There’s a sharp contrast in Paris, between an earth-shaking amount of cash pumping up from Qatar toward a future we can’t yet properly conceptualize, and a relegation provoked by a slog of a season that inadvertently reorients the future toward a long absent history. Two atom bombs pointed in different directions in the French capital.
Neymar’s move to PSG, swinging quickly from joke to whispered rumor to record-breaking reality is historic, of course, in the same way that the Sears Tower topping out is historic, or roaring across the Bonneville Salt Flats at 200 miles per hour is historic. The goalposts are forever moving forward, and even if this jump is particularly dizzying, it’s still functionally within the same boundaries as any other big signing – or at least it will be, once the transfer market gradually catches up. For now, the sheer verticality of this move is vertigo-inducing. The fact that Barcelona set an arbitrarily unreachable buyout cause that PSG (really, the Qatari government) casually shrugged at and matched feels like a laptop-smashing Football Manager moment come to life.
We’ll see what happens from here – Barça will take a breath, and inevitably make a move to reclaim their post-Messi future, as one does. And presumably, PSG will need to tweak a roster that should blow past the rest of Ligue 1 like a Titan rocket (which, incidentally, cost around $350 million, or apparently 1.52 Neymars) but doesn’t feel like a shoo-in for the Champions League title. In the meantime, The Ringer’s Ryan O’Hanlon put a nice temporary bow on the late capitalist weirdness of the situation:
Normally, so much has to be leveraged and organized and preplanned to make a world-record signing. Soccer teams are rich, but they’re not multinational corporations. Except, PSG kind of is — and it’s impossible to disentangle this transfer from the chaotic politics of the Middle East. The club was both able and willing to pay so much more for a Neymar than any other athlete in recorded human history, and that makes it seem like they’re operating on a financial plane where concepts like “budgets” and “balance sheets” don’t matter. We’ve never seen something like this before, which means it could all suddenly end or it could be only the beginning.
Up in St-Ouen, the slow-motion catastrophe that was Red Star’s 16-17 campaign is setting the table for a somewhat triumphant homecoming, or at least one that is long-awaited. After two years in exile, the Audonians are returning to the wonderfully gritty, graffiti-covered State Bauer on Friday. Sure, the Bauer is only now a possibility because the poorly coached and mismanaged squad was relegated to the National, which has much lower standards for stadia, but what better way to lick your wounds than in your ancestral home?
Relegation has, if nothing else, sanitized much of what made last season so dreadful – gone is most of the roster (alas, poor Pierrick Cros and Pierrick Cros, I knew y’all well), the manager, training staff, and the rented stadium. Patrice Haddad and Steve Marlet have hitched onto a handful of young, mostly unproven players, as one does. They signed Charley Fomen, who at 5’9” and 180 pounds is the Bartolo Colon of third-tier French fullbacks. The Keitas are back, as is Dada (hypothetically, at least – Raheriharimanana and the (likely) soon to be gone Idriss Mhirsi are duking it out for the title of “Ghost of Stade Bauer”), and Lefebvre.
Expectations, as at the beginning of any season, are high – only a small handful of the teams in the National are professional, and we can hope for a quick bounce back into Ligue 2 – but as the pieces currently fall, this is a team yet to break out of limbo. It didn’t help that the French Football Federation dangled the chance of returning to Ligue 2 on a technicality before snatching it away, potentially handcuffing management from making the proper moves to cement a third-tier roster. It also certainly doesn’t help that the status of Mhirsi has seemingly yet to be resolved – he seems to think of himself more in the Naim Sliti mold than he probably deserves, and likewise seems to expect a transfer back up a tier. (It’s also probably not a good sign that the team has yet to release this year’s kit design – low on the priority list, but not the mark of a well-oiled machine ready to roar back to promotion.)
At any rate, 2017-18 is looming. The Bauer will be full on Friday, the kop loud and bouncing and prideful, and Red Star is expected to remind Pau FC of their rightful place at the bottom of the table. Perhaps one of the youngsters will emerge, a la Sliti in 2014-5, as the dynamic leader the roster seems to lack. Perhaps the good vibes of playing at home, finally, finally, after two years without a true home match, will carry this team further than Hameur Bouazza and Anatole Ngamukol ever could. With crossed fingers and held breaths, the team enters with an intoxicating mix of exuberance and expectation and anxiety and uncertainty – but how interesting would it be otherwise?