Wages and transfer fees at the top end of the game grow ever higher. In the case of certain players, it means their options are severely restricted when it comes to their next destination. In other cases, clubs simply cannot find another employer to pay the transfer fee and wages for players they no longer want on their books.
There are some unhappy players out there at big clubs who might well want to move on before this summer’s transfer window is over. In this category, Neymar is the most obvious example. It is no secret that the uneasy marriage between the Brazil No.10 and Paris Saint-Germain could well be coming to an end. However, there could yet be an impasse.
While PSG would probably settle for their money back – some €222m – there are not many clubs out there willing or able to furnish that outlay. Barcelona would be one interested party but will need to make room in the budget for the transfer fee and wages. Besides, they have other transfer priorities to work upon, with Antoine Griezmann now reckoned to be in the frame.
Neymar makes around €700,000 per week at Parc des Princes, meaning that only a very, very select few clubs can match his salary expectation. With the bases loaded at most top teams, as it were, there is simply nowhere else for him to go. If PSG cash in to the tune of €222m and Neymar earns the same at his next club as he currently does then that means an outlay of around €400m over the course of only a four-year contract.
The size of PSG’s pay-packet had the double benefit of convincing Neymar to depart Barcelona for an inferior institution and guarding against rival bids from elsewhere, should Neymar decide to pack his bags. Once he recovers from injury, the only option he might have available to him is to wait it out another year when his transfer value will diminish in proportion to the time remaining on his contract and try again next summer.
Paul Pogba, meanwhile, would appear to be in a hurry to leave Manchester United. His end-of-season promotional trip to Japan turned into a nightmare for his club once the France World Cup winner made it known that he would ideally seek a new challenge for next season.
It will not be straightforward. The duration of Pogba’s contract – another three years should the club take up their one-year option – means the value of any transfer would exceed the €100m world record fee United paid to Juventus three years ago. Real Madrid could probably afford it – even allowing for their record-breaking summer thus far – but it is by no means guaranteed that they will go in for the 26-year-old. If Madrid or Juventus fail to be convinced, his only option would probably be to stay put
On the other hand, United are stuck in a bind with Alexis Sanchez. Perhaps the most damaging signing of the Jose Mourinho reign, Sanchez’s reported near £600,000 weekly wage has distorted the salary picture inside the club and made it a hell of a lot more difficult to tie existing talents like Marcus Rashford to new deals.
While United would want Rashford to commit to extended terms, he quite rightly can point to his own output compared to Sanchez in the year and a half they’ve been alongside one another. That’s one reason why United would happily accept any kind of deal for the Chilean.
The problem comes with a very simple question: Who’s going to match that wage?
Sanchez is well within his rights to work the terms of his contract should no suitable alternative materialise. And United? Well they would be stuck with the remnants of another Mourinho-Ed Woodward transfer botch.
It’s a similar situation that Arsenal have got with Mesut Ozil. The indications are that Ozil is happy to stay in north London – and why wouldn’t he be for £350,000 a week? Arsenal, however, need space in their wage budget and – ideally – more money to improve the squad in the transfer market. But it's not going to be easy to get those sums in any deal involving Ozil.
Unai Emery showed last season he is no fan of Ozil and would happily dispense with him. The key obstruction - aside from his own inconsistent form - is the massive wage Ozil earns. Arsenal are stuck with a player they’d now rather not have with little in the way of a resolution anywhere on the horizon.
That dilemma will sound familiar to Real Madrid. They paid a world record sum to sign Gareth Bale but the Welshman has outgrown his purpose at Santiago Bernabeu. That fresh contract he signed in October 2016 weighs heavily though, with his transfer value still high and his wages – like Ozil’s – gargantuan.
Real Madrid would dearly love to move him on and – despite his injury troubles – would feel entitled to recoup a good portion of the €100m transfer fee they paid to Tottenham six years ago. That is easier said than done.
It is a consequence of the stockpiling of talent that has taken place at a select number of top clubs over the past few years. The stratification of talent and finances thanks to broadcast and commercial deals as well as reforms in competitions like the Champions League has brought about a sort of shadow Super League, which is already in play.
Top talents are scarce, they cost a lot to sign and cost a lot to pay. And no one from outside that top band has a hope of getting one. For clubs it means more difficulty in getting them out the door and for players it means a lack of options.
It is the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United who are driving wages and transfer fees for that small band of players ever upward.
And if anything goes wrong, they are stuck with an unhappy performer on their hands.