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4 August 2017

The cunning politicisation of Neymar’s move to PSG

Neymar Jr has become an unsuspecting pawn in an economic game of chess.

By Daniel Curtis

Neymar Jr’s €500m+ move to Paris Saint-Germain might as well be paid for in Monopoly money. It’s made a mockery of UEFA’s already beleaguered Financial Fair Play rules. It’s shown that owners can still attempt to buy their way to Champions League success. It’s shown, more importantly, that money talks louder than league prestige, with the Brazilian seemingly all too happy to swap the history of Barcelona for the new money of the Parc des Princes. The fees which have caused all this are so unfathomably huge that Neymar will collect plenty of cash as he passes GO each year – £40m, to be exact. But while the transfer may shakeup European football, its scale means the deal will have a major impact off the pitch as well.

For a start it seems PSG’s billionaire Qatari owners are getting more than just a pretty good footballer. As the Guardian pointed out, Neymar seems to have mysteriously become a representative for the Qatar World Cup for a fee of around £200m – around the £200m that allowed him to buy out his own release clause and help PSG circumnavigate small-print transfer technicalities.

Yet the bigger impact is likely to be felt in Neymar’s new home. Speaking to France Info yesterday, France’s minister for public accounts Gérard Darmanin was salivating at the thought of Neymar’s proposed tax payments. “If Neymar is indeed coming to a French club,” he said, “then the minister for public finances will indeed be pleased by the taxes he will be able to pay in France.” For the avoidance of doubt he added: “It would be better that this football player pays his taxes in France than elsewhere.”

Those comments leave unsaid one key point. France has an appalling recent track record in big name taxation. Gerard Depardieu’s self-imposed exile in Belgium to flee François Hollande’s supertax has left a dent in France’s tax-gathering reputation that has never really been filled. Bernard Arnault, chief-executive of LVMH and France’s richest man, also took Belgian citizenship to escape paying up. The supertax was shelved in 2014, only two years after it was proposed in Hollande’s election campaign. Ensuring some of that huge paycheck does make it into the French treasury may not be so simple.

Yet France’s gains also go beyond the merely financial. Emmanuel Macron, always keen to be pally with the stars of the day, has also welcomed Neymar’s move to Paris, but rather than focussing on the tax take chose to highlight the supposed role of “l’attractivité de la France” in luring the star from Barcelona.

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Macron might be optimistic in his theory that France’s attractiveness had a greater hand in the deal than ego and money, but his words have wider significance. Macron has long appealed for Europhilic businesses to abandon Britain for France in the wake of Brexit, and stealing Spain’s prize poster boy is a canny way to further his trademark pro-business agenda within the EU.

Both Darmanin and Macron have a lot to prove here. The primary concern is shoring up their still embryonic reign. En Marche has largely steered clear of disaster in the early part of their government – as a result, Macron et al are understandably keen to seize Neymar’s move for their own ends.

With this in mind, Neymar will certainly be a fantastic poster boy for French football, for Paris and for Qatar – it’s just that En Marche are hoping that he’ll be a fantastic poster boy for France, and for the French taxation system, too.