Where Herschel Walker and Kylian Mbappe meet
When I was a kid, we'd say things were the same but different. It shouldn’t, yet it made sense. Now, the grown-up me sometimes finds the vastly different footballs played in America and the rest of the world the same. Not too often, just now and again.
I enjoy asking NFL supporters why they call a game footㆍball when the name's two nouns come together so infrequently in a match. Worse, when foot does meet ball, a specialist half anyone else's size briefly steps onto the field to do the kicking. In FIFA’s game, the only player who can throw or carry the ball tends to be the biggest player on the pitch. Nor can players come or go on a whim. Proper football rarely waits on anyone. If you’re conscious and your limbs aren’t severed, the referee expects you to move to the touchline with alacrity so the game can continue.
Even their respective business practises are diametrically opposed. European football keeps everything simple. If Club A owns a player Club B desires, he can be bought for the right price. NFL players cannot be owned or bought. A century-and-a-half after the Emancipation Proclamation, Americans remain sensitive to the concept that human beings can be sold in any capacity. Their unease is rooted in the fact equality remains an unachievable goal after all this time. The NFL is happy to swap personnel in trades where one player’s talent might command two, three, or more peers in exchange. Even rarer than a player swap in Europe are the occasions when cash is used in America solely to make weight, much less compensate the selling team in full.
One commonality is the biggest deals tend to ripple like a stone skipping across a flat pond. In that context, the fallout from Kylian Mbappe’s sale to Paris Saint-Germain bears a strong resemblance to the Herschel Walker trade between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings in 1989.
Before the trade, Dallas was "America’s Team". Immensely popular, the 'Boys won two Super Bowls, competed in five, contended for two decades. Like Sir Alex Ferguson arriving from Aberdeen to build a lasting dynasty at Manchester United, Tom Landry stepped from Vince Lombardi’s shadow to shape the Cowboys. Unfortunately, he was more like Arsene Wenger in outlasting his success.
Landry’s last Cowboy’s generation paled in comparison to previous iterations. The team fell so far; owner Tex Schramm elected to sell. Enter the four Js, Arkansas millionaire Jerry Jones and his college roommate, successful college coach Jimmy Johnson. The door hit Landry’s arse on his way out while the arrogant duo unapologetically set about rebuilding a dynasty. Jones business experience advised stripping down the club’s assets then reinvesting in new players. Heisman Trophy-winning running back Walker was the primary asset. Jones and Johnson traded him to Minnesota in a complicated deal also involving the San Diego Chargers.
Herschel plus four draft picks went to the Vikings. Four players and eight draft picks came to Dallas. A fifth player, running back Darrin Nelson, refused to play for the Cowboys, so went to San Diego. Over the next three years, the draft picks were used or traded, producing several stars, including Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Alonzo Highsmith, Darren Woodson and Jake Reed.
Monaco's success on the European stage doesn’t compare to the Cowboys, much less Manchester United or Arsenal. At their peak, Dallas would never surrender their Kylian Mbappe to a direct rival for any price. They had to hit rock-bottom before Walker was considered expendable. Naturally, the deal with PSG was structured differently. The player went to Paris. A year later, €135 million was deposited in Monaco’s accounts. With the money in hand and the transfer window open, the club set about turning their teenaged prodigy into several valuable players.
First came Russian playmaker Aleksandr Golovin from CSKA Moscow for €30 million. Sixteen-year-old left winger Willem Geubbels arrived from Lyon for another €20 million. RC Strasbourg yielded defensive midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou for €14 million. Left-back Antonio Barreca and d-mid Pele each cost €10 million from Torino and Rio Ave respectively. Another €12 million combined delivered three youngsters, Ronaele Pierre-Gabriel, Samuel Grandsir and Jonathan Panzo from St-Etienne, Troyes and Chesea’s U18s, a right back, right winger and centre-half.
The total outlay was €96 million, allowing for a €39 million profit from Mbappe’s sale. You see how the deal resembles the Walker trade.
Then Monaco took it a step further. A leap, to be honest. The club also sold Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Terence Kongolo, Rachid Ghezzal, Adama Diakhaby, Soualiho Meite, and Joao Moutinho for another €174.6 million.
Ghezzal’s sale to Leicester City is an interesting sidebar. As if the Algerian right winger might be lightning striking twice. At 26, his career numbers say there's not a cloud in the sky, much less a thunderhead shaped in Riyad Mahrez's profile.
More interesting is the immense profit Les Monagasques will realise once the window closes. As it stands, they exchanged a potential Ligue 1 title defence for eight players and a hair over €213 million. By comparison, Real Madrid took home €87 million for winning the Champions League for the third time running.
Give Paris Saint-Germain all the credit in the world for investing €222 million in Neymar, another €135 in Mbappe to be the next Real Madrid, but if Les Rouge et Bleu can match the Spanish giants’ feat, they’ll still need to win another to come close to breaking even. Rather than chasing glory, Monaco chose to follow the money. As long as they continue to play exciting football in the process, more power to them.