New #10 in Paris. Unlike Messi, Javier Pastore was willing to relinquish it.
No one believed it until it happened. Three weeks ago, Barcelona’s ex-president Joan Gaspart claimed that Neymar will remain at the club forever. Two weeks ago, Gerard Piqué posted an Instagram photo, hugging his Brazilian best friend, with a caption ‘he stays’. Even a week ago, Blaugrana looked as if they were fighting back by freezing a massive, £23m loyalty bonus payment to a player that has obviously transferred his loyalty somewhere else. But three days ago, it’s the rumours and gossip that prevailed. Neymar has left the building.
Books will be written about the motivations behind such unexpected change. According to the player himself, he needed a new challenge so despite having FCB in his heart, he decided to make a change. According to the press, he was fed up with playing the second fiddle to Messi and realised that he’ll never win Ballon d’Or while hanging around in the Argentinian’s shadow. According to Neymar’s father, the Brazilian superstar has ignored parental advice to delay the transfer decision for at least the next 12 months.
“It wasn’t my idea!” says the father, holding on to the briefcase full of €500 bills.
Who’s telling the truth here? Well – obviously not the man in question. The challenge Paris Saint-Germain offers is nowhere near the ones available at Barça. Since the 2011 Qatari takeover, the Parc des Princes side has been head and shoulders above all their domestic rivals, both sportingly and financially. A year ago, they’ve won Ligue 1 by an outrageous, 31-point margin; before that, they’d secure the title with at least two gameweeks to spare for three seasons in a row. This spring, Monaco might’ve pulled off a miracle to knock Les Parisiens off their perch – yet it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be back on it in few months.
The disparity of resources is even more shocking. Over the last five years, the French competition has irreversibly lost names like Aboubakar, Amavi, Aubameyang, Boufal, Digne, Idrissa Gueye, Gignac, James, Kanté, Kondogbia, Lovren, Martial, Ospina, Umtiti and Zouma. At the same time, PSG have been happily spending big money, even on such resounding flops like Cabaye (£21m), Jesé (£21m), or Krychowiak (£29m). On the list of biggest Ligue 1 signings ever, Neymar’s new team takes sixteen out of 20 top spots! And after the recent events, the current valuations in France are even more lopsided:
The press didn’t exactly get it right either. On one hand: Neymar’s never been considered Messi’s footballing equal. On the other hand: the progress he’s made as a part of the MSN trio has got him as close to his Argentinian guru as he’s ever been. In 2015, it’s those two South Americans who dragged each other to the absolute peaks of their respective games. By the way: so did Luis Suárez, yet another terrific footballer whom Neymar could sorely miss in Paris. And what are even the best players’ chances to win Ballon d’Or while playing under the Eiffel Tower? Zlatan Ibrahimović could probably say a word or two on that topic…
So perhaps it’s Mister Neymar Santos Senior, who has the point? Maybe his son acted purely out of his ambition to be the best in the world and to reach that level without the help from a potential competitor for the glory? Maybe that ambition has been further validated by the poor signings Barcelona made recently, signings which seriously contributed to a relatively dismal 2016/17 season? Maybe with the Brazilian fellows like Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Dani Alves and Lucas Moura all around him, The Player Formerly Known as BaTmAn*LoKo will flourish on a level we’ve never expected him to reach?
Reunited: after a year-long break, Alves and Neymar are back in the same club.
Of course not. The actual reasons are banal and mundane. After a sloppy year featuring an UCL embarrassment and a domestic inferiority to Monaco, PSG had both the will and the resources to bring a superstar player through their door. And Neymar, just like his father, just like many other footballers from Latin America, has put his financial merit above the abstract values like loyalty. Put those two things together and add a necessary factor in form of an actual release clause written in the players’ contract – you’re definitely getting a recipe for a sensation.
It’s actually quite hilarious. When Neymar penned his last contract extension at Barcelona, no man could imagine the future ramifications of his £197 million release clause. Unsurprisingly so – after all, back then, in July 2016, we lived in a world, where Paul Pogba’s transfer was yet to happen and Blaugrana’s highest-ever received transfer fee was a modest £37 million for Luis Figo. No person in the world could possibly imagine nearly a quarter of billion of Euros suddenly materializing as a price tag of a single footballer. No person in the world could possibly imagine that footballer signing a contract so obscene, he’d earn £1 per each and every single one of his heartbeats.
But it’s August 2017. We don’t have to imagine that anymore:
At Parc des Princes, the Brazilian soon-to-be-billionaire (?) will encounter a squad built for the future. Players like Gonçalo Guedes (20), Giovani Lo Celso (21), Julian Draxler (23), Serge Aurier (24), even Marco Verratti (24) will all be junior professionals to him. Furthermore, even the veterans like Ángel Di María (29, played second fiddle at Real Madrid for a long time) and Edinson Cavani (30, took him many years to escape Ibrahimović’s shadow) might actually be okay with having someone who’ll steal the spotlight from them. After all – without such player nearby, they’ve all failed to achieve much this spring.
And, judging by their expenses so far, they absolutely should’ve started achieving already. It’s been six years since the Qatari takeover. During this time, the Sports Investment Group with Nasser Al-Khelaifi in charge has poured £817 million on new signings alone. Even without Neymar’s gargantuan salary, the club is spending over £2 million on weekly wages for it’s 25 seasoned first-teamers. In view of that, four consecutive defeats in the Champions League quarter-finals and a subsequent second-leg implosion against Barcelona couple months ago cannot be considered a satisfying return.
Well… at least the wealth of the underachievers matches the wealth of their new recruit:
Behind his back, the Brazilian is leaving a team that will definitely struggle to replace their starlet winger. Over the last four seasons, he provided 68 goals and 38 assists in 123 appearances – and that’s just his performances in La Liga. Compared to his potential successors like Eden Hazard (48 goals and 24 assists in 140 league games) or Philippe Coutinho (31 goals and 24 assists in 125 league games), the world-record holder is a true, perhaps irreplaceable world-beater. Even with him still around, Blaugrana had problems; today, the shortage of quality players in their squad got alarmingly big.
Obviously, £200 million in FCB’s pocket means that Josep Maria Bartomeu will make at least one – and most likely two – big signing(s) this summer. Apart from Hazard and Coutinho, the names of Ousmane Dembélé and Jean-Michaël Seri continue to pop up. For now, the most likely combination seems to be: the Liverpool maestro (who’d cost between £80 and £90 million) and the midfielder from Nice (who won’t go anywhere for less than his £36 million release clause). The Socios would certainly prefer young Dembélé, but, unlike his LFC colleague, the lad from Dortmund is not for sale.
So for now, Neymar is on the better end of that deal than Barça. For now. Without Messi’s aid and with a burdening label of the priciest signing ever, he’s also on a quest to turn an inferior, permanently disappointing team into the Champions League winners. And if he doesn’t deliver? There was already a Brazilian winger, whose outrageous fee never justified itself. His name was Denilson; he scored just two goals in 35 games of his debut season for Real Betis…