PARIS (AP) — Neymar opened a new extravagant chapter in soccer history Friday as the game’s costliest player by fending off questions about his financial motivations as deftly as he repels opponents on the pitch.
Paris Saint-Germain’s 222 million euro ($262 million) recruit was sticking to the script at his presentation in the French capital. Leaving the prestige of Barcelona for the less exalted surroundings of PSG was about seizing the chance to raise the status of an ambitious club, rather than about the size of an annual salary reported to be 30 million euros.
“I was never motivated by money,” Neymar told a crowded news conference at the Parc des Princes home of PSG. “What I think about is happiness. If I was following the money I would maybe be in some other country.”
It is, however, Qatari cash that has fueled the rise of PSG over the last six years, making Neymar’s world-record transfer feasible.
So while the last thing Neymar wanted to do was talk about money on his first full day as a PSG player, the man alongside him had little choice. PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was keen to justify the outlay for the 25-year-old Brazilian, touting the financial uplift that the club expects to follow with one of the game’s superstars on its squad.
If Neymar’s transfer fee seems lavish now, Al-Khelaifi was insistent that his value would soon “double.”
The value of the club too has soared overnight from 1 billion euros before the transfer, according to Al-Khelaifi.
“Now it is worth 1.5 billion,” said the Qatari face of a club linked to the energy-rich Gulf nation’s ruling family.
European soccer regulations prevent unrestricted spending. PSG was fined and forced to reduce its squad size in 2014 by the UEFA governing body for spending far more than it generates in a bid to catch up with the soccer elite.
PSG has done its sums, Al-Khelaifi said, and Neymar can be afforded without breaching Financial Fair Play rules again. The value of the transfer can be spread on the annual accounts across the five-year length of the contract.
“For people worrying about FFP, go and have a coffee,” Al-Khelaifi said. “There are no problems.”
PSG will have to squeeze every euro — and Brazilian real — out of Neymar’s appearance on the pitch through sponsorship, merchandise and jersey sales.
The club shop on the Champs-Elysees has already been transformed to make it clear PSG is now about one man.
Posters of the forward — accompanied by the words “Welcome to Paris Neymar Jr 10” — were unveiled on Friday morning to cheers in central Paris where fans had waited hours to get their hands on jerseys emblazoned with his name from 10:30 a.m.
“When we look at Neymar as brand with PSG I don’t think it is expensive,” Al-Khelaifi said, “as I am sure we are going to make more money than we paid. Definitely.”
The pressure for Neymar to deliver won’t just be on the pitch.
“The fact I am the most expensive player is not a burden,” Neymar said through a translator. “I am 69 kilograms (152 pounds).”
The boxes he packed up in Spain will also be weighed down by medals. Among Neymar’s honors during four seasons at the Camp Nou there were triumphs in the Champions League and Club World Cup along with two Spanish league titles and three Copa del Rey successes.
Neymar is arriving at a 47-year-old team that has won four of the last five French titles but is yet to win the biggest competitions outside of France, having failed to progress further than the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
“It was one of most difficult decisions that I made in my life, being well adapted in a city and in a big club like Barcelona,” Neymar said. “It wasn’t easy, it was a moment of extreme tension, of thinking what to do with my life and of course I left friends there.
“I am very happy with that because football goes away very fast, our life goes away very fast ... and I felt it was the moment to leave, looking for new air, having a different challenge.”
The transfer could also elevate the 25-year-old forward to new personal heights as he escapes the Barcelona shadow of Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players of all time.
“He was my role model,” Neymar said. “I learned so much off him in four years together.”
It was unclear if Neymar would make his debut when PSG opens its league season Saturday at home against Amiens, a team making its top-flight debut. But Neymar said he is “always hungry for football, and I think I can play.”
Regardless, the stadium is still likely to be packed with fans wearing the swiftly produced PSG jerseys emblazoned with Neymar’s name.
Philippe Chembon, a fan, flaunted a receipt outside the club store showing he spent 623.50 euros ($740) on four Neymar jerseys.
“This is a very big moment for PSG,” said the 63-year-old Chembon, who is older than the club.
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.