Is it worth paying over the odds for a special talent?

It looks like the transfer of Brazilian football star Neymar from Barcelona to PSG in Paris is almost a done deal. It’s intriguing for lots of reasons, not least because the transfer fee of €222 million (£198 million, $263million) is at first glance completely ridiculous.

But it got me thinking; is it sometimes worth paying seemingly over the odds for a special talent?

Neymar clearly qualifies as such – he is by most expert’s view one of the best players in the world. PSG’s Qatari owners clearly agree and clearly think the investment is a sound one.

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In respect to other transfer deals it seems crazy (it would be more than double the current world record) but in itself it may not be a bad piece of business. Neymar’s commercial potential is huge; a good looking, likeable, media savvy young player with a ready-made set of fans – particularly at home in Brazil. He will sell an unbelievable amount of shirts, he will attract incredible levels of sponsorship to the club and create a buzz which should open up a legion of new fans for PSG in far flung places of the world and also attract even more footballing talent for the team going forward.

And let’s not forget he is already a special talent who will thrive even further in a team where he is the star attraction (something he will never be able to do at Barcelona while Lionel Messi still has feet).

All these factors combined suggest it may prove to be an interesting piece of business for PSG.

It also got me thinking of the similar strategies in management consulting (yes, I am that boring). We see example after example of organisations paying ‘over the odds’ for individuals because they know exactly what PSG’s owners know about Neymar; that there is far more to some people than can be easily quantified in hard numbers. The extra value a star Director or Partner may bring to a consulting outfit can be astronomical; new business, repeat business, improved culture, better managed practices, improved morale, unquantifiable contributions to the brand through speaking engagements, relationships built, written work…and the list goes on.

Neymar is a special case – but the key question is whether this will set a precedent within the global football market or if it will be a one-off. It will be interesting to watch from afar and see how this plays out.

- Tariq Siraj

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