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


Even for non-football fans I’m sure the transfer of Brazilian football star Neymar from Barcelona to PSG in Paris caught your attention. It’s intriguing for lots of reasons, not least because the transfer fee of €222 million (£200 million, $265 million) is more than double the previous world record and 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.

In respect to other transfer deals it seems crazy 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 across the world. It’s not just the transfer numbers which are staggering; he has over 32 million followers on Twitter and 81 million on Instagram.

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.

It seems these factors are just as important today as the football itself.

On that front, let’s not forget he is already a special talent who will thrive even further in a team where he is the star attraction with the prized number 10 shirt (something he would never be able to do at Barcelona while Lionel Messi can still walk).

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

It also got me thinking of parallel situations in management consulting (I know, I know).

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 currency. 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, size of network…and the list goes on. Much like in football these days, there is so much more to consider than simply ‘how well will this person do their job?’

Sports teams have long brought in players from certain parts of the world precisely to open up commercial markets and fan bases in new geographies, with seemingly no consideration of sporting talent at all. Consulting firms have equally followed similar practices for many years; the right ‘face’ or the right language can connect a practice to a new part of the world.

Neymar’s case is clearly a special one as the numbers go beyond anything previously seen and this is a marriage of both talent and brand. The key question is whether this will set a precedent for ever-more big and bold moves.

- by Tariq Siraj

Posted by: Beament Leslie Thomas