You shouldn’t be interested in Neymar revisionism or any sorts of nonsense. To be clear, his leaving sucks. Bad. He is an irreplaceable player whose signature moment in the colors was as architect of a Champions League comeback that had us all gibbering like loons in between weeping big, fat tears of joy.
When a player leaves, a fanbase tries to soften the blow with, “Well, he wasn’t that good anyway,” or “He never reached his potential,” etc. Don’t. Don’t even consider such a thing. FC Barcelona has lost the second-best player in world football. Any notions to the contrary shouldn’t be taken at all seriously. He was a fantastic player who changed the way that Barça plays in ways that are all good. We can say that even as we can’t really say that we wish him well in his future endeavors.
This is also the perfect time for FC Barcelona to have lost the second best player in world football, primarily because it has the best player in world football.
The big winner in this Neymar transfer saga is PSG, like it or not. This places them on the stage as a major player from the standpoint of not only being able to attract talent (don’t scoff at money. It’s the principal motivation for 99.99 percent of players). The club will also be able to attract talent, using Neymar as bait.
Yes, there are ancillary concerns, such as team mentality — though it will be buoyed by the arrival of Neymar — and what if the massive cash outlay doesn’t result in a Champions League? Everyone will be waiting for them to fail, and from the depths of my Blaugrana soul, I hope that Barça draws them this year, and kicks the ever-loving shit out of them. But that’s another story for another day. PSG won. Huge. Petty? Sure. Money-based? Absolutely. None of which ameliorates their having become a player, thanks to the club’s monied parent tossing the equivalent of pocket change at Barça.
The big loser in this Neymar transfer saga is Neymar, who is taking a massive risk. PSG is a top team in a third-tier league, the flat track bully who couldn’t even beat a team of kids, Monaco, to the L1 championship last season. And the egg is still dripping from its face after having been shelled in the Camp Nou in Champions League. On Saturday, Barça played a friendly on the same day that PSG played a French Cup match, and the only thing anyone who wasn’t involved in the French Cup match cared about was the friendly. That is what Neymar is leaving. If you want to be the biggest player in the game, should you turn your back on the biggest match in the game? His marketing profile takes a hit, which won’t be making his friends at Nike exactly giddy.
He also gains a reputation — even aside from the one that he already had — as someone who uses a club as a piggy bank. PSG won’t care, because its parent, Qatar, has cash reserves approaching 50 billion. The 222 million fee isn’t really even money for them. That Neymar is a short-termer with them won’t matter as well, because he was always going to be thus. Figure him to stay there a couple of years before moving on to Manchester United or Real Madrid.
Neymar also has acquired a newly earned reputation of shirking in the face of greatness. He wants to be a great player, wants to win the Ballon d’Or. But what could he honestly do at PSG to win it? Nothing, because the club with all the money is beating up on farmers and budget signings in wait. He will need to win Champions League and the World Cup, and sparkle like a diamond while doing so. But people believing — no matter how true it might or might not be — that he is punking out in the shadow of a giant will affect how he is viewed.
Yes, he gets richer. He will double his salary. But money doesn’t buy everything.
Another loser in this is Josep Bartomeu. He is president, and this transfer happened on his watch. This is true even as there is nothing that he or the board could have done to stop it, even if they were willing to pay Neymar the same 30m per season as PSG, because Messi would still be there. Neymar left for hope, and money. Gobs and gobs of money. In this new game, where teams are made rich by absurd TV contracts and sovereign nations with deep pocketbooks, Barça is a traditional club who can’t compete in that sphere. The club will clear more than 700m for this season, and still can’t compete. Think about that for a second. On the same day that Qatar bought Neymar, the nation also dropped 5 billion on some warships. PSG is the mutant in the financial game now.
What will help Bartomeu is the lingering enmity among culers over Neymar, the way he handled his time here and the way that he left the club. But this still happened on Bartomeu’s watch, and he will suffer some short-term damage. Will it be sufficient to help Agusti Benedito make the almost 17k soci signatures he needs to force that censure motion? Doubtful. Why?
Because the surprise winner in all of this is Barça. Yes, the club has lost the second best player in the game, and suffered a minor blow to its prestige in that giant clubs don’t lose players such as Neymar. But that blow is already being softened thanks to the general worldview of this transfer, which is the truth: there is nothing that Barça could have done to stop it. The team has everything that a top player could want, except all the money in the world. The game understands that, and will quickly move on from any perception complexities that might arise.
Last season, Barça won the Copa. Just the Copa. The time is right for the team to reconsider what it does, with a new coach and the beginning of a young cadre of players, all of whom show bright potential.
They also have more than 220m to play with in a transfer market that is only going to get crazier. The rumored 150m for Kylian Mbappe will be north of 200, should he have another season like he had this past one. Ousmane Dembele’s rumored 110m fee will match Mbappe’s next summer, and the only teams in with a shot at those kinds of players will be … PSG. This is particularly true if you look at the reality that Sky overpaid for the Premier League TV rights. Viewership couldn’t possibly perform up to that expectation. But next summer the market will still be crazy so as strange as it sounds, there isn’t a better time to have 220m to throw around.
Another dirty little notion that makes Barça a winner is those who legitimately wonder if Neymar has peaked, if the PSG assault is it for him and there is nowhere to go but down? Or across. Neymar is, presumably, going to PSG to be The Man, to get out of the shadow of Messi. Do you shirk from that if you think you have growing to do as a player, with a significant shot to become the best in the game? Nope. None of this means that Neymar is going to decline as a player. But if you are a team who signs a young player, one who you know is going to leave at some point for his next team, why not sell him at the peak of his value and use that money to lay the groundwork for the future?
The other thing about Barça and the way that it plays under Neymar is that like the Guardiola system, opponents were figuring it out. Wall off Neymar, isolate Suarez and put another wall in front of Messi. That became the way to control MSN. Barring that, foul Neymar and bet that the ensuing set piece would amount to naught. So it was time for a change.
If the friendlies, particularly the one against Real Madrid, were any indication of how Valverde wants his Barça to play, a change is in store, a change that makes a player who does what Neymar does less essential as the game returns to midfield, high pressure and ball control. This last is even more crucial, having seen what happens when Barça loses possession to a quick opponent. The risks that Neymar takes in possession, therefore, become increasingly expensive (potentially) as Suarez isn’t tracking back, nor is Messi.
As supporters argue for a return to midfield supremacy, a system that makes sense given the personnel that Barça have (particularly if Iniesta is in your XI), is Neymar a player you want to use for a possession-based game? Did Neymar see that time coming, and choose to get while the getting is good?
On the surface, this transfer sucks. Reality is that it isn’t as bad as we might think. Neymar wasn’t going to stay with the club forever. Some of us predicted he would leave this summer. The club gets a massive wad of cash, has to rethink the way it approaches things at the right time anyhow. Lemonade from lemons? Perhaps. But as people run around saying, “I never liked that dude anyhow,” consider the above.