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Neymar's injury might be the most expensive in soccer history

Neymar suffered a sprained ankle and a fractured foot during a 3-0 PSG win over Marseille. (Getty)

We will never know how different it could have or would have been. But the what-ifs that will linger around PSG’s Champions League exit are both endless and tantalizing.

Because there is a very strong argument to be made that the French superclub, with a healthy Neymar, would have overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit in Paris on Tuesday night. That it would have toppled Real Madrid. That its final-third stagnancy would have instead been liveliness, that misplaced passes would have instead led to chances, and that missed chances would have instead been goals.

There is also an argument to be made, then, that Neymar’s injury – the foot fracture that effectively ended his season three months early – is the most expensive injury in soccer history.

Is it a stretch? Perhaps, because injuries don’t actually come with dollar values attached. The analysis you’re about to read is based on inexact estimates, and even it won’t come to a single-number conclusion. But it will come to the conclusion that the cost to PSG of Neymar’s fifth metatarsal break is likely higher than that of any other injury to ever plague the sport.

Neymar’s salary and transfer fee

The most obvious aspect of the injury’s “cost” is the portion of Neymar’s price – the money PSG pays him, and the money it paid Barcelona – that now yields no return.

We’ll begin with the transfer fee — $276 million. Let’s say Neymar, at 26, has 10 years of value to PSG. Either he plays for PSG and contributes to on-field success, or he leaves and PSG recoups some remaining portion of the $276 million on the sale.

Let’s also assume Neymar’s age-26 season is more valuable than, say, his age-32 season. With the Brazilian in his prime right now, the value of each successive season will depreciate yearly. An oversimplified estimate, then, would be that of the $276 million paid by PSG to Barcelona for Neymar, $35 million was for his 2017-18 season.

Because we know Neymar’s approximate salary – reportedly around $50 million – we can say that PSG was paying roughly $85 million for Neymar’s first campaign in Paris.

Of course, not all of Neymar’s value is his on-field performance. He’s a commercial asset as well. He raises the profile of the club, sells shirts, attracts new fans, and so on. That’s tough to put a number on, but let’s slash the estimate by $15 million and say that PSG was paying $70 million for Neymar the soccer player this year.

Because of the injury, a significant portion of that $70 million will offer no return on investment. This happens all the time with injuries, but it’s magnified by Neymar’s lucrative salary. The Brazilian will miss roughly three months of a nine-month season. If every game mattered the same, his missed time would be worth $23 million.

The actual figure, though, would be more than that, because PSG isn’t paying Neymar to clown on overmatched Ligue 1 opponents. It isn’t paying him to get the club out of the Champions League group stage, either. It was doing that without him. It is paying Neymar for the express purpose of Champions League knockout round success.

So let’s say all $70 million is going toward seven hypothetical Champions League games, round of 16 through final. Let’s say the value of a single game increases by $3 million per round, meaning 90 minutes of Neymar in the round of 16 was worth $6 million. By that analysis, Neymar’s injury cost PSG $64 million.

That, obviously, is an aggressive estimate. Still, the actual “cost” of Neymar’s injury, solely in terms of transfer fee and wages, would likely be somewhere in between $23 million and $64 million. And that’s only one piece of the pie.

Unai Emery’s PSG side might have suffered the costliest injury in the history of world soccer. (AFP)

Champions League money

There’s the money that’s already been paid. Then there’s the revenue that will never arrive. The other big piece of the pie is the money that PSG will miss out on due to its Champions League exit.

First is the prize money. PSG would have earned $8 million for reaching the quarterfinals, a further $9 million for making the semis, $14 million more for reaching the final, and $6 million on top of that for winning. So in losing to Real Madrid, the Parisians missed out on somewhere between $8 million and $37 million in revenue shares from UEFA.

They also missed out on matchday revenue from at least one more home game, and possibly two. They made $112 million in matchday income from 27 home games the year prior, and presumably make more on Champions League nights than routine league weekends, so that’s another $5-10 million down the drain.

And finally, there’s the additional commercial value tied to a deep Champions League run. PSG’s brand is growing, but it still made $39 million less in commercial revenue in 2016-17 compared to 2015-16. That, in large part, can be attributed to a second-place league finish and a Champions League round of 16 exit last year, as opposed to a first-place finish and quarterfinal exit the year before.

Plus, better Champions League performance furthers a club’s value in future sponsorship deals. It, like Neymar, attracts new fans. It even allows the club to woo better players without overpaying for every single one of them.

Any dollar estimate here, of course, is based on the assumption that Neymar was the difference between progression and elimination. That assumption is shaky at best. The situation isn’t that absolute. But if it were, the club revenue-related “cost” of Neymar’s injury would be somewhere in the region of $50 million – give or take $20 million in either direction. That alone is roughly 8 percent of PSG’s annual turnover.

Financial Fair Play

The added layer here is PSG’s flirtation with Financial Fair Play – UEFA’s rules limiting disproportionately ludicrous spending. Everyone from fans to clubs to leagues to UEFA’s president himself raised a fuss this past summer when PSG spent what will eventually be $500 million on two players, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. The general consensus was that PSG was cutting it close; that it would have to find as many sources of revenue as possible to comply with the FFP regulations.

By not advancing in the Champions League, it missed out on a lot of potential revenue. And if those millions are the difference between compliance and sanctions – likely a transfer ban at the very least – Neymar’s injury could ultimately cost PSG much more.

Add all these “costs” up, and the value lost due to Neymar’s injury is probably somewhere in between $50 million and $100 million. Now, slash the estimate down considerably because Neymar’s injury wasn’t the sole reason PSG didn’t advance. But the final number is still tens of millions of dollars.

That surely makes the injury the most expensive ever – if such a thing exists.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.