Messi and Benzema, Saudis and Soccer, Bread and Circuses

The offer that did convince him, from Inter Miami, was rooted in much the same logic. Messi, when he eventually signs, will not only be paid by the club, but he also is expected to be offered a discounted rate on an ownership stake in the M.L.S. team. Another part of the financial package will be provided by Apple, based on the logic that he will help sell a considerable number of streaming passes, and Adidas is expected to sweeten the deal, too.

Teams, of course, draw an audience. Competitions generate content. But, more than ever, it is players — or, more specifically, a select group of players, whose fame outstrips even the clubs they represent and the trophies they win — who command global attention, who move products, who are the greatest assets in the game. And the best thing, of course, is that players are one thing that money can absolutely buy. The industry of soccer, unlike the sport, is a game that is won, most of the time, by whoever has the deepest pockets.

Saudi Arabia has gone all in on that logic. It has committed nearly a billion dollars in salaries already, to no more than a handful of players. At first glance, it is hard not to be startled and dazed and, above all, baffled by the size of the numbers and the audacity of the approach. Such is the draw, the appeal, the power of the players, though, that it does not take too long before it starts to make sense.

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