Sergio Ramos has joined Georginio Wijnaldum in Paris, and Gianluigi Donnarumma isn’t far behind, as the club makes use of its financial clout in a new way to bolster its roster.
The rebranding of the free transfer has begun.
It has resurfaced as a mechanism for players and agents to reclaim bargaining power and control the narrative of their careers, despite its reputation as a journeyman’s tool or a declining star’s last chance at relevance with a weaker team.
More lately, it has served as another reminder of the catastrophic financial divide that existed during the epidemic period of soccer.
With the signing of Real Madrid veteran Sergio Ramos on a two-year contract after his contract in the Spanish capital expired on Thursday, Paris Saint-Germain has confirmed what has long been obvious: this is the era of the super-rich.
PSG isn’t only making a splash on the hottest names with the greatest price tags in the usual sense after a poor season in which it finished second in Ligue 1 behind Lille and exited the Champions League in the quarterfinals.
It doesn’t have to buy the most expensive players from other clubs for excessive amounts just because it can.
Rather, this summer, PSG is utilizing its financial clout in a unique way, focusing on a single parameter that is both easy to quantify and difficult to quantify.
How can you build a winning culture at a club that doesn’t have a winning tradition engrained in its blood, at least in the broadest sense?
PSG’s response is straightforward: you bring in winners.
In came Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, a Champions League and Premier League winner still in his prime, according to Paris Saint-Germain Football/PSG/Getty Images.
Ramos, a World Cup and two-time Euro winner with five La Liga crowns and four Champions League trophies to his name, enters the fray.
And in will come Gianluigi Donnarumma, a 22-year-old goalkeeper who is the most desired goalkeeper in the world before he enters his peak. Donnarumma is a Euro 2020 finalist who is the most coveted goalkeeper in the world before he enters his prime.
Each of them arrives (or will arrive) in Paris on a complimentary transfer.
Free transfers can be a bit of a misnomer due to high player pay, bonuses, and agent fees, which make them far from “free.”
Because of the wages a team like PSG can offer an unattached player, they have become the main weapon of the super-rich.
Even a behemoth like Barcelona can’t match them.
PSG’s bloated wage offer proved to be the difference in stealing Wijnaldum away from an expected deal with Barcelona.
PSG achieves two aims by signing free agents such as Wijnaldum, Ramos, and Donnarumma: cultivate a winning mentality and prevent your opponents from doing so.
Barcelona and Inter Milan’s transfer chances this summer are limited due to their large debts and frantic need to balance their budget.
It’s why, in Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero, and Eric Garcia, Barcelona has added three free transfers of its own, albeit on a smaller scale.
PSG adds even more depth to a roster that is already one of the deepest in Europe on paper, according to Pro Shots/Sipa USA.
Donnarumma will face up against experienced goalkeeper Keylor Navas before being tasked with replacing him at a position where even the smallest improvement may make all the difference.
With a congested but capable midfield that saw Danilo Pereira’s loan turn permanent this summer, Wijnaldum brings pedigree and a remarkable intuition for a huge goal.
Ramos will now add his experience and championship knowledge to a center back corps that also includes Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe.
Achraf Hakimi, the club’s huge non-free-transfer splash this summer after arriving from Serie A winner Inter Milan for EUR60 million ($70.9 million), fills the vacancy at right back.
Finally, and most significantly for PSG’s future, the signings demonstrate a dedication to two players in particular: Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the franchise’s stars who are frequently linked with moves to traditional European heavyweights.
After signing a new contract through 2025, the excitement over Neymar should die down, but Mbappe’s plan right now is to see out the final year of his contract, at which point he could theoretically become the world’s most wanted free transfer.
That is, unless PSG can show him that its environment and future are deserving of his devotion.
Winning Ligue 1 is insufficient.
The Champions League is where legends are born and where Qatar Sports Investments focuses its efforts.
That’s always been the case at PSG, which is why losing to Manchester City in the UCL semifinals last season hurt even more than losing the league to Lille.
Mbappe, who has previously won a World Cup and had an exit-sealing moment for France at the Euros at the age of 22, understands this, which is why the club’s failure to overcome that final obstacle is part of the cause for his insecurity.
A move for a leader like Ramos and budding talents like Hakimi and Donnarumma doubles down on the club’s pursuit of the elusive Champions League trophy and underlines a crucial point: Where else in an age characterized by the aftermath from irresponsible spending and the probable austerity of a pandemic can you find a club that continues to seek for more while the great majority is compelled to cut back?
There aren’t many choices.
And whether it’s attracting free transfers, doing all it takes to maintain players like Mbappe and Neymar, or via the traditional transfer path to add additional star power, PSG continues to prove that it’s still after the biggest prize.
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