It’s business

Most supporters view the game through the eyes of an anachronism, something that modern players such as Neymar remind us of periodically.

In our passion, we think of players as our players, warriors who, once they don the blaugrana, are here for life. Part of why we think that is the miracle of an extraordinary Masia class that has come to define not only expectations from a group of beings as capricious as children, but how a superstar player deals with his club and that status.

How lucky are we to have players, the core of the team, magnificent athletes all, who would never leave the club. It lets us laugh at transfer rumors, even when some Twitter ranter goes on about the board wanting to sell Messi, or how he should leave the club. We laugh because we know that he never will. We know that Iniesta is for life. So is Busquets, so is Pique.

In the bosom of La Masia, they learned not only how to play the game, but how to be culer.

When Sandro Rosell took over presidency of FC Barcelona, he talked of a modern club, of marketing and making the club into the cash cow that its exalted sporting status deserved. And Neymar was his icon.

When people said that Neymar was a short-timer, it is for the simple reason that the modern player is as much businessman as athlete. They know how their marketing profile is in Jakarta and Senegal, learn the value of their next team as a destination, a bloodless decision based not only in money but overall gain. Neymar came to Barça because he wanted to learn how to run a team, how to be a superstar from the best player that the game has ever seen.

Many said that in a few years, Neymar would have learned what he needed and would be ready to move on. It appears that time has come and that’s perfectly fine, because the modern game brings with it modern players, mercenaries mostly at the upper echelon who flit from club to club, for status, bigger paychecks and other things such as marketing muscle. Neymar was never culer, was never going to be a Barça lifer like the core of this great team. What is much more surprising than his leaving the club are the people who assumed that he was culer, that he was a lifer.

Neymar is a businessman. One who understands that his work at Barça is done, mostly because he wants his own project and understands that as long as Messi is at Barça, that will never be “his” team. And at the rate that Messi is defying aging, by the time Messi is ready to hang up the boots, Neymar will be, say, 29, on the outside of those prime earning years, particularly for an athlete whose physical dexterity and flexibility need the gift of youth.

What’s interesting about these rumors — the latest being that he has told teammates he will be leaving them — is the outrage that greets them. A devoted fan base that excoriated Neymar for wanting to attend his sister’s birthday party, for hair, for Instagram, for marketing — is screaming “How dare he leave us,” as if any other outcome was possible.

A player’s job is to kick ass and take names for the club that pays him. Neymar helped the team win a second treble, and helped it to a double. He stood in capably for Messi during his injury, and almost single-handedly sparked the greatest comeback in Champions League history. For those of you who, like me, have a mean streak, his was the deal that removed Sandro Rosell from the club presidency.

If you were to leave your job tomorrow, dependent upon how good you were and how long you had been there, they would have snacks and coffee to fete your departure, and wish you well in your new position. They wouldn’t snarl about you on social media, or say things such as “I knew they were no good all along.” That isn’t how business works. What we don’t fully understand is just how much of a business the modern game is, and how much of a businessman the modern elite player is.

If you were to leave your job tomorrow, what would your employer get for you? Nothing. Footballers have transfer fees. When Neymar renewed his contract, a process that included a boosted buyout clause, even as he is leaving, it’s also worth noting that the club is getting paid. Paid like a big dog. He could have shilly-shallied and waited until the next to last year of his deal, at such time making it clear that he wasn’t going to stay and forcing Barça to sell for a fee much less than he was worth. But no. He renewed, and consented to a higher clause.

Did he know he was leaving? Depends on who you ask. From this chair, he had an idea. With all the talk about MSN, it was only S who was doing headers in a hot tub with Messi during his honeymoon. N was on vacation and a promotional tour, kicking footballs at goals atop buildings on a popular late-night American talk show, and being seen at spots such as NBA games.

So many Barça supporters weren’t prepared for Neymar, the way he functioned on and off the pitch. They thought the stuff that he did was silly, snarked about the boot changes during matches that required the close-up camera shot that was marketing gold. But so what? What does it hurt? Why are our minds stuck in an era of one-club players and black leather boots?

The game has moved on. Perhaps our psyches, like Neymar, should move on as well.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

90 Comments

  1. July 28, 2017

    @ Jim, I was like you very torn on Neymar, but the more time that passes the less torn I am. From my point of view the club and players have done everything they could to keep him, as they should have. I agree with you that there is no other player in the world who is better positioned to take the mantle from Messi, the players will all know this, which is why they are so desperate in their attempts to convince him to stay. That said there is a point at which this becomes toxic and it is reaching that point. Frankly the way Neymar has handled things so far has not been all that bad, what I would say is that if he wanted to leave he should have left by now and this has dragged on way too long now. His behaviour in training today was completely unacceptable and like you pointed out, Semedo did very little wrong from what I can tell, and he even walked away immediately trying to avoid any confrontation and Neymar tried to instigate more. Time to move on I am afraid. If we were to get Veratti + 150m in return (which seems a possibility now) and then use that money to buy a player like Dybala or Hazard I would be more than happy.

    Regarding the other players mentioned, while it is true that none of them really have the potential to take over the way that Neymar may have, I think what is clear is that Neymar was never going to wait for Messi. If he wasn’t leaving this season, he would leave next, or the year after at the latest. Messi has a good 4-5 years left in him and as long as Messi is in the team, the team will be built around him.

    I have to say not all that surprised by Valverde’s reaction. He is so new to this team, something like this is better suited to the captains to sort out, although like you, I am sure he will have a quiet word with them.

  2. TITO
    July 28, 2017

    I’m yet to see a brazilian around us who’ll be loyal till the end.
    It was obvious since we purchased him that time will come when he will leave. Burst-ups at training grounds are always there, nothing new in this case, the only odd thing is that involves Neymar.
    We really don’t need a player to build the team around him. Messi wasn’t alone in his prime, he had Iniesta and Xavi, So, i’m more than confident that any combination of Hazard, Dybala, Coutinho, Veratti or some other will fit just fine in our team.
    If Messi reigns for the next 4-5 years, that means that Neymar would have 29-30 by then and it wouldn’t matter if he would carry the team or not.
    If he stays, good for him, if he leaves, that’s it, we move on. Either way, it won’t be bad for us.

    • georgjorge
      July 28, 2017

      Being “loyal” until the end at a big club is something we are going to see very little of, regardless of the players’ nationality. Competition at these clubs is so intense that even very good players won’t be able to take their starting spots for granted towards the later stages of their careers. Plus – as Kxevin wrote in the article above – it’s not as if the big clubs display so much loyalty to players: if they perform below par for some time, they are out.

      Take Dani Alves, for instance, who was declining at Barca and walked away because he wanted a starting spot (and more money for it). Very few players who were formerly among the best at their team will take kindly to being slowly relegated to the bench if they can still be a central piece of a team somewhere else. I don’t think many players of the current squad will retire at Barca – Piqué, Iniesta, Busquets, maybe Messi as well. Though who can tell?

  3. Ron
    July 28, 2017

    Interesting video on the Neymar bust up, a few points:

    Would we have the same reaction criticizing Neymar if he hadn’t any transfer rumors associated with him? I feel we are trying to make a mountain of a mole hill and over-analyzing simple things.. training ground bust-ups are pretty common, as long as the players leave their disagreements on the training ground it’s fine by me. If it was Messi instead of Neymar getting tackled we might have had people saying Messi should be protected and it’s Semedo’s fault for risking Messi, in a pre-season game no less!

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Neymar, far from it, but maybe I feel our leaders such as my man Iniesta should have had a word with him and tried to defuse the situation.

    Anyways, looks like the deal is pretty much sealed with Neymar cancelling his China trip with the reason cited as “transfer issues” by him.

    What worries me is that non Liga clubs dont have an obligation to sell players if the parent club wants to keep them due to the lack of buyout clauses, which means we have have to fork out obnoxious amounts of $$$ to get players of half the caliber of Neymar which doesn’t look good. The players named here such as Hazard and Coutinho, Dybala are great if we can land them (Hazard especially) though This has to happen sooner rather than later to help the them integrate into the team asap which won’t happen unless Neymar sale happens.

    I feel, (pure conjecture) that PSG are having issues with paying the 222m upfront and Barca will ensure that they pay it upfront which may lead to PSG activating the buyout clause only towards the end of the transfer window, which may have a detrimental effect on our chances of integrating whatever replacement we get from the funds..

  4. July 28, 2017

    I’m sorry to say it but I think it would be best for Neymar to leave now, and it’s not because of the training ground nonsense. I love the thought of him remaining and improving alongside Messi and co, but the hard truth to face is he wants to leave. No matter how talented the man is, having him remain risks poisoning the dressing room. He is an immense talent, and I think he would have continued to thrive at FCB, but obviously he doesn’t seem to see it that way. His head has been turned, and if that wasn’t the case we would have heard otherwise in an official statement from the player of some description. His silence on the matter is beyond ominous.
    What irks me is it is saturated in blind self-interest. If he wants to leave just say it and everyone can prepare and move on. It appears he is insidiously waiting for PSG to solve the FFP issue first, all the while having absolutely no intention to stay. As soon as the green light is confirmed (regarding the FFP) he’ll be off. It is sorely lacking in integrity. Football has been lurching into the dark side for years now, but this sorry spectacle is quickening its demise.

  5. Hamid
    July 28, 2017

    That’s what I meant in my MEN vs. BOYS comment above. Neymar is acting like a spoiled child and his attitude in and outside the field is not improving with age. Those in the corporate would tell you that it is necessary at times to let go a talented hard-working member of the team if their presence disrupts the peace and the harmony in the group. Neymar has proven again that he will never be a leader.
    Also, we seem to have taken for granted the absurd idea that Neymar can’t shine in the presence of Messi. A football team is a unit where players complement each other. You are part of the glory and of the fall, whether you directly contributed to it or not.
    I think we should set him free before things get worse. The problem is that he can’t make his mind. And that’s the boy in him!!

    • Davour
      July 28, 2017

      Well, perhaps he has made his mind up, but – as is noted above – PSG have not solved the money issue. Then it of course be a very tense situation (as he would not be eager to tell anyone, in case the transfer would fail). However, even if this is the case, he should make his intentions clear to the club – or the club must make him do “a Verratti”: a statement of intent, and then the club might regain som initiative and stop this pleading attitude. This seems to be very poorly handled overall. Sad, really.

  6. Rami
    July 28, 2017

    Neymar leaving is the easy part, It’s what we’re going to do with that 220m the real conundrum.
    Logic dictates we should spend it as efficiently as possible, Make every penny count, The biggest talents for as little money as possible, But how will this be possible in this transfer window?, The very existence of the 220m coupled with only a month left and the fact it’s impossible for the club to bluff and pull a poker face, Will double or triple the price of any player we dare to gaze upon!

    I believe that to form a successful team for many years, There is no better way than to commit to the coaches project and vision, That means pulling valverde into a room, And telling him he can have any player he feels he needs, To make his project work,

    But we all know that’ll never happen, With the board facing a “No confidence motion”. They in no doubt will go after a “high profile” signing that the fans will want, Instead of what the coach really needs.

  7. omoh
    July 28, 2017

    If there anything to I learnt from that burst up even before watching the video, it’s that Neymar is frustrated.

    Frustrated at everything going on around him. Personally I believe he and his team miscalculated and their miscalculation has now turned to bite them in the back. I believe it was an issue of one smart game too many.

    From my angle I believe their initial plan was to put a word out through a Brazilian media that PSG is interested in other to force an upward review of his contract like he has done almost on yearly basis only this time around barca doesn’t have the financial capacity and had to call his bluff. Now PSG has taken it serious and his team’s ego won’t allow them to accept defeat and make a turn around.

    I think he never really wanted to go to PSG and even of he did, maybe he has now realised how poorly thought and disastrous that decision could be on his career but the charade has reached a point of no return. He is now in a limbo.

    He can’t announce his own departure. It will be a great embarrassment for him to come out and announce his departure from a club of Barcelona’s calibre to PSG. From a top league to a second class league.

    The buying club is not sure of being able to conjure up the figure needed to sign him without flauting the FFP rule. So they too cannot announce his capture.

    The parent club is not ready to to release him therefore is not ready to announce his departure or impending departure until the buying club pays.

    Whereas, the love from the fans is diminishing because the charade has dragged for too long and they now see him as an outcast or a fugitive.

    Presently the guy has no friend anywhere until the transfer saga is sorted hence the frustration. In the end, whatever he decides, he is bound to have enemies on the team he decides against.

  8. Davour
    July 28, 2017

    Man this just does not look too good:
    “In addition to players coming through the ranks, Real have been busily bringing down the average age of the squad with back-ups now available for every first-team player: Theo Hernandez (19) and Dani Ceballos (20) will join Llorente (22), Mayoral (20) and Jesus Vallejo (20) in the senior squad next season. The combined transfer fee for those five players is €52 million. In 2015-16 Barca spent the same amount on Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, two squad members they can now not shift for love or money.” (http://www.espnfc.com/club/real-madrid/86/blog/post/3167622/roles-now-reversed-in-real-madrid-and-barcelonas-cantera-versus-cartera-debate)

    But of course it’s skewed: they have several ageing stars, like CR, Modric and Ramos, and we do have younger stars like Ter Stegen, Umtiti, Semedo, Marlon and Denis (and Neymar…?), as well as possible La Masias in Samper and Alena, as well as a few promising prospects. But something has been (is?) rotten in the organisation, for sure.

    • Rivaldo
      July 28, 2017

      Run those same figures between the to two clubs from 2000 to now, 2017. See what you come up with…

      Also, how long has it taken Perez to get it right? Any grace left for our own?

      Sheeezzzz

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