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.
Barcelona forward Luis Suarez has admitted a desire to play alongside Brazil star Neymar at the Blaugrana once again.
The Paris Saint-Germain marquee signing who jumped ship from the Catalan side for a world record fee of €222 million in 2017 is set to be shipped out, according to various reports.
Barcelona is suggested to be one of the potential destinations for the 27-year-old.
Currently playing for Uruguay at the Copa America, Suarez admitted that seasons spent playing alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar were some of the best of his life, and it’s something he wants to experience again.
“I was privileged to fulfil one of the best years of my life as a football player at Barcelona next to the best in the world, Messi, and the second-best in the world, Neymar,” the Uruguay international told RAC1 on Monday.
“For me, it was one of the best moments I’ve ever lived, won the treble.”
Suarez added: “Who would not want to enjoy players like Ney?
“But he belongs to PSG and these are things that are always talked about during the market.”
Globo Esporte reported that Barcelona are willing to spend €100 million on the Brazilian and could add Samuel Umtiti, Ivan Rakitic and Ousmane Dembele in the deal.
Barcelona’s Coutinho scored from the penalty spot early in the second half and added a close-range header three minutes later.
Substitute Everton netted a sensational third five minutes from time to clinch a Group A victory for coach Tite’s tournament favorites in Sao Paulo.
The build-up to the competition had been dominated by Neymar’s woes, firstly when he was accused of rape by a Brazilian model, and then when he damaged ankle ligaments in a friendly last week, forcing him out of the Copa.
If Brazil’s first half performance was anything to go by, the Paris Saint-Germain star was sorely missed, but Coutinho’s brace at least silenced the jeers that met the team at half-time.
“Whistles are part of the game, the fans want us to win and play well, so that’s why they jeer,” said the match-winner, whose goals papered over the cracks of an at times disjointed performance.
“We always want their support but we’re focused on the objective, which is the match,” Coutinho told Brazil’s SportTV.
“Whistles or cheers, the important thing is to stay focused and get the win.”
Brazil made a bright start and predictably dominated the early possession and chances. But surprisingly their greatest threat came from set-pieces with Coutinho’s corner delivery causing panic in the Bolivian backline.
Bolivia’s goalkeeper Carlos Lampe made an instinctive block from a Roberto Firmino flick that came straight at him.
And a few minutes later, towering center-half Thiago Silva was left unmarked eight yards out to meet another Coutinho delivery, but he inexplicably headed well wide.
The pitch at the Morumbi stadium wasn’t helping flowing football, with Bolivia in particular struggling to string passes together.
“We’ve got to be honest, Brazil beat us and beat us well,” said Bolivia coach Eduardo Villegas.
Brazil, wearing white shirts and blue shorts, weaved almost geometric patterns around their unambitious visitors but struggled to test Lampe.
Their best chances came from Bolivian mistakes and Richarlison should have scored into an open goal when a woeful Lampe clearance went straight to him, but the Everton forward failed to lift the ball over defender Adrian Jusino, who headed clear from the edge of the 18-yard box.
Barrage of jeers
With 10 men behind the ball, Bolivia were proving hard to break down but Casemiro went close with what appeared to be a shanked cross that drifted just beyond Lampe’s far post with the goalkeeper scrambling to cover it.
Tite’s team were treated to a barrage of jeers from the 67,000 crowd when the half-time whistle went.
Bolivia’s best moment had perhaps been a cheeky nutmeg of Casemiro by Raul Castro on the edge of his own 18-yard box. It had been slim pickings.
Fans’ spirits were quickly lifted after the restart, though, as Coutinho fired home from the spot on 50 minutes after a contentious penalty award.
Richarlison’s attempted cross struck Jusino’s arm, which was by his side and only slightly away from his body, but after consulting the video assistant referee, Argentine handler Nestor Pitana pointed to the spot.
Bolivia were stunned and just three minutes later their defence went missing as Firmino reached the bye line and chipped the ball to the back post for Coutinho to head home from barely two yards out.
Reluctant to push men forward, Bolivia never looked like getting back into the match.
“If you want to qualify (for the knock-out stages) you have to attack a little more,” admitted Villegas.
And Coutinho’s corners continued to present Brazil with their best chances, as Marquinhos headed straight at Lampe from seven yards with 15 minutes left.
The game had slowed to almost walking pace when substitute Everton scored a sensational third, cutting in from the left wing before firing an unstoppable shot into the far corner with Lampe rooted to the spot.