This is the opening of my (now unfinished) 1200+ word piece I started two nights ago: “You’re just a kid, they say. You’re listening to the wrong people, someone whispers in your ear.”
It goes from there in a fairly typically me fashion, not necessarily defending Neymar, but mostly trying to say verbosely that Neymar is a guy who has nothing figured out and probably feels like he has everything to lose. He’s business savvy, perhaps, and maybe he thinks that he is capable of making gut-level decisions that play out well over the course of a few years, but the reality is that he’s 25 and has as much experience switching jobs as most of us had at 25. We’re all over 25 here, right? Right? Jesus.
And now we see that Neymar tried to fight Nelson Semedo in training, or at least yelled at him a few time and was restrained by Busquets. And, honestly, once you say “restrained by Busquets” it’s unlikely that the physical threat was particularly high. Still, Neymar was clearly frustrated. All I’ve seen is this, which seems to show that there are two guys going for a ball, one of whom is new and probably feels the need to prove himself while the other is a global superstar who might think he’s above the grind of a mere practice session.
The other thing is that Neymar is likely stressed by this situation. Maybe it’s a question of whether he’s going to make a lot of money or a whole bundle of a lot of money, but these things are probably not easy. I wouldn’t know, really, as I’ve never had to make a difficult decision between different sized piles of gold. I tweeted the other day, “Imagine if Neymar really is just undecided about things, as if he’s a 25 year old making a massive decision about his future,” and I think it still holds true. I don’t really know how often bad tackles or tussles happen in professional football training, but I imagine it’s not uncommon, but this particular coming together didn’t appear very belligerent at all. Semedo rode up on Neymar from behind a bit, probably kicked his ankles, and was generally working for the ball, but nothing really bad seemed to happen. It wasn’t even really a tackle and definitely wasn’t a scythe, but it still set Neymar off.
To me that means his mind isn’t made up and it means that he’s struggling with the consequences of leaving. He probably really does want to be The Man at a club and I think he’s probably ready to take on that task on the field, but if this is how he handles the stress, he may be less ready than he thinks–and certainly less ready than I would have claimed 2 days ago.
I also wrote before: “If you’re just a kid, though, maybe what you want is a little darkness. A little time in the shadows. A little dip into the cave of solitude that is your own silence. You know you’re not Superman, whatever the marketing gimmicks suggest.”
Maybe this is Neymar realizing that.
I’ve never made a decision like Neymar is making, but I do know that making a decision about your future is something that only you can do. It won’t always make a lot of sense to others, but it may be perfect for you. I quit a good, stable job and moved nearer a woman. Crazy, I guess, but then I married her. Worked out pretty okay so far and I have no regrets. Maybe Neymar wants to see what something else is like. 4 years isn’t so long for some, but it’s an eternity for others. I quit a good, stable job and moved across an ocean just to see if I enjoyed it (I did) and I have no regrets. Maybe Neymar wants to find out if he can lead a team, if he can push himself the extra mile.
Maybe he wants a massive payday.
It’s easy to lose sight of the humanity through all these piles of cash. Or, I guess, it would be if the humanity mattered in the least bit in the first place. Fans of teams tend to want what is best for their team in the moment, the long-term consequences be damned right alongside the consequences for the human beings who have to live with the outcomes of the decisions. The sun will come up tomorrow for FC Barcelona whether Neymar stays or leaves, but Neymar’s future is every bit as fungible as the next superstar in training.
Yes, Neymar is a multimillionaire 25-year old with at least half a decade of sporting dominance staring him in the face. I don’t feel bad for the guy in any way, but the demands for him to come out and make a statement, tell us his decision, do something, are pretty outlandish. At what point are the fans owed anything at all by the players? Why do they have to give up their decision making processes so that we can gleefully or glumly retweet the outcomes?
We want our cake and to eat it too, but what if we just savored the thing while we had it? I think it is probably next to impossible to replace Neymar, even for €222m. He is a one-of-a-kind player and I want him not only to see out his current contract, but play at the level we all know he is capable of and force us to hand him a retirement contract (buyout: all the money…or 2 Dembeles, I guess). But what if he doesn’t want that? What if he wants to go somewhere else? Then he should go and we should wish him the best. They’ll never take away the goals he scored for us, after all.
What some are worried about, however, is the dastardly possibility that he wants to use the leverage of his buyout clause to get a better contract out of the club. In that case, I say all the more power to him. He should milk the club and get a better contract if he can. If PSG is offering more money, more incentives, more everything, and Barça don’t want to match, well, okay, that’s on Barça, not on Neymar. If I could get an offer from a competitor, the turn around and ask my current company to match an offer to keep me, what in the world would keep me from doing that? Some sort of weird loyalty to a brand that will exist after me, living off of part of my own legacy without the need to pay for me?
The other thing is that a lot of the anger directed at Neymar is focused on his father. Neymar Sr. is his agent and his agent’s job is to get the most out of the player’s career. That is often interpreted as “the most money” and certainly that is one way to judge one’s success, but the other way to judge is to look at whether or not a player is happy. I know, that’s some mushy lefty socialist nonsense, but seriously: is Neymar happy? Would he be happier at PSG? I would answer the first by saying “Instagram says yes” and the latter with “there are no beaches in Paris” but maybe Neymar is the type who gets sick of a place after a few years. Maybe he really is angry that Barça sporting director Robert Fernandez didn’t sign his totally random buddy Guedes from Santos (I’ve never heard of that guy, though to be fair I had also never heard of Nelson Semedo).
If it’s his dad driving him to upend his world, that would be, I think bad, but what if he trusts his dad, talks things out with his dad, and they both agree that this is actually what he wants, what they want? I have a family and I talk to my family about these sorts of things on a much smaller scale. For instance, whether I should my kid is ready for her first mini golf experience (she’s not, I’m too competitive and would be a sore loser when she smoked me by 5 shots). If my dad came to me and said “there’s this great job across the country that will earn you tons of money, give you a shot to manage a company, and will also get me tons of money,” I would have a serious talk with him about whether that was something that worked for everyone.
If the company can’t afford to keep me, then that seems like it is on the company, not on me. I am not mad at Neymar for being good at business, though I am mad at Bartomeu and company for being bad at it. This is not a question of if the youth system had been shored up, if previous investments in players hadn’t been slapdash (Vermaelen, Mathieu, Paco, Gomes, even Douglas), simply because Neymar would have little leverage over the club and we could turn €222m into more sound investment in areas of need (Dembele, Coutinho, Verratti, whatever). This is just simple math: is Neymar worth it? Well, if PSG is legitimately going to pay €222m for a player’s services, the board can decide if they want to match that or they don’t. I can understand both sides of it: can we replace him for €222m or will we flounder without him on the left? Get Mbappe for 180m and you still a Paulinho’s worth of cash to, uh, well, okay, so don’t spend that on Paulinho please, but 40m isn’t exactly chump change. Or you could try to do some wrangling with PSG for €100m plus Verratti then you’ve also got yourself a Coutinho. That’s not bad business, I suspect, even as I’m not totally convinced of either’s potential contributions.*
I’m not convinced that the fight with Semedo is a goodbye to Barcelona. I’m not convinced I care about it at all, in fact. I don’t mind the players coming together from time-to-time and I believe that employers should recognize the basic humanity of employees, whose personal situations may not mirror branding. I would also be happy enough if it turned out Semedo was upset by all of this and Barcelona sold Neymar for a kajillion dollars because he was being a jerkface to someone he thought he could push around and the team wanted to protect its new investment, a squad member, and a human being. These are all acceptable things, but generally speaking I want to keep Neymar because I have a lot of fun watching him play and I don’t know that there are really any better replacement players.
It’s that old WARP thing from baseball again. Whatever Kylian Mbappe or Ousmane Dembele or Marco Verratti or Paolo Dybala bring to the table, is that worth losing Neymar? If Neymar is twice as expensive and just a bit better, would that be worth the trade? Would we then have to talk about the rest of the squad and their WARP values? Would we sell Neymar and Luis Suarez in order to totally revamp in some sort of “Paco will totally save us” self-hypnosis? I-will-believe-in-Paco.
If Valverde has a vision that I don’t understand (I don’t understand a lot, it turns out), then we should probably go for that, whether it includes Neymar or not. Obviously it includes Messi, but does it include that Brazilian guy with the changing hair? It probably should, but maybe it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, maybe Barça will come out on top of this transfer saga. At first it was “how dare the board let this happen” and then it was “his dad sucks” and then it was “Neymar isn’t fit for Barça because he got upset one time” and maybe next it will be “good riddance, locker room poison” and after that some sort of Ronaldinho-like nostalgia: “it was time to move on, but he was great.”
Whatever happens, I hope that everyone ends up happy. Except for Madrid. I hope they cry.
*I also thought that Mascherano was a waste at €24m. I was wrong in some ways that I’ll never really be able to forgive myself for, so take my transfer opinions with a grain of salt.