Thems Fighting Words: Neymar and the Question of Selling

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.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. georgjorge
    July 28, 2017

    I think this is a great article for giving a different – and very valid – perspective on the case. Humanity seems to get lost very quickly when there’s money involved.

    As I stated before, what irks me is not people like Neymar trying to take the decision that’s good for themselves. That’s perfectly normal. It’s the dishonesty of claiming not to do that all the rest of the time (again, not talking only about Neymar here). Talking at great lengths about always having wanted to come to Barcelona or about how there’s such a great friendship with Messi and the rest of the team just doesn’t fit with “I want to play wherever I can make the most money and/or be the undisputed star of the team”.

    The fans demand this travesty from the players, the players give it to them, and then there’s anger when it turns out it’s been a travesty all along. Something needs to change.

    • georgjorge
      July 28, 2017

      As an aside, all the players’ talk of loyalty to the club and their hearts being in it is even more absurd when you consider that the clubs rarely offer loyalty to the players themselves. If they perform badly for some time, they are out, even if they really give everything for the club and wanted nothing more than to stay there. As a player, I would have to think very hard on whether or not I wanted to fully commit myself to an organisation which might gladly throw me out a year from now.

  2. July 29, 2017

    That issue on training ground was nothing.. it was unfortunate it occured with a very new player and it turned worse when Ney kind of walked out. Neymar could have avoided that.
    Having said that, I feel sorry for him.. Am of the opinon, he has been forced to climb onto a chair, which he never wanted to, by all the people around him, and now he is caught up there. Like Peter said in the last post, it is better he leaves now.
    But that would be a huge loss for the team and club.
    N of MSN, I dont know how it can be replaced by any existing player..
    Only Hazard is anywhere near to an ok replacement.. But the team would evolve, definitely with whomever the club find.
    Jus wish all this drama ends bloody soon.

  3. Davour
    July 29, 2017

    Recent comments support several sentiments here: Iniesta toned down the training incident, linking the fuss to the current overall drama (and of course, anyone who has played a team sport, know there will be skirmishes and heated reactions), while Piqué explained that Neymar doesn’t know what to do – just as this article suggests (thanks for a lovely read). I myself am a very ambivalent person, and can identify with difficulty of choice. Still, the situation is unfortunate for the club and the rest of the players. Problem is, of course, that there is really little they can do, except perhaps promise more money or transfers (if the budget allows it). They can “make” him decide, perhaps, but could not stop him from changing his mind despite that – unless if he agreed to official statements of clear intent to stay.

    In the spirit of the article, if I really try to (impossibly) put myself in Neymar’s shoes, trying to imagine who he is, I can see it is not that easy to decide. Barca is struggling a little, in context, and PSG could have a pretty good team to back him up as a main man – you could definitely see how he would be the undisputed focal point, as they are lacking THAT difference-maker, but have some pretty good mids to enable him – also surrounded by close, Brazilian friends. Maybe he feels that he has achieved everything at Barca and needs a new challenge? I would guess that the hesitation partly stems from the very thing everyone keeps saying: Ligue 1 is an inferior league, and league titles will mean nothing in, say, winning the ballon d’or.

    Life is hard, sometimes, even for Neymar, and even if this is a luxury decision, it is his life, and he wants what is best for him. It is obvious he is not a “loyal” player in the traditional sense, but an adventurer who thrives on inspiration and joy. Perhaps he is getting too comfortable at Barca? It is all very interesting, really. But for the club’s sake, I hope things settle real soon – planing with Neymar, or for finding his replacement(s).

  4. July 29, 2017

    I can certainly appreciate how hard a decision this might be for Neymar, it is after all an insane amount of money that they are offering him. That said, he needs to own it and make a decision, one way or another. It is not about what the fans think frankly, I do not care about my own “feelings” on this. It is about the effect it is having on the team, on pre season training and on preparations for the coming year. The last two weeks have basically been a waste in terms of transfer market movement with everything on hold pending Neymar’s decision. That is not fair to the club, nor to his teammates.

    One thing I do not really get, beyond football and money, Neymar has always positioned himself as a brand. This seems to have been very intelligently planned and orchestrated over the last few years, in close collaboration with Nike and his other sponsors. PSG is a monumental step down from his own brand perspective. Who really watches Lique 1? If he was going to a prem club, or Bayern/Madrid, even a Juve/Milan I could sort of understand, especially a prem club, but PSG? Really? I bet viewership numbers for all the PSG games combined per season in L1 doesn’t add up to a single classico, even the classico friendlies will get more attention.

    I also feel very much like going to PSG in a way is a sign of weakness. If the guy really thinks he can and should be the best in the world, winning lots of balon d’ors, etc he needs to prove himself not only in the best leagues, but in direct comparison to the best players. The only way he gets out of Messi’s shadow is to stamp his foot on Barca, running away to PSG is the easy way out – get paid lots of money, surrounded by all his mates he can party with on a regular basis, and trash vastly inferior teams in a pretty weak league. I cannot see PSG winning the CL anytime soon, Neymar or not, There are just too many teams now who are much stronger than them, with way more experience in winning the competition and playing at the highest level. Especially now with City, Utd and Chelsea all spending big, they will all add even more competition to the CL. He is not an idiot, he knows this. If he was deluded enough to think that he could single handedly raise PSG to the level of CL winners, then I am pretty sure he would be equally confident about stamping his legacy on the Barca team. Seems like a cop out to me.

    • Davour
      July 29, 2017

      Agree. Though there is always the possibility that he would prefer more fun less work, to tough ambition and hard work. I must be demanding to play with Messi! Who knows what he feels! And the money he would receive would surely alleviate any loss to his brand (which might not be too large, considering WC coming up with Brazil, too). Though I am less sure than you regarding his influence on PSG in terms of CL, though I don’t think they will be consistent enough in the end. Prem (though City are stacked with AMs, Man Utd would make most sense) or Bayern would make more sense, but perhaps he does not want to move to a non-latin culture? The irony, in a sense, is that RM would be pretty perfect for him, inheriting CR’s throne that Bale is not able to claim. But that will not happen, I’m sure.

      I think Piqué is right in asking: does he want sporting excellence and a remain on the highest level, or more money.

  5. hereiam
    July 30, 2017

    Just a thought. But the whole thing is possibly a result of Messi’s new contract.
    AFAIK, Messi contract went from costing Barca 700,000 euro per week to over 1 million Euro per week, before bonuses. That’s an extra 60 million euro over his 4 years contract, and triple that of Neymar.
    I think Barca and the board can easily kill this situation by offering Ney a new contract, one correctly represent his importance in the team, and potentially raise that pesky release clause. But no one at Barca has ever spoke of a new contract throughout the PSG drama. That says something.
    My point is, Barca broke their already-broken wage structure with Messi’s newest contract. Barca has already spent more than 70% of their income on salary prior to nearly doubling Messi’s salary.
    Now why is that a problem? Because 1) that will suck up all the money that should have been spent improving the midfield, 2) that left other key members of the team upset – read: Neymar.

    I’m not saying that this is Messi’s fault. His contract was drafted by his agent who obviously should look out for him and a dumb board who can’t negotiate for shit.
    But IMHO Messi’s newest contract is a terrible decision by Barca’s board that will come back to haunt them in the future.

    The solution, ironically, might be letting Neymar go. That way you could free up his 400,000 euro per week salary to pay for Messi, and a big coffer to spend on, you know, stuffs.

  6. TITO
    July 30, 2017

    Good game but we should have been more sharper in front of the goal. In moments i felt they were to selfish trying to score when the easy way was just passing the ball.
    Beside Neymar we should seriously consider any bid for Turan. No future for him with us.

  7. Davour
    July 30, 2017

    Alright, so tour ended with a rather fun game. Messi is obviously beyond any notion of pre-season: divine. Neymar, to me, showed both why he will be sorely missed, but not unequivocally so. Lovely moves and passes, but also bad decision making and bullshitting, making things to be about him and his damn shoes. Still want him to stay, because he is mostly magnificent, but I don’t think he will. And if he goes, we are in dire need of another LW. Arda is – or must be – gone. Denis is not good enough (yet?) to be anything but a squad player and Alcacer is too similar to Luis Suarez (and arguably not good enough to be a gala starter). Of course, some tactical shifts might change some priorities, but so far it does not look as if Valverde will scramble things too much – som form of 433 it is, still.

    Positives: Alena (looking very Barca), Cillessen (looking actually good enough to challenge MAtS), Samper (still a little rough around the edges, but he has the calm, first touch and vision), Sergi (will be useful and challenge for a starting spot with Ivan), Rakitic looking better (but for me still not good enough on the ball to be undisputed starter at Barca), Semedo (to my mind, he already looks better than Vidal, but jury is still out). Finally, Messi, Iniesta and Busi look pretty solid…

    Doubts: Denis (some nice indications, but…), Suarez (still looking for things to click), Digne (for now, I do hope Alba stays healthy), Alcacer (will probably do ok as back-up, but will hardly challenge Suarez for real), Vidal (can be a threat on the wing, but not good enough to be a starter – inconsistent)

    Negatives: Arda (no comment), Vermaelen (not that he was terrible, but is he our CB signing? Marlon could’ve used those minutes), Marlon not playing much, Munir (it’s over), Neymar (you know why).

    Finally: some worrying signs on the pitch, to me. Gestures and looks (a lot from Messi) showing frustration/irritation. Valverde has a situation, and the club better solve the issues following Neymar’s probable departure or it might be a long season. Still, signs are also positive, with some press, good runs and cohesion, and the team played well overall!

  8. Ron
    July 30, 2017

    Well, the good news is that Barto has confirmed that we are looking for 3 more players including a CM, I just hope we confirm their signings before the first half of next month..
    In other news, it seems that Alves is in daily contact with Neymar telling him about how the “You have to be selfish because the clubs don’t think of you once you don’t produce results, as I am an example of.” It’s sad how an ex player can bad mouth the club just to stick it to the board …

    Suarez missing so many chances even though it was just friendlies is worrying.. I hope he finds his touch by the time the season starts because if Neymar leaves, we are going to need his skills even more than before and the same goes for Messi.. Nice to see that we won the tournament even though it was just friedlies, Our Defense does seem suspect to marauding runs made by midfielders through our defense, hope Valverde has a word with them on how to deal with closing the attackers asap.. Has anyone else noticed our pressing has returned?? If Valverde plans to make our players run harder than before, we may need proper rotation and skilled subs to take on the mantle from the first team players which means we need to really have a win in this transfer season if we have to challenge for all the titles without risking burning out our stars…

  9. Jim
    July 30, 2017

    Managed to watch the whole second half this morning but could only find ext need highlights of the first. We seemed to start like a train then tailed off first half. Second half a bit more broken up with all the subs but overall the squad looks pretty sharp. Not happy with either goal but that happens preseason and it’s good for Valverde to see our weaknesses defensively to the counter at corners. That’s pretty much a constant. We leave Alba and was it Vidal, couldn’t tell back in defence where their pace doesn’t count and the two covering mids on the edge of their area who are the ones where pace will matter are Ini and Busi neither of whom had a hope of matching a counter. Go figure.

    I missed bits of the first half but I didn’t see Suarez’s misses. I saw one half chance from a FK where he was closely marked and had to hit it on the half volley. Wouldn’t count that as a real chance although there may have been others I didn’t see.

    Messi looks really sharp pre season. Great performance from Pique, not just the goal which was a lot harder than it looked. It’s amazing how often he is overlooked when we talk about who is playing well. He never lets us down. I love watching him constantly adjusting his position. World class. As has been said Cillessen has staked a real claim to be in the mix this season which is good.

    Fringe players are hard to judge in friendlies as the edge isn’t quite there even against RM. For what it’s worth, I thought there were good performances from SR, Alena, Samper and Semedi. Also a nomination to Digne for best supporting actor for his part in The Death of my Knee ! Honestly, what was going on there ? Less sure about Paco, Turan, Denis although again it’s hard to judge when they are playing with other fringe players rather than MSN, Pique, Ini etc.

    Couple of small points. We had a great example of why Messi, Ini and Busi shouldn’t really be captains in an ideal world . With Puyol, Xavi, or even Pique, Rakitic would have been hauled away from the referee at an early point. Undoubtedly should have been a straight red even given what I’m sure were inappropriate comments from the ref.

    Lovely to see Ramos still maintaining his position as the greatest living advocate for staying on your feet and not diving in. Beyond schoolboy defending for our first and lovely to see although on a more serious note you get the feeling he is out to cripple Messi before he’s finished.

    I expect the Neymar saga to come to a quick conclusion now. Club won’t stand for this much longer and, if he’s going, have nothing to lose by speaking out. It struck me watching this earlier today ( was going to watch it live but it started at 1.30 am and I fell asleep on the couch at midnight ! Woke half an hour later and had to give up. Full of admiration for the BFB ers who have to do this on a regular basis. ) that Neymar’s impending departure actually frees us up a little. It is a space up for grabs where we can rotate as the player filling it won’t be as averse as MSN to being pulled off, we can change formation away from 4-3-3 if we want, maybe in European away games , and maybe offer the defence a little more protection freeing up Iniesta.

    Btw, where are Gomes, Rafinha and Deulofeu ? Are they not on the tour ? Lot of folk pulling ahead of them in the minute stakes. Surely Deulofeu will get at least one chance to stake a claim if Neymar goes ? Not saying he’d take it but worth a shot. Lastly, we need to get on with a clear out of two or three folk.

    Starting to get excited for the new season and see what Valverde’s thinking actually is.

    • Davour
      July 30, 2017

      Gomes is still on vacation after confederation cup, Rafinha & Deulofeu are recovering (?) from injuries. Like you, I don’t only see downsides to losing Neymar in terms of team play, as long as they bring in new players that are not too old…

    • July 31, 2017

      Yes, the doubts if one player is leaving or not, and who to replace him with, must be really putting a lot of pressure on the board too. For once, I feel they are under huge pressure too. Anyways.
      What a game that was. When you score 2 goals in 10 minutes, isn’t it normal that we take the foot of the pedal, and then suffer, that too in a friendly.
      Messi, Iniesta, Busi and Pique,, they are real pillars..

      Jim, yes this is what we have to endure trying to enjoy Barca mostly ln the middle of the night and early morning. But frankly, there have been only less than 5 matches or so when I have dossed off.

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