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At long last, it’s official. Neymar has joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona.
Barcelona confirmed receipt of Neymar’s $263 million buyout clause from his representatives on Thursday, clearing the way for the Brazil superstar to sign with French giants Paris Saint-Germain and become the most expensive soccer player ever. Later in the day, BBC and several other outlets reported that Neymar had signed a five-year contract.
PSG itself confirmed the news a short while thereafter.
PSG will likely compensate Neymar’s representatives for the payment, which was made after La Liga initially refused to accept the money and pass it on to Barcelona.
Minutes before the news broke, PSG tweeted a none-too-subtle hint that “He’s coming.”
The fee more than doubles the $124 million Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba just last summer. And of course, it doesn’t include any signing bonuses, agent fees, image rights or indeed the doubtlessly staggering salary Neymar will collect from the ambitious Parisian club — said to double his previous mega-contract.
Qatari-owned and bankrolled PSG, which won Ligue 1 four years in a row until last season, hopes signing one of the world’s best forwards will finally vault it into the European elite and contention for the Champions League title, after five straight eliminations in the quarterfinals of the round of 16. Neymar is widely considered the planet’s best player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. And the 25-year-old was widely expected to succeed Messi as Barca’s central cog, carrying on its soaring run of success in the last decade.
Instead, he heads north to a league that is considered strong, but inferior to the Spanish, English, German and perhaps even Italian leagues.
The move had been in the works for weeks and, by some accounts, even more than a year. Neymar had been a PSG target the last two summers as well. In addition to what is certain to be one of the highest salaries of any athlete in the world, PSG likely lured him with the knowledge that he’ll be its key player for as long as he likes, in spite of all the other star power at the club.
No matter how well he performed at Barcelona, Neymar always played second fiddle to Messi. And while the two seemed to get on very well, ambition may have driven the Brazilian to see how he would do on his own after winning the Champions League, the Club World Cup and two La Liga titles in four seasons in Spain.
The move is cataclysmic not only for the image boost it will give PSG and the damage it does to Barca, whose heir apparent is leaving just as he enters his prime. It also heralds an age in which truly no player is unmovable. By Spanish law, all La Liga players have a release clause in their contracts that buys their freedom on the player market. For standout players like Neymar, the fee is set so high that it is, in theory, impossible to ever be triggered. The recent inflation in transfer fees, however, made it so that his fee wasn’t entirely unreasonable.
Neymar had signed his current contract just last October, setting his new buyout clauses which varied per season. Not even a year later, and with a World Cup around the corner, that contract has been bought out. Earlier on Wednesday, Barca announced that Neymar had signaled his intention to leave to the club. And soon thereafter, Messi said farewell to his teammate on Instagram.
That seemed to signal that the sides had entered the end-game in a telenovella that had dragged on for week after week.
Yet the move nevertheless feels like something of a shock. Neymar is the biggest name to leave Barcelona since Luis Figo defected to arch-rivals Real Madrid in 2000. (And that transfer was something of an accident, since Figo thought he was safe in putting his signature on a pre-contract with a big signing bonus for a man running for the Real presidency who wasn’t expected to win. That man, Florentino Perez, then did win.)
Soon enough, Neymar was going to eclipse Messi at Barca. Some argue that it already happened in the Champions League last season, when Neymar powered the miracle comeback over — of course — PSG in the round of 16, with two late goals and the winning assist.
Players of Neymar’s caliber simply don’t leave clubs of Barca’s caliber until their primes are well and truly over. He is a generational talent well-ensconced at arguably the most successful and popular club of the last decade. And to leave all that for the significantly less prestigious Ligue 1, where the domestic season will be highlighted by only a small number of truly challenging games, is highly unconventional.
Certainly, PSG has lured big names before. But Angel Di Maria was a failure at Manchester United before coming over. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were unloaded by an AC Milan team that had run into financial issues. Javier Pastore, Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos were expensively acquired from lesser clubs. Marco Verratti was a little-known teenage prospect when he was bought from Pescara. Dani Alves was out of contract.
Neymar changes the game for PSG. And it redefines the market for everyone else. A quarter of a billion dollars is now a transfer fee with a precedent. And the question follows that if the top transfer record has been doubled, every other player is now worth double as well. We’re in uncharted waters here.
On Thursday, the soccer landscape changed dramatically. Barca faces a much less certain future. PSG a markedly brighter one. And Neymar will get to burnish his name on a jersey not also worn by Messi.
PSG begins its season at home against Amiens on Saturday.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
More soccer coverage from FC Yahoo:
• La Liga refuses PSG payment for Neymar’s buyout clause
• Messi says goodbye to Neymar with Instagram post
• Why paying Neymar’s release clause isn’t outrageous