NBA champ Steph Curry takes part in ceremonial PSG kick-off with pal Neymar

Reigning NBA champ Steph Curry took part in a ceremonial kick-off for Paris St. Germaine, the Qatari-owned super-team that just shelled out $263 million for Brazillian superstar and Curry cohort Neymar.

With a pre-tax salary slightly north of $40 million for the upcoming NBA season, Curry is the only American athlete who will pocket more than Neymar’s estimated after-tax salary of $37 million. And there’s more where that came from: Neymar is set to earn about $350 million over the next six years in addition to his astronomical transfer fee, so you might be thinking, “Why would anyone spend $600 million on a soccer player?”

The answer has less to do with the Champions League than it does with the tenuous geo-political balance in the Middle East. Qatar is embroiled in an acrimonious and protracted conflict with its Gulf neighbors over its links to Islamist groups and Shiite power Iran. As punishment for its perceived sins, and in an effort to combat Iran’s expanding influence in the region, a four-state coalition of Sunni Arab Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia that includes the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain has sealed off Qatar’s land, sea, and air borders.

Qatar is stuck between Iraq and a hard place. (Image source/University of Texas)

Further complicating Qatar’s relationship with its neighbors is the fact that the tiny, natural gas-rich nation serves as a logistical hub for the U.S. military; not a particularly good look as far as most of the Gulf states are concerned.

As the country did with the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is attempting to buy legitimacy on the international stage through sport. PSG is owned by Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, which, for all intents and purposes, is the government of Qatar.

With state coffers holding a diverse portfolio worth hundreds of billions of dollars, Qatar can afford to do things like straight up buy the right to host the World Cup or pay a quarter billion dollars in cash for Neymar’s transfer fee.

Barcelona made Neymar’s transfer fee a Monopoly number so no one would ever pay it; what the Catalan club didn’t realize is that the world’s collective interest in soccer transcends sport into nation-building territory.

Qatar’s ambitions and self-preservation instinct have left the country in an interesting place. It will spend an estimated $200 billion putting on the farce that is the 2022 World Cup. The country doesn’t have a domestic soccer league and is 120° in the summer.

It’s only neighbors that don’t hate it are Iran, sworn enemy of the United States (our fault, not theirs) and Kuwait, arguably the United States’ strongest ally in the Middle East and home to five separate U.S. military installations. Strange bedfellows indeed.

It might look like Qatar is throwing money away in a misguided attempt to buy legitimacy as a nation, but hey, at least they have Neymar.