough.

As Diario AS wrote earlier this month, a curse (Spanish) seems to have fallen over the majority of signings costing over €100 million ($106 million), of which there have been 12 so far. Neymar heads this small but presumably growing band, followed by—that’s right, another PSG player—strike partner Kylian Mbappé. That can’t just be a coincidence. With big bets come high pressure, scrutiny, and no room for error. It almost dooms matters from the start.

Especially in Bale’s case, all this poses what exactly we expect money to bring. If trophies are the answer, Bale—admirer or not—has ticked all the boxes. Indeed, his performances have clinched final victories in the Champions League and the domestic Copa del Rey, with him scoring some of the best Madrid goals ever. When he leaves, those will stay intact.

It’s crazy to consider that some will be relieved to see such a player leave. What’s also crazy is how Real has gone on to win more trophies with him on the sidelines, a peripheral figure to whom they can still afford to pay high wages. If anything, the idea that Bale has gone from a hero to a problem is bizarre.

Unlike Bale, who did so for a while, Neymar has not become the ultimate game-changer many would have expected when he left Barcelona for Paris. He has brought something to PSG. But given the monopoly it has over other teams in France, not being crowned a champion of Europe has left his supreme talent somewhat hollow in output. Betting too much on one player has been a problem, though, and the same approach has also put unnecessary pressure on him at World Cups, which hasn’t worked out.

And yet, PSG is prepared to keep shelling out to keep him. Quite simply, it’s because it can. But to what end? Next season, the 30-year-old is no more likely to take PSG to the next level than he was earlier in his career. His stock is no higher. But PSG’s financial pull doesn’t relent.

All this shows just how far removed PSG has become, both in terms of a convincing sporting project and success. As much of a fashion brand and NFT player as a soccer club, PSG will probably pick up another Ligue 1 title next year. It will also likely bow out of another European knockout game as it has during most of the last few campaigns while spending big to stay in the conversation. The Neymar-PSG relationship is symbiotic in how each gains something from maintaining ties, but not everything.

Bale and Neymar are expensive talents with different itineraries in the game. Perhaps their promise and costly fees have left something to be desired. As one heads to Los Angeles and the other tries again in France, this is not necessarily their puzzle to solve, but one modern-day soccer instead.

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