Context is everything. Though even with context it’s sometimes a struggle to make sense of what is going on. A transfer fee of around £260 million has been offered for footballer Kylian Mbappé. Saudi team Al-Hilal have offered his current club Paris Saint-Germain the staggering sum. Whether it goes through or not, a change is here. We’re now in the era of footballers valued in increments of billions rather than millions.
History has a curious way of tapping you on the shoulder when new history is being made. The Mbappé news came in the week Trevor Francis, England’s first £1m footballer, died. It feels a long way from £1m to a quarter of a billion. Though it is only a little over 40 years.
Of course, nobody is worth that amount, nor the staggering wages Mbappé would receive. But it has nothing to do with football. The future is tugging on Saudi Arabia’s sleeve. They see that a time will come when the world will no longer have the same reliance on oil. (Though who knows when. Will the devastating fires in Greece and Italy, the floods in Korea or the storms in the US finally accelerate positive change? Or will short-termism, as currently spoken by the two main political parties in the UK, knock things back?)
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If/when the global need recedes, the Saudis want to diversify and for their nation to be an international hub for sport. The sovereign Public Investment Fund, the money driving this change, is estimated to total £500bn. They could get a lot of Mbappés and a lot of golfers and lucrative overpriced boxing clashes and football clubs like Newcastle United for that amount. It’s about the same as Nigeria’s GDP, and higher than Denmark’s and Finland’s. It’s a chunky sum.
Leaving aside moral questions about the money paid for one player, or indeed the questionable human rights record in Saudi, should we be happy that because a possible alternative exists the burning of oil will fall back and so the positives for the planet will move forward?