By far the most high-profile, drawn-out and costly move of the summer would be the return of Neymar to Barcelona from Paris St Germain.
On the face of it, the transfer should be simple: Neymar wants to join Barca, PSG want him out and Barca want him in. But the deal is beset by political boardroom machinations deep enough to make Brexit look like a playground squabble over hopscotch, so it has been very difficult to get over the finishing line.
A big complication is that Barca don’t have enough money, they even had to take out a bank loan to complete the signing of Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid earlier in the summer. The Catalan club have been trying to conjure up creative alternatives, such as a player-exchange or a loan deal with a compulsory purchase clause, but none of these have been accepted by PSG.
The French club rejected Barca’s latest offer following two days of talks earlier this week, and reports on Saturday claimed that Neymar has now given up on sealing the move despite the clubs agreeing a valuation of around 200 million euros. However, given the secretive and shady nature of this particular deal, that could be no more than another outbreak of mind games. It’s probably safest not to believe anything until the final bell has sounded.
|European transfer deadline day – Monday, 2 September||Deadline (times all BST)|
|English League One and Two||17:00|
Considering the sky-high fee and the acrimonious manner of his departure from the Camp Nou two summers ago, it’s not surprising that Neymar’s possible return to the club is being met with a fair amount of opposition.
Former Barca director Toni Freixa summed up the hostility by tweeting: “We’re jeopardising the club’s economic sustainability. I don’t understand what interests are at stake, but those of Barcelona surely are not.”
But president Josep Maria Bartomeu appears to be ready to forgive Neymar and forget all the fuss his forced departure caused a couple of years ago, so one of the most sensational transfers in football history could still happen despite the lack of progress in recent days.
However, an increasingly popular conspiracy theory – expressed by former France international Frank Leboeuf among others – claims that Barca have no intention whatsoever of completing the deal and are actually handing Neymar an elaborate form of punishment for his earlier treachery, with the added bonus of stringing along PSG for a few months.
Dembele and Rakitic: pawns in the deal?
The key to completing the Neymar deal could be whether one or more of Barca’s current stars agree to move to Paris in return, and over the course of the summer practically half the Camp Nou squad have been linked with PSG as part of the transaction.
Right-back Nelson Semedo, central defender Samuel Umtiti and former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho (who ended up joining Bayern Munich on loan) are among those who were reportedly offered or requested as pawns without agreement being reached.
Another name thrown into the hat is Ivan Rakitic. And suspicion is provoked by the fact that although the experienced Croatian midfielder has been virtually ever-present over the last couple of years (only Lionel Messi has started more league games since manager Ernesto Valverde arrived in 2017), he was left on the bench for the first three games of the new campaign.
Along with Rakitic, Barca could be prepared to part with flying French winger Ousmane Dembele, who has been no more than a partial success since arriving as a big-money replacement for Neymar from Borussia Dortmund (where he had been managed by current PSG coach Thomas Tuchel).
Dembele has shown flashes of his enormous talent during his time at the Camp Nou but he has also tested Valverde’s patience by regularly suffering injuries amid reports of personal indiscipline – it should be noted, though, that Dembele has played more games for his club (66) than Neymar (58) in the last two seasons, so the ‘injury prone’ tag cannot be fairly used as a decisive factor against the Frenchman.
Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo – largely overlooked by Valverde so far this season – and young centre back Jean Clair Todibo have also been touted as possible PSG recruits. There’s every chance that Neymar’s move to Barcelona will only happen if at least one player heads in the opposite direction.