Temptation has arisen for reeling Barcelona.
Forget Antoine Griezmann or Matthijs de Ligt. A former flame has rekindled their interest.
Paris Saint-Germain’s, apparent, desire to rid themselves of Neymar and his escalating problems has provided an intriguing twist to the La Liga champions’ summer transfer plans.
What better way to stop the ruptures caused by their Anfield humiliation than reunite the most electric attack club football has ever seen?
The allure is clear. Even if the Parisians’ world-record €222 million outlay must be recouped, plus wages far in excess of those earned when winning eight trophies and scoring 105 times from 185 run-outs between 2013-17.
Barca, however, should look beyond the obvious.
The exuberant Brazilian forward’s phenomenal gifts made his signature from Santos essential six years ago – whatever the institutional cost. This time, far more cogent arguments exist to pass up the opportunity than press on with it.
Magic appears when the ball is under Neymar’s sway. Flamboyant dribbling is allied with remarkable – and utterly ruthless – efficiency when chances appear.
An outstanding ratio of 60 strikes in 97 Brazil appearances speaks volumes. He should overtake the iconic Pele well before his 30th birthday as the grandest scorer in his nation’s history.
Neymar’s exploits in Catalonia have, also, continued in Paris. In Ligue 1 alone since he joined, 20 assists and 34 goals have been registered across 37 games.
These are figures that will make director of football Eric Abidal salivate.
The inexperienced administrator, however, should pay more attention to words than statistics when it comes to Neymar.
A transfer dance began this week when PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi told France Football that “I do not want to have any celebrity behaviour anymore” and “I want players proud to wear our jersey, not players who do the job when it suits them”.
Incendiary remarks that do not require rare acuity to determine whom they were directed at. Especially when the same interview contained a proclamation that France upstart Kylian Mbappe will “200 per cent” be at Parc des Princes for 2019/20.
Neymar picked up a three-match ban in May for lashing out at a supporter after defeat to Rennes in the Coupe de France showpiece. He will also miss half of next term’s Champions League group-stage matches because of a ban incurred for an Instagram rant in the immediate aftermath of PSG’s round-of-16 elimination at Manchester United’s hands.
Then there is the perceived special treatment that saw him, reportedly, lambaste ex-PSG boss Unai Emery’s video sessions to Al-Khelaifi, plus the growing entourage that follows him across the globe.
There is also the worrying fact that either through injury or other means, he’s been present for only 51.8 per cent of PSG’s fixtures since August 2017’s game-changing arrival.
Why stake so much on a player that you cannot entrust to perform?
Even before his latest fitness problem, Brazil boss Tite, tellingly, chose to strip him of the captaincy for the 2019 Copa America.
Ego was present at Barca. It is the fuel that burns his furnace.
The question his prospective employers – be that the Catalans, Real Madrid or Manchester United – have to ask themselves, is whether it is now completely out of control?
This is especially pertinent for Barca, where Lionel Messi is the undisputed king.
Neymar was unflinchingly deferential to him in the past. Will he be the same now he’s had a taste of life away from the Argentina icon’s shadow?
There is also the small matter of reintegrating into a dressing room stung by his departure. It’s doubtful proud centre-back Gerard Pique has forgotten the now infamous “Se queda” (he stays) tweet…
Barca’s pre-eminence in Spain also affords them the ability to plan strategically. Youth has been injected into midfield through Brazil’s Arthur and the Netherlands’ Frenkie de Jong.
Overtures for Atletico Madrid’s Griezmann make sense, because he is younger than resident centre forward Luis Suarez.
Great patience, faith and expense was handed to Ousmane Dembele as replacement for Neymar two years ago. Minus some suspect punctuality, the 22-year-old France winger now justifies this gentle approach.
His spot on the left wing in head coach Ernesto Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation, however, would be ceded to the returning Neymar. A player five years his senior.
The idea of using Dembele in a makeweight to lighten PSG’s cash demands screams of suspect short-termism.
There is pressure building at Camp Nou after eternal rivals Real Madrid lavished more than €300m in 2019.
Neymar’s cache as a bona fide superstar and lost idol would instantly calm some fears about usurpation. Even more so than Griezmann, who elicits mixed reaction in the club’s faithful.
But Barca must ignore the noise, sticking on the path they were forced to choose when Neymar stunningly decided to allow his release clause to be exercised.
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