About two years ago, in the summer of 2017/18, a story broke out about Paris Saint-Germain’s reported interest in the services of Neymar Jr. At that time, it just seemed like one of those stereotypical rumours that we get almost every year: “Team X is interested in team Y’s most popular player and this time, it looks serious.”
And it always seem to be the same old narrative: the interest is real, team Y are in danger of losing their key player, the deal seems more than just likely and this time it’s definitely happening. But it never does, does it?
Neymar, for that reason, seemed likely to stay. After all, who in their right mind could even pay his €222m (£198.6m) release clause and who can even muster such an amount even if they wanted to? Paris Saint-Germain, that’s who.
In the summer of 2017/18, a world-record was shattered, as presumably were many Catalan hearts in the process as well. Neymar thought he had made the move that would finally get him out of Lionel Messi’s shadow, a move that would make him the no.1 player in the team and the move that would, one day, make him the best player in the world.
To cut a long story short – it didn’t. None of those things happened, and fast forward a couple of years from that transfer to the most recent summer transfer window, we’ve gone full circle once again: team X is interested in team Y’s key man and the deal looks rather likely. Even the clubs in question are the same. Only this time, their roles have reversed.
And the media were really milking the Neymar saga of 2019 to the best of their abilities. “Neymar day”, “ultimatum”, “final move” and many more graced the covers of various different outlets on a daily basis. It became a never-ending soap opera.
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Finally, 2 September arrived and this time, the good old saga had a different outcome: Neymar had stayed in Paris, for better or worse of the Blaugrana. Once again, many Catalan hearts were broken. Some could have wanted him back and some presumably rejoiced as the deal collapsed. But that’s nothing new and we can’t say for sure if it would definitely make a difference either way.
But despite the fact the Brazilian star remained in the French capital, there’s still this feeling that the whole saga might’ve had a serious toll on the Barcelona squad and their brand as a whole.
Two years ago, they were powerless from stopping Neymar from leaving. But that was out of their hands, right? After all, who would’ve thought that there was a club out there willing and able to pay that ridiculous release clause? Still, they couldn’t convince Neymar – close friend of Messi and Luis Suarez as well as one of the best players in the world – to stay at their club, try as they might.
Whether they would admit it or not, but back then, they were humiliated by Paris Saint-Germain. Prior to that whole saga, the French giant vetoed Marco Verratti’s move to Catalonia, and then they went and snatched their dancing partner’s most valuable asset after Messi. That’s the definition of a power play if there ever was one.
And now, in 2019, the same thing happened. PSG were reportedly willing to open the door for Neymar to leave. After all, having such an expensive player rotting on the bench or even worse, in the stands, didn’t make much sense for them both financially or sporting wise. The fans have turned against him, he was burning a hole in their wallets and disrupting the team’s harmony with his antics. He simply had to go; for the right price, of course.
Suffice it to say, the right price never came and without it, neither did Neymar’s one-way ticket back to the sunny pitches of Catalonia and to Messi’s embrace. What did arrive back to Barcelona, however, was another slap in the face of their brand, their squad and their players.
Why, you may ask.
It’s simple really. Barcelona were not really secretive about their desire to get Neymar. President Josep Maria Bartomeu even spoke about it after the market had already closed. The media didn’t help either with their daily reports and leaked gossip. But the absolute worst part of it is actually something else entirely.
Everyone knew Barcelona didn’t have the funds to buy Neymar outright, cash in hand, no questions asked. Far from it, actually. Just weeks before that, they had completed a multi-million deal to get Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid and even that required a bank loan. How could they possibly get Neymar on top of the costly Frenchman?
Two options were considered. Firstly, a loan with an obligation to buy next summer. After all, this is exactly the tactic Paris Saint-Germain used when they bought Kylian Mbappe. If they used it before, surely they would accept it themselves. But they didn’t and Barcelona had to offer players instead.
Reportedly, the likes of Nelson Semedo, Jean-Clair Todibo, Ivan Rakitić and Ousmane Dembele were used as bargaining chips in Barcelona’s more than desperate attempts to seal the deal with the French titans. “A game of poker“, said one of Sport’s countless articles published during the window. And that one really hit the nail squarely on the head.
Players become nothing more than currency, a way of getting what you want and merely chips on the table. Not only has that ensured that Barcelona, once again, look weak, powerless and desperate in the eyes of many, but it also presumably must have had an impact on the players in question as well.
Dembele has had trouble with injuries, Rakitić has only started one La Liga fixture so far this season, Todibo is still waiting for a genuine first team opportunity having played just 4 minutes in the league and Semedo is beginning to hold down a regular berth at right-back.
But even if we disregard all of those things, the club’s willingness to include them in a potential deal for Neymar was a clear sign that they are not the most highly valued of assets. Whether you’re the most confident player in the world or not, that must make you wonder at least a tiny bit.
We’re yet to fully determine whether the whole saga will have any consequences and effects on the players, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that tangible consequences may manifest throughout the season.
Barcelona wanted to look like saviours; a team that is willing to give Neymar a second chance, a team willing to offer him an exit from a club he clearly doesn’t want to play for anymore. But instead, they were made to look weak and desperate.
Neymar might not have cost Barcelona a single penny this summer, but the Spaniards might still pay a huge price in the not so distant future.
Only time will tell.