WITH Neymar and Kyrie Irving making their moves, this has been the summer of the sporting heir apparent being unwilling to wait to inherit the throne.
Two of the world’s most prominent athletes – both of whom have had to play supporting actor to even more prominent athletes – have opted to go out and grab a leading role elsewhere.
Neymar’s eye-watering US$264.6 million (222 million euros) move from Barcelona to Paris St Germain has more than doubled the world transfer record Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer.
And while the Brazilian is expected to earn in excess of US$600,000 a week in Paris, don’t be fooled into thinking his move is only about money.
After arriving at Barcelona in 2013, Neymar had to play second fiddle to Lionel Messi, and often even third fiddle to Messi and Luis Suarez.
The trio have colloquially been referred to as MSN, and not only was Neymar’s initial the last of the three, so was his place in the pecking order.
Signed to become Messi’s heir, Neymar has outgrown his supporting role to the point he felt he had to leave and go and be the star turn elsewhere.
One theory is that Neymar knew he had to move out of Messi’s shadow after Barcelona’s stirring fightback to beat PSG at Camp Nou in March.
Barcelona scored three goals in the final seven minutes to secure a 6-5 aggregate victory over PSG in the Champions League, with Neymar the catalyst for their stunning recovery. He scored the first two of the three late goals and then assisted Sergi Roberto’s winner with a glorious cross.
Yet, the viral image that came to define the glorious comeback was one of Messi standing on advertising hoardings in a Messiah-like pose, as supporters hailed the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Even this week, as the Neymar transfer saga reached its crescendo, Barcelona opted to use the Messi image as the lead picture on a prominent story on their website.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 2, 2017
Of course, Neymar will become incredibly wealthy over the course of his PSG contract, but he is already incredibly wealthy, and his earning power had he stayed at Barcelona would have put him in the top echelon of global sports earners regardless.
At 25, though, one thing Barcelona could not offer him was the leading role.
As long as Messi, and to a lesser extent Suarez, are still turning out for the five-time European champions, Neymar could not have expected to become the main man.
And, at 25, he clearly felt the time was right to go to PSG, who can not only offer bottomless pockets of Qatari money but the opportunity to be the central figure on and off the field in a team that contends for the Champions League and other titles.
Parisian supporters were queueing around the block on Friday morning to get their hands on their Neymar replica shirts and he will take an equally prominent role on the field.
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) August 4, 2017
His move to Paris is a complicated and multifaceted move that no doubt in time will inspire books, documentaries and possibly even the odd film.
Was the fact PSG met the huge release clause – rather than trying to negotiate a cheaper deal – as simple as being a Qatari political power-play at a time when the Gulf state is accused by its opponents of supporting Islamism, a claim it denies?
University of Salford professor Simon Chadwick told Reuters: “Neymar’s PSG move, while beneficial to the French club, may be motivated by the political statement it makes and the soft power influence it is likely to have.
“At a time when the likes of Saudi Arabia want the world to be talking about Qatar in negative terms, Doha has become a focus for the biggest story of the year in the world’s favourite sport.”
PSG have only existed since 1970 and are yet to reach a Champions League final, but Neymar clearly sees the move not as a step down but as an opportunity to grab the status he feels he deserves: as the leading figure on a team with grand ambitions.
If he helps them fulfil those ambitions, and become kings of Europe, not only will his bank balance be enhanced, so will his standing in the game.
He could become Messi’s successor as the world’s best player – but it will not happen, as Barcelona had long planned, at Camp Nou.
A similar dash for the limelight is being made in the United States, where Irving, the second best player on the second best basketball team – Cleveland Cavaliers – has asked to be traded.
Again, there are many aspects behind Irving’s desire to leave, but chief among them appears to be his relationship with LeBron James.
James, even at 32, remains the most influential player in the National Basketball Association; Messi to Irving’s Neymar.
There are suggestions the pair do not have the best personal relationship, along with rumours James could leave the Cavaliers next summer to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
But at the heart of it all is that Irving clearly views himself as being capable of leading his own team, rather than providing chief support to James.
Both Neymar and Irving have shown that times might just be changing. The final destination for superstars was once the teams who were already established at the very top of their sports.
Now, though, with these stars already being rich beyond their wildest dreams, they can instead crave the ego boost – the satisfaction of winning against, rather than with, the established order – as much as the financial one.