PSG signs Kylian Mbappe, and cleverly skirts Financial Fair Play in the process

Kylian Mbappe is off to PSG. (AFP)

When Paris Saint-Germain paid FC Barcelona €222 million and made Neymar the most expensive player ever earlier this month, the main controversy surrounding the deal involved Financial Fair Play. FFP, the UEFA rules in place to prevent clubs from egregiously outspending their respective revenues, was at the heart of Barca’s and La Liga’s efforts to block the deal. It was also the subject of frenzied questioning from fans:

How can PSG pay €222 million for a single player and still comply with FFP?

On Thursday, the incredulous questioning was modified:

How can PSG pay €222 million for one player and then €180 million for another and still comply with FFP?

The simple version: PSG has signed Kylian Mbappe, and yes, it will eventually cost the French giants €180 million. But PSG hasn’t actually bought Mbappe just yet.

According to several reports from France and elsewhere in Europe, PSG has signed Mbappe on loan from Monaco, but with an obligation to buy for €180 million next summer. Not an option; an obligation.

Delaying the actual purchase will help the Parisian club get in under FFP thresholds following the 2017-18 season, and will stretch the €400 million financial burden of the two transfer fees out over two summers rather than one. (Actually, it will stretch it out over six summers rather than five, but more on that later.)

It is not a particularly novel ploy. The loan-to-buy transfer structure has been used by other European clubs such as Inter Milan and Roma in the past. It was even used previously by PSG when the French club signed Serge Aurier while already facing FFP sanctions in 2014. And it often carries the same purpose it does in the Mbappe deal.

But this is the first time the delayed purchase structure has been employed in such a high-profile transfer, and the first time FFP evasiveness has been such an overt part of a high-profile deal. And that’s why it’s so controversial.

To understand how the loan aids PSG, it’s first necessary to understand FFP. Basically, over a given three-year period, a club cannot accumulate more than €30 million in losses. So any analysis of FFP in light of the Neymar deal will not only consider the 2017-18 season, but the 2016-17 and 2015-16 seasons. That analysis also won’t be carried out and publicized by UEFA until next fall.

The Neymar deal also doesn’t count as an immediate €222 million hit to PSG’s books in 2017-18. For FFP calculations, transfer fees are amortized over the length of a player’s new contract, meaning the €222 million is slashed to €44.4 million in year one, and €44.4 million the following year, and so on. Neymar’s wages will count too, so his personal FFP hit will be nine figures, or at least close.

The same guidelines apply to the Mbappe deal. The year of the transfer payment, Mbappe will count for roughly €36 million plus (likely astronomical) wages against PSG’s FFP tabulations. But if the actual payment isn’t made until next summer, that €36 million won’t kick in until then. And if Mbappe is only on loan, he presumably will still be on his Monaco salary, which is puny. So Mbappe won’t derail PSG’s efforts to comply with FFP in the period spanning seasons 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

(Note: Some reports claim Mbappe has signed a five-year contract at PSG. It is unclear if that is merely an agreement, and the actual contract will kick in next year, or if there is some way PSG will lock him up to a long term deal despite technically having the player on loan. Technically, Mbappe could sign a new lucrative contract with Monaco in conjunction with the loan.)

The Qatari-owned club will still have to scrap to make money match for the three-year period beginning in 2016-17, and the three-year period beginning in 2017-18, and so on. Starting next season, both Neymar’s and Mbappe’s transfer fees will be inescapable, and their wages will be on PSG’s books. The Parisians are especially vulnerable as a potential repeat offender.

But putting off the Mbappe purchase by a year gives PSG an extra 365 days to generate revenue – something the club will have no trouble doing. Especially with Neymar in tow, PSG is one of the most marketable soccer teams in the world. There are countless ways to make up the difference. PSG will have to sell players, both to comply in 2017-18 and afterward, but it has an overflowing stable of players to sell.

There are various potential roadblocks. The FFP rules state that “The UEFA Club Financial Control Body at all times bears in mind the overall objectives of these regulations, in particular to defeat any attempt to circumvent these objectives.” And if this is not a circumvention of FFP, nothing is.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has said he will “severely” punish FFP violators. “We can’t be a tiger without teeth,” he said. None of this means PSG will be punished, and none of it means UEFA has the power to punish the French club. But it means there is legitimate pressure to comply.

But PSG should be able to comply. And it will comply while enjoying the talent of an 18-year-old who is already considered one of the most skilled strikers in the world. The Frenchman, who has four international caps to his name, scored 26 goals in all competitions last year as Monaco unseated PSG atop Ligue 1. He also helped lead Monaco to the Champions League semifinals.

It appears, though, that any shift of the balance of power in French soccer was only temporary. Money talks, and it should spur PSG back to the Ligue 1 summit.

For a still somewhat unproven teenager, €180 million is a silly sum. But no sum is silly these days, and certainly not for PSG. The Parisians now have the hottest young prospect in France wearing their shirt, and they have the eyes of the world on them once again.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.