During a summer in which transfer records were shattered and eye-watering sums of money spent, no-one made more noise than Paris Saint-Germain.
In signing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, they forked out fees that would have smashed the previous record twice over.
Unsurprisingly, their new collection of superstars have raced to the top of Ligue 1, boasting a 100 per cent record and +16 goal difference after five games. Now they’re coming for the Champions League.
The moves for Neymar and Mbappe felt almost dangerous at the time, a genuine shifting of the sands. Teams ruled by Russian billionaires and clubs backed by oil-rich states had threatened the elite before, but never in so overt a manner.
Previously they rivalled them for potential stars of the future and nabbed other sides’ cast-offs. PSG’s bread and butter was taking the cream of Italian football, though never disturbed Juventus.
But this summer they became more brazen. Neymar is the heir to the throne of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He is one of the three best players in the world, and perhaps the most marketable prior to his mega-money contract at PSG, he was the only player whose earnings off the pitch exceeded those on it.
He’s a nailed-on future Ballon d’Or winner. And now he’s playing for a team who were founded four years after Real Madrid won their sixth European Cup.
It produced a strange feeling in the transfer window just gone, one of restlessness and lawlessness; a sense that anything can happen, no player – or club – is safe, and Financial Fair Play dispensed with. If the football landscape, and balance of power, merely shifted over the past few months, it could be completely unrecognisable in a years’ time.
Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta will both be out of contract at Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo having been handed a five-game ban for pushing a referee – still feels restless in the Spanish capital, while Robert Lewandowsi has hit out at the Bayern Munich board for their lack of world-class recruits.
Suddenly the top table of European football are sitting uneasily on their perch, and those clubs just below feel empowered to break up the monopoly once and for all.
Unsurprisingly, the manner of PSG’s sudden assault has not been well received. The actual logistics of how the club actually got around FFP are still all too vague. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s explanation was to invite UEFA to PSG’s offices and to preach of transparency.
It all feels a little like a certain other president and the post-truth world he helped forge. Nothing to see here, move along.
‘We’ve been very transparent from day one and we will be until our last day,’ says Al-Khelaifi. ‘There’s no problem with Financial Fair Play. We’re within the regulations. Whoever’s thinking about Financial Fair Play, please, go have a coffee, we’re fine.’ The sums don’t appear to add up, but the chances of repercussions are slim to none.
Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas did not hold back in his assessment of PSG’s maneuverings. ‘With the signing of Neymar, PSG’s budget is at around €700m (£636m).
As the club does not generate revenue to the height of such expenditure, this will unbalance an economy that was already struggling in the first place. I do warn that a bubble has formed that could explode at any moment. This bubble cannot last.’