The column ‘Finance Football’ tackles the economic aspects of the world’s favorite pastime, taking a closer look at the commercial side of the game. In the Second edition we look at Real Madrid’s pursuit of Gareth Bale, Barcelona’s capture of Neymar, Arsenal’s acquisition of Mesut Özil and other top summer transfers. Whose “Superstar” is worth his outlay?

As the summer is drawing to a close so has the pursuit of players across Europe. After a two-week international break, the 2013-14 football season is officially underway and the fans of Arsenal or Real Madrid for instance could finally see the likes of Mesut Özil or Gareth Bale at the new clubs for the first time. While the record-breaking €100 million transfer of the latter has been protracted, there was never a shade of doubt that the Welshman would sign for Real Madrid in the end. However, the sale of Mesut Özil from the Merengues to Arsenal was unexpected if not shocking, especially since the Gunners were willing to pay €50 million to secure his services, obliterating their previous record transfer fee by quite some distance.

Whereas it was surprising to learn that the North London side has finally decided to buy at one of Europe’s more luxurious outlets, Real Madrid once more breaking the transfer record is hardly news. If anything it is part of a pattern established by the club’s President, Florentino Perez. Whenever the self-anointed “best club in the world” finds themselves behind FC Barcelona, either for sporting reasons or publicity or both, the Madrid outfit usually responds in the transfer market. It appears as if Los Blancos have to spend for the sake of spending. Since 2003 the Spanish capital club has spent more than €1 billion on new players. Though not entirely unsuccessful, the Merengues have only managed to win 3 La Liga titles and 1 domestic cup (including minor trophies Real Madrid has won 6 in total).

Nevertheless, there’s a silver lining to Los Blancos’ somewhat underwhelming on-pitch exploits, their sizeable revenue off it. At present the Merengues can lay claim to have the largest revenue stream of any club, in any sport (€512 million for the 2011-12 season). Though it’s an impressive figure archrivals FC Barcelona aren’t far behind. Actually, the Blaugrana are just off 6% (€483 million). In comparison the Catalan side has spent around €650 million and accumulated 11 major trophies (including 3 Champions League titles and 20 cups in total).

FC Barcelona, too, felt compelled to enter the transfer market for an expensive marquee signing, Brazilian boy wonder, Neymar, for €57 million. Although the exact composition of the deal hasn’t been disclosed. For once the Blaugrana started the transfer frenzy. The capture of Neymar in late May gave way to one of the busiest transfer windows in recent memory. Across Europe’s Top 5 championships (EPL, La Liga, 1. Bundesliga, Serie A & Ligue 1) clubs have spent close to €2.2 billion on new players.

In light of recent developments (US American city Detroit declaring bankruptcy; Spain’s unemployment rate hovering around 27% amongst other things) it’s a rather confusing development. Then again, football is one of the cheaper or more affordable forms of entertainment (unless one is planning to visit the Emirates stadium).

Even more interesting (or shocking?) is the fact that the 10 most expensive transfers of the 2013 summer racked up a bill of a combined €526 million, or in other words account for 24% of the €2.2 billion spent across the Top 5 championships.

Top 10 Transfers 2013

With the exception of Manchester United, each of the Top 5 clubs in the Deloitte Football Money League is represented by a marquee signing. Though in the case of Manchester City’s Fernandinho, AS Monaco’s James Rodriguez, or Chelsea’s Willian the term “marquee” is bit of a stretch. Perhaps it’s the economic reality of things but one does not necessarily have to have a high-profile to command a large fee.

Age

Fernandinho in particular is the odd man out. While his peers in the 2013 class of high-profile transfer are 24.3 years old on average, he’s comparatively old at 28 years. The trend leaned towards younger players but not teenagers a la Wayne Rooney in 2003. It can be safely assumed that players (well) above the line have been acquired for their maturity and should be in the peak phase of their respective careers (Edinson Cavani, Falcao, the aforementioned Fernandinho and to a lesser extent Gonzalo Higuain and Willian).

Players such as Gareth Bale or Mesut Özil are still very young but can’t be considered talents anymore, not in the broader sense of the definition. But while it’s Bale’s first high-profile move, it is Özil’s second. The German international adapted brilliantly to his surroundings in one of the most scrutinized environments in world football and should do fine in London as well, whereas there are some question marks over Bale’s adaptability or British footballers in general. Successful British exports are few and far in between. Even David Beckham can’t be considered an out-and-out success story.

Allegedly England’s former captain can’t speak Spanish or didn’t pick it up during his 4-year stay with Real Madrid. Which in his case wasn’t a major issue since it can be argued that Beckham’s primarily role within the Galactico set-up was to boost the merchandise sales of the club.

Still, at 24 years Bale should be mature enough to cope with the expectations and pressure he’ll be exposed to in Madrid. His counterpart in Barcelona, Neymar, 21, while younger isn’t confronted with a radical change of scenery like the Welshman is. After all, the mild and sunny climate of Barcelona, in addition to the culture isn’t too dissimilar to the Brazilian lifestyle. Furthermore, as a native Portuguese speaker he should learn Spanish or Catalan with relative ease. Plus, there’s a Brazilian contingent at Barcelona already. A transfer to England would’ve probably been too soon.

Mario Götze’s transfer to Bayern Munich at the tender age of 21 is much less a move than a homecoming since he’s originally from Bavaria. James Rodriguez, 22, relocating from Porto to Monaco isn’t much of a concern either. After all he went from Colombia to Portugal at the age of 19. He hasn’t given any indication that’s he’s suddenly going to turn into Mario Balotelli. So as far as adapting goes he should do just fine. Even more so since his compatriot, Falcao, also signed the dotted line for Monaco.

With the exception of Gareth Bale, the majority of the 2013 class has committed to 5-year deals, Real Madrid’s no. 11 signed a 6-year contract. Fernandinho’s agreement with City binds him for 4 years, the same length Mario Götze has on his Bayern deal. But while it makes sense for the Sky Blues to give Fernandinho a relatively shorter deal (at 32 he’ll probably be more inclined to take a pay-cut or leave the club altogether), Götze’s Bayern contract is interesting. Unless the German club has an option on a 5th year Götze can renegotiate his agreement no later than Summer 2015 when he’s entering the final 24 months of his contract (standard practice for high-profile players, except the botched attempt at keeping Robin Van Persie, courtesy of Arsenal).

Transfer Fee + Valuation

As a baseline for the calculation of the median market value the last 3 evaluations for any one player were taken from www.transfermarkt.de. The absolute average transfer fee within the Top 10 stands at €52.6 million, while the present average market evaluation is pegged at €44.7 (-15.7%).

As was to be expected following his blockbuster trade Gareth Bale is the most expensively valued player at €65 million. Though he gained a whopping 30% on his pre-transfer value (€50 million), he’s lost 35% from his €100 million move in less than 3 weeks. Simply put, Gareth Bale wasn’t worth €100 million to begin with. Real paid a 100% premium to secure his signature. It’s quite a surcharge but not the biggest (relatively).

Paris St-Germain’s Edinson Cavani was actually valued more expensive than Bale at €55 million, but thanks to a buyout clause in his Napoli-contract his new employers only paid a 17% premium (€64.5 million). His value also dipped albeit only slightly 7% (€60 million).

Falcao, though still immensely expensive at €60 million is the sole player whose new club paid the exact or rather appropriate value. What’s more, he maintained his pre-transfer evaluation. It must be noted though, as was the case with Edinson Cavani, it was common knowledge that Falcao’s buyout clause was worth €60 million. The pair probably would’ve or could’ve commanded a higher fee if such clauses were not in effect. Especially when a fee in excess of €100 million for Bale was mooted throughout the summer, and Neymar’s €57 million transfer in late May BEFORE the window opened in July. For better or worse Atletico Madrid and Napoli received fair value for their star players. No more, no less. Although Atletico probably received less since Falcao was subject to third-party ownership courtesy of Jorge Mendes and his Gestifute Company.

Brazilian sensation Neymar’s €57 million fee is one of the more complex deals, mainly because the bulk of the sum is unaccounted for. Santos deny having received €57 million, while Barcelona, Neymar and pretty much everyone not affiliated with the Brazilian club is conveniently locked in a non-disclosure agreement. Either way, Barcelona paid a 14% premium (€57 million) for Neymar. He’s currently valued at €50 million.

Arsenal new boy, Mesut Özil, set his new club back €50 million. The North London side paid 25% premium for the German international. During his Real Madrid days the ex-Schalke player was valued at €40 million. A valuation he maintains after the completion of his Arsenal transfer.

Porto have a long and storied history of buying players on the cheap and selling them at large profits. James Rodriguez is the latest and certainly not last to join a high-profile club by way of the Portuguese side. The Dragoes outfit’s executives are the continental version of Tottenham’s Daniel Levy, if they didn’t inspire his hardball policy outright.

Somehow the Porto board managed to coax out €45 million for Rodriguez, a 150% premium on his pre-transfer valuation of €18 million. Perhaps the rest of Europe caught on too late but Rodriguez is now valued at €32 million (-29%).

Fernandinho is the gift that keeps on giving…headaches, one might assume. Manchester City are indeed a rich club but how and why they paid a 233% premium for a player that was valued €12 million is anyone’s guess. But Fernandinho’s current market valuation of €32 million (-20%) softens the blow. However, it’s almost certain that the Brazilian will not command that kind of silly money again.

Bayern Munich, arguably the best run club in football, once more made a sound investment. In Mario Götze the Bavarian side has acquired one of football’s brightest prospects, at a favorable age (21). Unlike Falcao or Cavani, who both also had buyout clauses, Götze’s market value (€42 million) was actually higher than the fee paid by Bayern Munich €37 million. Die Roten effectively bought Götze from Borussia Dortmund at 88% of his true market value. To add insult to injury, Götze’s value has increased to €45 million (+22%). Even when the Bayern outfit pays big, they buy cheap (relatively speaking).

Unwanted, under-appreciated but definitely not undervalued, Gonzalo Higuain’s is one of Real Madrid’s more profitable sales. Napoli paid a 23% premium on his €30 million market value to get their man (€37 million), which is okay for a player of his stature. His currently valued at €33 million (-11%).

One cannot always win, a lesson Daniel Levy has learned the hard way this summer. The capture of Willian would’ve been the icing on a terrific summer spending spree but the Brazilian had other ideas – even after initially having a medical with Tottenham Hotspurs. Chelsea’s major signing earned his second mega money move within the span of 8 months. Perhaps his pre-transfer market value (€30 million) was still inflated due to his previous move, but the Blues only paid an 18% premium (€35.5 million) for his signature. The market responded by….he has maintained pre-transfer value (€30 million; -15%).

Ultimately, solely basing the Top 10 on the premiums paid by the individual clubs the list would look like this:

1. Fernandinho (233%)
2. Rodriguez, James (150%)
3. Bale, Gareth (100%)
4. Özil, Mesut (25%)
5. Higuain, Gonzalo (23%)
6. Willian (18%)
7. Cavani, Edinson (17%)
8. Neymar (14%)
9. Falcao (0%)
10. Götze, Mario (-12%)

With the exception of Fernandinho the rest of his peers are decidedly attack-minded players, Özil and Götze though midfielders feature further up the pitch “in the hole”. Therefore their productivity is easier to assess and relative (monetary) value for each goal/assist can be measured. Of course out-and-out strikers such as Cavani or Falcao have a far superior overall goal haul/ratio than inside forwards/wingers like Bale or Neymar. Nevertheless by combining goals and assists into a single item (example: 0.5 goals per game plus 0.3 assist per game = 0.8 scoring points per game) it’s possible to measure the output of any given player prior to their transfer.

Sure, there are some other factors that can also be factored into the calculation (team, teammates, league etc.) but at price-tags beginning at €35.5 million one would expect the player to be quite exceptional for him to command such a fee in the first place.

Appearances

With the exception of Neymar, Rodriguez, Götze and Willian, all players have accumulated at least 274 appearances before joining their new clubs. New Chelsea signing Willian, 25, is the oldest player to have amassed fewer appearances than the average. His lack of “appearances” can be explained with the shorter season in the Ukrainian Premier League that only features 16 teams in total.

Neymar, 21, Rodriguez, 22, and Götze, 21, get a pass because they’re still young. One can argue that despite their relative young age they’ve already been exposed to top level football for quite some time and aren’t that far behind their peers. As far as experience goes their new clubs haven’t bought untested rookies, which can definitely be considered an advantage. Should they further develop it’s plausible that another big-money transfer is on the cards. These three players have definitely resale value in spite of their hefty fees.

Once again it’s Fernandinho, 28, that stands apart from the rest. He barely passed the average (287 games). But once again, it is due to the Ukrainian Premier Leagues lighter schedule. While there’s the argument that the Brazilian didn’t start as early as, say, Fernando Torres, and therefore should peak a little later, it’s kind of worrying that he’s not as experienced as one would’ve expected. Real Madrid’s Bale has played 290 games prior to joining the Spanish capital club, despite being 4 years Fernandinho’s junior.

Speaking of the world’s most expensive player, with 290 appearances under his belt he must be considered a seasoned pro, not a blossoming talent that needs to be nurtured. Inexperience is not a valid excuse if he fails to adapt. He has just played slightly less matches than the likes of Cavani, Falcao and Higuain.

The real surprise package here is his ex-Real Madrid teammate for about 24 hours, Mesut Özil, 24. The German International has accumulated 418 matches in his short career already – more than 100 games (33%) ahead of his nearest rival, Gonzalo Higuain (313). As far as experience goes Özil is in a class all by himself. He might be one of the younger players in the Top 10 but he’s definitely the most experienced, at the very highest level no less.

Goals

As to be expected, the out-and-out strikers Cavani, Falcao and Higuain dominate the goal charts. On average the Top 10 has scored 96 goals.

Falcao is cream of the crop with 191 strikes to his name, followed by Cavani with 158 goals, while third place goes to Higuain with 150 goals. South-American forwards tend to do well in Europe and these three gentlemen pretty much validate this notion. It’s particularly interesting since Neymar scored 98 goals in his native Brazil to edge just above the average.

Still, since critics of the new Barca recruit are likely to point out that the Brazilian league is inferior to any of Europe’s top 5 Championships, his total of 98 goals will be multiplied by 0.75 as opposed to 1 to adjust for the perceived inferiority. Even the reduced figure of 74 goals puts him just ahead of Real Madrid’s Bale who scored 72 goals during his stint in Great Britain.

While Bale is known for scoring some outrageous wonder goals he’s just scored 40 goals across all competitions in the last two seasons. It is solid return but nothing remotely spectacular, not even for an inside forward/winger. In comparison his teammate, Ronaldo, scored 68 goals in the two seasons prior to joining the Merengues – a whopping 70% more.

The argument that Bale played in an inferior team with less talented teammates doesn’t fly. Even Darren Bent scored 25 goals during the 2009-10 season, for Sunderland no less. One could argue that Sunderland didn’t and still don’t have much of a creative midfield, then and now. Or take Chelsea’s Juan Mata, who scored 20 goals and provided a further 36 assists for his teammates in 2012-13 alone. Bale’s return is solid regardless of how spectacular some of his goals were.

Once again it’s Özil that is the surprise package. Though arguably more known for creating goals as opposed to scoring, he did nevertheless amass as many as 83 goals (13 more than Bale) thus far.

Even more interesting, Özil’s international teammate, Götze, has 65 goals to his name – and he has been playing in one of Europe’s top leagues, the Bundesliga, for the longest, also in a more withdrawn position.

But the biggest disappointment is Monaco’s Rodriguez, who has only scored 47 goals. Granted, he isn’t a striker and he’s still very young, but considering that Götze is even younger than him it’s definitely an area he could improve in.

Assists

Although the out-and-out strikers have superior statistics in the goal department, it’s the “other” forwards and midfielder that really flourish in creating them. Far and away the best assist provider among the top 10 is Arsenal’s Özil who created 173 goals when the average is 69, which is 250% above the “norm” to be exact.

For once Bale finds himself performing above the average, having created 77 goals for his teammates. His ratio could’ve been better but Tottenham have lacked a genuine predator in front of goal in the seasons gone by. In this instance he’s probably victim of the circumstances.

Willian finds himself at 3rd place, with 71 assists, while Götze and Higuain share the 4th spot, having created 65 goals for their teammates. The latter, though a striker, is less selfish than Cavani (45 assists) or Falcao (33 assists), which greatly contributes to his all-round game.

Neymar isn’t that far off the average with 60 assists, then again, he has far fewer games than his peers except Rodriguez (49 assists), and Götze (65 assists). Fernandinho has also a passable statistic in that regard, having created 53 goals for his teammates. Not bad for a player who is primarily known to patrol his own back four.

Some players excel in scoring goals (Cavani, Falcao, Higuain), some others in creating them (Özil, Bale, Willian). But who really is the most productive player when both statistics are combined? Who is actually the most decisive, and consistent, player in the Top 10?

AVG Scorer Point

Excluding for adjustments it is Barcelona’s Neymar who regularly produces goals (0.87 scoring points per game), whether he scores them outright or creates opportunities for his teammates, the Brazilian consistently delivers despite only being 21 years old.

  1. Neymar (0,87)
  2. Falcao (0,73)
  3. Higuain, Gonzalo (0,69)
  4. Götze, Mario (0,66)
  5. Cavani, Edinson (0,65)
  6. Özil, Mesut (0,61)
  7. Rodriguez, James (0,55)
  8. Bale, Gareth (0,51)
  9. Willian (0,43)
  10. Fernandinho (0,37)

Even when ignoring the more defensive-minded Fernandinho, Bale still finds himself in the bottom three alongside Rodriguez and Willian.

Statistics only go so far in reflecting a player’s productivity, even when the numbers indicate a certain quality or lack thereof, pundits, club officials and the casual fan never tire to stress the importance of an international pedigree (read: has played in international tournaments).

One would assume that expensive fees are only reserved to the ones that meet this criterion. Logic would dictate that players who have been proven at the highest level command the highest fees, right?

International Pedigree

The table displays the arguably most important tournaments on a football calendar. Naturally, the World Cup is the most prestigious, thus the tournament with the largest multiplicand (3). Meaning one match at the World Cup is worth 3 experience points. Though the Champions League is a pure club competition it probably is almost as important if not more than the World Cup. Hence awarding a multiplicand of 2.5 seems just about right.

The European Championship and its South American equivalent, the Copa America, ranks below the Champions League. Therefore matches at these tournaments are multiplied by 2.

The Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League is not as popular as UEFA’s marquee competition but an important tournament nonetheless (1.5). The Europa League is something of the unloved step-brother of the Champions League that everyone would like to avoid if possible – at least the major clubs (1).

International Pedigree 2

Surprise, well, not really. Mesut Özil has the most extensive international pedigree of any player. Given that he has also played the most matches it’s a given he’d rank high. It also helps that he’s an integral part of the German national team, the perennial co-favorites for international titles. And they usually live up to their favorites tag and go deep in any competition.

However, a large bulk of his pedigree finds its roots in the Champions League. The same can be said about Higuain, who is the player with the second highest value, coincidentally also an ex-Real Madrid player. With the exception of Neymar everyone has played in the Champions League. Nonetheless, the Brazilian did regularly play in its South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores.

The real head-scratcher here is Bale’s frightening lack of international experience. Though he is billed as a superstar (with the price-tag to match), he’s by far the least tested player in this group. Even Willian and Fernandinho have more international pedigree than the world’s most expensive player.

  1. Özil, Mesut  (141,5)
  2. Higuain, Gonzalo  (138)
  3. Willian (86)
  4. Fernandinho (83)
  5. Falcao (75,5)
  6. Cavani, Edinson (59)
  7. Rodriguez, James (58)
  8. Götze, Mario (48,8)
  9. Neymar (45,5)
  10. Bale, Gareth (32,5)

One can only guess the reasoning behind the sale of Real Madrid pair Özil and Higuain, and the addition of Bale. For a Galactico signing he’s very un-Galactico-like, very little international experience yet a disproportionately large transfer fee that would suggests the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo. Again, Özil ranks ahead of Bale. Apparently, that is the recurring theme here.

Experience, productivity and international pedigree aside, it all comes down to expectations these players have to meet if not exceed at their new clubs.

Over the lifetime of their respective contracts, and under optimal conditions (staying injury free, the club regularly qualifying for the latter stages of various tournaments) each player will feature in hundreds of matches.

Key

Under Real Madrid’s President Florentino Perez is has become standard practice that his Galactico signings are tied to 6-year contracts, which is why Bale can be expected to feature in at least 282 matches (6 years x 47 matches). The average contract length is 5 years. That would amount to 234 matches.

Appearances Contract

However, Fernandinho and Götze have signed 4 year deals, thus their (expected) total is significantly lower. The latter features in the Bundesliga that has fewer matches on its calendar, yet he still has to appear in no less than 172 games to make the grade (Fernandinho, 204). Only Mesut Özil and Willian are expected to play more matches than the average (both 255).

Price Per Appearance

By dividing Gareth Bale’s €100 million transfer fee with the matches he’s expected to play over the next 6 seasons, he’d cost Real Madrid €355,000 per appearance a massive 60% above the average (€222,000). The question is: Does Gareth Bale perform 60% better than his peers?

Actually, he performs worse as indicated by his scorer point (0.51) to Neymar’s (0.87). Excluding the Brazilian boy wonder, even Monaco’s James Rodriguez has a better ratio (0.61). Sure, he played in the inferior Portuguese League, but, and this is infinitely more important, Rodriguez has more of an international pedigree, having played more Champions League and Europa League matches than the Welshman, on top of being 3 years his junior.

Except for Fernandinho & Mario Götze the players rank in the same order of their transfer fees. The pair sticks out because their large fees are spread over a shorter timeframe (4 years as opposed to the standard 5 years).

1. Willian (€139,000 per appearance)
2. Higuain, Gonzalo (€157,000 per appearance)
3. Rodriguez, James (€191,000 per appearance)
4. Fernandinho (€196,000 per appearance)
5. Özil, Mesut (€196,000 per appearance)
6. Götze, Mario (€215,000 per appearance)
7. Neymar (€243,000 per appearance)
8. Falcao (€255,000 per appearance)
9. Cavani, Edinson (€274,000 per appearance)
10. Bale, Gareth (€355,000 per appearance)

Even with an additional year Bale is still enormously expensive.

If this group of players can maintain their previous performances levels at their current clubs their appearance fee so to speak should decrease.

For example, if Bale scores 30 goals over the lifetime of his contract, the value of 1 goal equals roughly €3.3 million. Prior to joining Real Madrid, Bale’s scoring point (goal + assist) was 0.51. That equates to 1 goal every 2 games.

Adjusting for their respective scoring point or performance level the cost of each player’s appearance would be reduced to the figures displayed in the table below:

Price Per Appearance On Form

The average price per appearance WHEN all players perform to their capabilities is roughly worth €86,000.

1. Neymar (€31,000 per appearance)
2. Higuain, Gonzalo (€49,000 per appearance)
3. Falcao (€69,000 per appearance)
4. Götze, Mario (€73,000 per appearance)
5. Özil, Mesut (€76,000 per appearance)
6. Willian (€79,000 per appearance)
7. Rodriguez, James (€86,000 per appearance)
8. Cavani, Edinson (€95,000 per appearance)
9. Fernandinho (€124,000 per appearance)
10. Bale, Gareth (€172,000 per appearance)

Fernandinho might be pricey but scoring goals or creating them is not why Manchester City purchased him in the first place. Hence, his six-figure appearance fee should be ignored.

Neymar performing to his Santos standards (0.86 goals per game) is unlikely but not improbable. Because Neymar, 21, along with Rodriguez, 22, and Götze, 21, are younger than the average (24), they are afforded some leeway with their performances. The rest of the bunch should at least maintain their previous form, though Bale must improve dramatically to justify his fee. His previous standards are simply not good enough, especially in light of the enormous transfer fee. If he just maintains his scoring point of 0.51 he’ll rack up a cost of €172,000 which would be worth either two Özil’s or Falcao and Cavani at a reduced cost (a combined €169,000) and greater productivity (1.38 goals per game).

By all accounts (no pun intended) it already looks like Gareth Bale is going to be an ill-advised investment. However, one of the major arguments or rather selling points was that Bale is on the same level or just a notch below his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo or Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. Well, the statistics don’t support that notion. Not even the slightest.

Then there’s the argument that Bale is going to be the next global superstar, Ronaldo 2.0 if you will.

True football superstars who are global brands are a rarity. Popularity (social networks), reach and most importantly, sponsorships are an indicator if not evidence for true superstardom.

Social Media

Only verified or official accounts are factored into the calculation, which explains the dedicated absence of social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, or both) for Willian, Rodriguez and Fernandinho. In the realm of social networks Neymar is king. The Brazilian ranks no.1 with a total of 21.9 million combined followers/fans on Facebook and Twitter. Mesut Özil (who else?) is ranked no.2 with 15.1 million, Falcao no.3 with 7.2 million.

1. Neymar 21.9 million
2. Özil, Mesut 15.1 million
3. Falcao 7.2 million
4. Bale, Gareth 6.8 million
5. Götze, Mario 3.0 million
6. Higuain, Gonzalo 2.4 million
7. Rodriguez, James 1.3 million
8. Willian 91,000
9. Fernandinho 57,000
10. Cavani, Edinson –

Undoubtedly, Özil’s total has been boosted by his stay at Madrid but taking into consideration that Higuain also stayed there, even longer than the German, but is far behind in terms of reach, it must be concluded that Arsenal’s new no.11 is quite popular on his own.

The supposedly best player of the supposedly best league in the world couldn’t even overtake Falcao, who also didn’t take part in the Champions League during his stint with Atletico Madrid. And for whatever reason, Bale is expected to become the next big thing. It doesn’t add up. Particularly when one takes Neymar into consideration, who already has triple the fans/followers that Bale calls his own.

Top 10 Earners + David Beckham

When it comes to earnings/sponsorships only one name of this year’s most expensive transfers is featured among the top 10 earning football players according to the most recent Forbes report, Neymar. Excluding David Beckham and his outrageous earnings (he did retire after all), Neymar ranks no.8, ahead of such seasoned pros such as Fernando Torres, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kaka.

Earnings

More interestingly, of his total income of €15.3 million for the 2012-13 season only 51% were supplemented by his club, Santos. Across the top 10 (excluding David Beckham) the average ratio stands at 73% salary and 27% sponsorships, except for Cristiano Ronaldo at 48%, and Lionel Messi at 51% who earn as much off the pitch as they do on it.

It’s a forgone conclusion that Gareth Bale will be featured amongst the top 20 highest paid footballers in the world next year. But that’ll be due to his net salary of €9 million than lucrative sponsorship deals. However, if Wayne Rooney, who has regularly played in the Champions League as well as European Championships in addition to World Cups, hasn’t managed to catch up with the likes of Ronaldo and Messi earnings-wise, it is unlikely that Bale will even come close.

The odds for Bale to become a true icon are stacked against him. For one, he shares the dressing room with Cristiano Ronaldo, who continues to be the only player whose performance can measure up against Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. Furthermore, Bale will never feature at a European Championship or World Cup which would boost his profile beyond measure because Wales are just not good enough to qualify for either tournament.

Bottom line: While Real Madrid’s Galatico policy is to buy the best, therefore usually most expensive players around, Los Blancos have paid over the odds, massively. Whereas Cristiano Ronaldo’s €94 million fee turned out to be a marvelous piece of business, Bale will not even come close to return the investment of his employers, neither on nor off the pitch.

It is becoming increasingly evident that Bale’s world-record fee is an attempt of artificially creating a superstar at any cost (and credit to Tottenham’s Daniel Levy for exploiting Real Madrid’s desperation to the fullest). For the time being Bale is renowned for being expensive for the sake of being expensive. His situation is not dissimilar to the situation many a socialite finds themselves in – famous for being famous. He may have performed wonderfully over the last couple of seasons but they have been better players in England (Juan Mata?) whose overall productivity, one that can be measured, put his efforts to shame.

Coincidentally, Real Madrid made a huge mistake by selling Mesut Özil to Arsenal. The German has the profile that Bale lacks, not to mention he is outperforming Bale in every area. Next year’s World Cup in Brazil has Germany among the favorites. Should the German national team go far in the competition (as is expected) the media coverage will be extensive, and Özil in the thick of it. Meanwhile Bale will go unnoticed for the whole summer since Wales are not featuring in the tournament.

Strangely enough it’s Barcelona that signed the one player who is already a true superstar, Neymar. His sponsorship portfolio (worth €7.5 million) is second only to Ronaldo and teammate Messi. Furthermore, FIFA’s showpiece event is staged in his native Brazil, the media coverage (and more sponsors) is all but guaranteed for the ex-Santos player. If Brazil wins the tournament one can expect Neymar to reach the heights of Ronaldo and Messi superstardom. Based on the most recent showing at the Confederations Cup the chances of Brazil winning the tournament are favorable.

For once Barcelona beat Real Madrid at their own game. While the Merengues are trying their hardest to mold Bale into a global superstar, Barcelona just signed one. Bale’s Real Madrid unveiling hardly attracted 30,000 spectactors at the Bernabeu while Neymar drew a crowd of 57,000 to the Camp Nou. Moreover, with Neymar’s increasing popularity it’s likely his acquisition will turn into a profitable undertaking. Meanwhile Bale will have to perform to superhuman standards (read: Ronaldo levels) to justify his price-tag. And how does the chant go?

There’s only one Ronaldo.