His assertion may be correct, but the Brazilian executive may live to regret those words.
Ibrahimovic joined PSG from AC Milan on Wednesday for £15.7 million ($24.5 million). That alone doesn’t amount to much in today’s transfer market, but the signing completes an £88 million ($137.5 million) summer shopping spree aimed at turning PSG into a “European powerhouse” (in the words of Leonardo himself).
Ibrahimovic is widely regarded as one of the best — if not the best — strikers in world soccer, and he has the track record to back those claims. Last season he scored 33 goals in 40 games, which isn’t so remarkable as he is routinely among the top scorers in which ever league he plays. What was surprising was that his team didn’t win the league championship, as they have done for the previous eight seasons. AC Milan, FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Ajax can attest to the greatness of a player known simply as “Ibra.”
PSG’s spending spree has made the French capital one of the hottest places in the soccer world. There is even talk that Leonardo, manager Carlo Ancelotti and the club’s Qatari owners are building a “dream team.” The concept has already seduced Ibrahimovic, judging by what he said at his introductory press conference.
“I think they made something impossible possible,” the BBC reports Ibrahimovic said. “This is a very interesting project. PSG have bought the best defender in the world, Thiago Silva.
“Who doesn’t want to be here? This is the future. Finally I’m a PSG player. It’s a big step in my career. It’s a dream come true. I don’t know much about the French league but they know who I am!”
The Swedish star’s move from the bright lights of Italy’s Serie A to Ligue 1 adds attention and luster to French top flight, but it won’t change the game in his new country. The domestic league (and soccer as a whole) doesn’t captivate the French public as it does in other countries in which Ibrahimovic has played.
His arrival will give fans around the world a new reason to watch PSG and Ligue 1. While the league was, is and forever may be one that sells its best players to clubs in other countries, PSG’s ascent to the top of the transfer and salary market could change both perception and reality. The former (changing perception) may already be under way, but France needs three or four more clubs to match PSG’s spending power before we talk about it being a place where stars spend their peak years.
Ibrahimovic’s presence could become both a gift and a curse for PSG. World-class stars attract other players of their caliber, and Ibrahimovic will help PSG’s recruitment efforts. But the problem for PSG is that those top players want to be paid handsomely.
This is a real paradox because the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations are already in effect. Players PSG has signed since Qatar Sports Investment bought the club last year are high earners. The recent additions of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva add at least another £21.5 million ($33.6 million) to the club’s annual payroll. In fact, that number may be much higher since France has very high tax rates for millionaires. What will happen when friends of Ibrahimovic and Silva want to join the dream team and get rich too?
It’s unknown how much money the club has lost in the last 18 months, but PSG signed a sponsorship deal with GO Sport aimed at maximizing its commercial revenue. In other words, the club is some way away from the magical break-even point that will keep the UEFA hounds at bay.
Another question that must be asked is how realistic are PSG’s plans of becoming a European powerhouse? Ten years ago, Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) was threatening to break new ground in French and European soccer. Bankrolled by owner Jean-Michel Aulas, it won seven Ligue 1 titles in a row during the free-spending days of the 2000s.
Lyon performed well in the transfer market, produced great young players and will move into a brand-new stadium next year. But for all tangible progress Lyon made in 25 years of Aulas rule, its best performance in Europe was a place in the semifinal in 2010. Few expect Lyon to return there in the coming years. Becoming the “new Lyon” will be a victory for PSG, but that won’t help them conquer the hearts of fans in Paris, Europe and the world.
The big winner in Ibrahimovic signing is the player himself. The contract PSG gave Ibrahimovic makes him the third highest-paid player in the world. It also gives him an extra year of financial security, as his previous deal with Milan would have expired in 2014.
“Ibra,” 30, has publicly flirted with the idea of retirement in recent years. Instead of hanging up his cleats at 30, he received one last payday that allows him to make top dollar until he decides to stop playing. One must think PSG will be his last club (unless he goes to the Middle East or China in search of one last payday … for real). It’s not a bad outcome for a guy who dropped out of high school in Malmo, Sweden and nearly quit playing soccer so he could work on the docks. It’s not bad at all.
But this is no master-stroke by Leonardo. Ibrahimovic’s salary could become an albatross which keeps PSG from adding stars in the coming years. PSG is good enough to win Ligue 1 right now. But it is some way away from standing alongside the elite clubs of Europe. FFP regulations could prevent the club from strengthening in the next one to three years, and it’s a situation Leonardo brought upon himself.