There have been some impressive pitch graphics in the pages of the Barcelona sports papers this week. Under the headline ‘Neymar and Griezmann would fit’ Diario Sport had Luis Suarez at centre-forward, in front of a line of three, reading from right to left Griezmann, Messi, Neymar.
There was no sign of Ousmane Dembele, who cost Barcelona £135.5million two summers ago. And there was no sign of Philippe Coutinho, who set them back a further £142m six months later.
More than an oversight, the exclusion of those two felt more like a home truth – both would probably have to be sold if Neymar really is to be re-signed.
Brazil star Neymar is pushing for a move to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain this summer
Those close to Neymar are keeping their man on the front page of the Catalan sports papers
Barcelona have already given Dembele’s advisors face-to-face reassurance that he is not about to be sold and that Neymar, despite all the noise, is not coming.
But as Barcelona and Dembele both know only too well, all is fair in love, war and summer transfer markets – what was true in June might not be true in August.
For now Barcelona are still saying very little. It’s those close to Neymar who are briefing daily, keeping their man on the front page of those Catalan sports papers.
Barcelona’s stance has three bullet points to it: They certainly never planned to go for Neymar this summer (hence the soon to be official signing of Griezmann), they would find it extremely difficult to make any move for him work financially, and if they could find a way the board is still not united in believing that it would be a good idea.
Barcelona are expected to soon officially unveil Antoine Griezmann as their latest signing
But no one has closed the door, not privately and much less publicly. In part, that’s because Barcelona would gain little from officially ruling themselves out. Relations are still very poor between themselves and Paris Saint-Germain – no players have gone between the two clubs since Neymar – and a statement would only calm the situation in Paris.
In part it’s also because the idea of Neymar returning fascinates a part of Barcelona’s fan base – the global part they are obsessed with keeping happy – and that has been enough to sow doubts in the boardroom – would it really be a poison chalice, or could it instead be a coup? Either way it will cost them money they currently don’t have.
When Barcelona bought Coutinho they paid Liverpool €50m up front as a first installment. When they signed Dembele they paid Dortmund €70m up front as a first installment, PSG would not be as accommodating as Liverpool and Dortmund. When they signed Neymar in 2017 they had to deposit €222m in full to trigger his release clause.
Barcelona have given Ousmane Dembele’s advisors reassurance that he is not about to be sold
But the Frenchman and Philippe Coutinho may have to be sold to fund any move for Neymar
‘Le Parisien’ has already claimed PSG will demand €300m for Neymar. Real Madrid have always understood that Neymar had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave after his second season for €222m. Either way Barcelona cannot produce that sort of money before the end of August.
They have already baulked at the asking price and wage demands of Ajax defender Matthijs De Ligt and last summer they failed to get Griezmann because Atletico Madrid were willing to pay him €23m net a season and they were looking to give him closer to €13m. When he arrives in July he will be on around €17m.
The transfer kitty will be dry and the wage bill will be straining once more under the self-imposed financial regulation that the club must not, for any sustained period, let it exceed 70 per cent of income.
The solution, if the club decides that pursuing Neymar makes sense, is to sell. And although the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti have been mentioned – and Rakitic was a PSG target last summer – it’s those record signings Coutinho and Dembele that would have to be moved on.
‘No one knows what is going to happen,’ the former Liverpool star admitted earlier this week
Coutinho said this week: ‘No one knows what is going to happen. The only thing I know is that I have a contract and my desire has always been to be successful there.’
It was hardly an unequivocal pledge to stay and 60 per cent of PSG supporters said they would welcome him in a recent France Football fan poll – that’s a lot higher than his credit rating currently stands at Barcelona.
But PSG are unlikely to accept Coutinho plus €100m for Neymar as was somewhat optimistically suggested this week could be the code that would open the safe.
Dembele would probably have to be sold, too, and for his own good because if Griezmann, Suarez, Neymar and Messi could, in theory, all be crow-barred into the same side, Dembele would definitely be one baller too many.
His sale would upset those at Barcelona who are already concerned about the ageing squad, however. The team would be losing a 22-year-old to pay for a 27-year-old. They would also have to move fast with the English market shutting as soon as the Premier League season starts.
Neymar became the world’s most expensive player when he signed for PSG back in 2017
Neymar can play his part in bringing his price down. PSG are due back in training on July 8. A no-show from him could provoke the club’s supporters to urge Nasser Al-Khelaifi to sell.
He also has the option of coming out and saying publicly ‘I want to move to Barcelona’. And it’s also still not too late for him to be pictured in Brazil with Lionel Messi, who is there for the Copa America.
Those close to the club and to the Argentine insist that his petitioning the board to sign Neymar has been greatly exaggerated. As has talk of a deal between the player and the Catalan club already having been agreed.
Watching all this from a distance is Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. His man is Griezmann. He wanted the club to sign him two years ago. His only other request this summer is that key positions, such as left back, are not left without cover and that the huge squad is trimmed back to a manageable level.
It’s clear that the 27-year-old never really wanted to leave Barcelona back in August 2017
One anecdote told recently on Spanish radio was of how when Valverde first joined the club he light-heartedly described himself as sick of the sight of Neymar. Not because the Brazilian was permanently in the dressing room because he had already been sold, but because with phone messages, social media pictures and the occasional visit, he still felt like a constant presence.
Valverde will have a selection headache if Neymar returns – although not for the first three Champions League games because he is suspended for insulting match officials last season.
It’s clear that Neymar never really wanted to leave Barcelona, and that becoming history’s most expensive ever player has done little for his career on the pitch.
He’s working hard to go back to what he calls ‘home’. But financial realities – and huge reservations among the club’s members – 70 per cent voted against Neymar’s return in a recent Mundo Deportivo poll – are still going to make it very very difficult.