Opinion

A quarter of a billion for a footballer? Just imagine what that money could do

The money being offered for Kylian Mbappé might sound vulgar, but to Saudi Arabia it's small change

Footballer Kylian Mbappe of France and Paris St Germain has been the subject of transfer speculation

Footballer Kylian Mbappe of France reacts during the UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying round group B match between France and Greece. Image: Sebastian Frej / Alamy Stock Photo

Context is everything. Though even with context it’s sometimes a struggle to make sense of what is going on. A transfer fee of around £260 million has been offered for footballer Kylian Mbappé. Saudi team Al-Hilal have offered his current club Paris Saint-Germain the staggering sum. Whether it goes through or not, a change is here. We’re now in the era of footballers valued in increments of billions rather than millions.

History has a curious way of tapping you on the shoulder when new history is being made. The Mbappé news came in the week Trevor Francis, England’s first £1m footballer, died. It feels a long way from £1m to a quarter of a billion. Though it is only a little over 40 years. 

Of course, nobody is worth that amount, nor the staggering wages Mbappé would receive. But it has nothing to do with football. The future is tugging on Saudi Arabia’s sleeve. They see that a time will come when the world will no longer have the same reliance on oil. (Though who knows when. Will the devastating fires in Greece and Italy, the floods in Korea or the storms in the US finally accelerate positive change? Or will short-termism, as currently spoken by the two main political parties in the UK, knock things back?) 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

If/when the global need recedes, the Saudis want to diversify and for their nation to be an international hub for sport. The sovereign Public Investment Fund, the money driving this change, is estimated to total £500bn. They could get a lot of Mbappés and a lot of golfers and lucrative overpriced boxing clashes and football clubs like Newcastle United for that amount. It’s about the same as Nigeria’s GDP, and higher than Denmark’s and Finland’s. It’s a chunky sum. 

Leaving aside moral questions about the money paid for one player, or indeed the questionable human rights record in Saudi, should we be happy that because a possible alternative exists the burning of oil will fall back and so the positives for the planet will move forward? 

Last week it was revealed the ambition goes beyond sport. The fund acquired an interest in Selfridges during the recent £4bn takeover. The UK government, keen to find some kind of post-Brexit positive, have been courting sovereign wealth funds’ inward investment. The Qatari Fund, the equivalent of the Saudis, has long been mooted as part of a consortium to take over the National Grid, which belies the government’s ongoing insistence about controlling national energy supplies in light of how in thrall prices have been to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Qataris also own PSG and are favourites to buy Manchester United. Money grows money. 

But what if the Saudis and others decided to use their almost limitless wealth as an altruistic soft power push? 

If they looked at the UK and said, we see that 130,000 children are in temporary accommodation, they’re homeless, so we’re going to throw an Mbappé amount of money at that because we believe it’s the right thing to do? Or they insist that here is a quarter of a billion heading into a central fund to smash the need for food banks in Britain. Or really break the back of social housing need and grow provision out from there. 

That could really move the dial.  

Or – OR – the actual government of this country could do these things itself, show it is serious about eradicating poverty and making life better for the growing number of people who need help, rather than, as a government, getting happily mired in confected culture war battles and relying on handouts from overseas to boost their growth plans. 

Imagine how they’d be viewed in that context. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand
Cath Hill

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand

This government failed to end rough sleeping – so now they're trying to police it out of existence
The Criminal Justice Bill criminalises rough sleeping
Tom Kerridge

This government failed to end rough sleeping – so now they're trying to police it out of existence

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all
people experiencing homelessness also face stigma
Matthew Torbitt

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism
Naga Munchetty

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know