The bright sides of the Neymar transfer

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.

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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.

101 Comments

  1. omoh
    August 10, 2017

    I wanted tobsat that barca should start debasing the release clauses of our players then I remembered we don’t actually have any world class young talent that clubs would be willing to break the bank for. Instead we allowed them leave through the back door.

    How did we get to this level. What did we do wrong to deserve this mediocre board.

    • omoh
      August 10, 2017

      *rebasing

  2. Davour
    August 10, 2017

    Dembele trying to force his way out is interesting, but not necessarily good. Does it sway Dortmund? Not for certain beyond that he can leave for the right price. On the one hand, they bought him for 15m last year, and he openly stated that he rejected Barca cause he wanted to learn more first. Dortmund would make an absurd profit and should respect his wishes. On the other hand, why sign a 5-year deal without buy-out clause if you regard the club primarily as a stepping stone? It is late in the window and Dortmund need him to challenge (well dreaming of) Bayern. With the money Barca has and the rumoured price of Mbappé, why settle for reason?

    Bottom line is that PSG (and also City) has completely shattered the market logic by paying so much for Neymar (and 180m for Mbappé, rumour has it). Last year, Pogba’s 100m seemed absurd, now the shit has really hit the fan. And I’m afraid we have to roll with it and fork up a sum that – hopefully – will seem absurd next year, for Dembele. It is the price to settle (or counter) the storm the Ney-affair has caused; money has lost some of its value, in this context.

    Long term, this could be dangerous for European football, for sure. I’m in favour of regulation in the sense that for example NHL uses, with set amounts (I realise it is harder to implement in European football). UEFA – and FIFA – will have to do something (but they probably won’t, courtesy of Qatarian influence).

    A mess, this is. But if we emerge with Dembele and perhaps another player (Seri, Jorginho or whoever the coach wants), with a few dimes still to spare, it will be enough for me.

  3. CentreBackJockey
    August 10, 2017

    We should change the release clause due to the recent inflation of the market but that would mean we have to re-negotiate every player’s contract. That will take months and cost more money. I’m not fussed about the release clause tbh. In the end it comes down to the player and if they don’t want to stay then Im happy for us to let them leave.

    Does anyone know why Iniesta didn’t train recently? And why our club would anounce this with no explanation?

    • Jim
      August 10, 2017

      No, the bit about Iniesta worried me too. I have this recurring nightmare that he’s gonna say he’s getting too old and quit. Yet, his performances have shown him a class above everyone bar Messi.

  4. Ron
    August 10, 2017

    Dembele for 120mn sounds like a ridiculous gamble, I’d much rather we go for 120mn for Dybala or maybe just try and manage with Deulo and paco for now and wait till next season for a decent winger rather than splurge blindly on untested .

    These rumors for coutinho and dembele are getting absurd now with each time one of them misses training or forgets to smile for a camera getting interpreted as they are trying to force a move to us, make no mistake both of them JUST signed 4-5 year contracts last year and their clubs are under no obligation to sell, even if we sent in Winston Wolf himself to negotiate the purchase.we might be better off trying to poach some skilled winger from a Liga side where buyout clauses are common rather than going for a player from other leagues for insanely inflated prices…

    • georgjorge
      August 11, 2017

      Very true. I had hoped the club would make some transfers like Umtiti, a relatively unknown defender with no rumours around him who just fit the profile perfectly.

      I just cannot believe that there are no very good midfielders and forwards around who, despite being out of the spotlight right now, wouldn’t improve the team nicely. Dembelé is good, and so is Coutinho, but I don’t think they are so much better than some other players to warrant all the drama and cash. Going for the hottest players on the market is flashy, but with a great scouting network maybe we wouldn’t have needed to do that.

  5. August 11, 2017

    The sums being thrown around for these players are quite frankly grotesque. This squalid, unseemly ‘show’ is slowly draining my interest in this game, and the seeds of contempt have been sown.
    It’s tempting to severe the football cord for awhile, put it in the ‘attic’ until the actual season starts. Then just turn on the first game when it happens and go- “oh, so that’s who they signed amidst all the stupidity, absurdity, lies, deception, and base level soap drama”.
    Meh {shrug my shoulders}.

  6. squeen
    August 11, 2017

    Chew on this thought:

    This past season Neymar saw his assists go up and goals go down. He was being asked to do more of the team leg-work and you could see he was smiling less. When he did get to goal, his legs were tired and he more often than not muffed his shot. He did what was necessary, and did it well, but after only one year of Messi not feeding him, and taking the goals for himself again (after three years of supporting Neymar and Suarez), Neymar’s ego couldn’t take it. He is a glory hound at heart, and you could see all year long he’d lost a lot of the joy of the game when he was asked to step away from the goal-scoring spotlight. He’s 25 and he want to be the star of the team and world. His Dad’s recent statement to the press was something along the lines of “how can he win the Ballon d’Oro with Messi at the club?” [and his son playing second fiddle]. Hell, the Ballon d’Oro is given out by France Football. It’s a major leg-up to be in the French league.

    He moved to PSG because he couldn’t take (mainly) playing a supporting role on a team. Barca has a rigid system, he was being asked to play like a midfielder/full-back, and getting disciplined for bad behavior by the coaching staff.

    He wants instead to be a foot-loose “star” and be above the rules. He lives for the spotlight and party scene. It seems natural and commonplace that he is like most footballers and craves recognition and special treatment. Neymar is at least partly the tantrum throwing brat we’d all most likely turn into given that much money and attention at a young age, but reigns it in because he knows it doesn’t play well on the world stage. It amazing that he was able to (mostly) suppress that desire at Barca for four years, and us fans were lucky because of the amazing results.. But enough is enough, and a leopard can’t really change his spots. At PSG he’ll be the main man, surrounded by a cortege of Brazilian pals (I’ll bet Marcelo ends up there next year, while Cavani and Verratti will be looking to get out). He’ll play wherever and however he wants, and it will be up to the rest of the team to adapt to his whims. He’ll be in heaven. Oh yeas, next year he’ll be smiling again—until he plays Barca in the CL, because (I hope) selfishness and indiscipline will always loses out to sacrifice and rigor in the end.

    On the other hand, Messi is this weird, fascinating anomaly that we watch but feel like we will never understand what exactly make him tick.

    One way of looking at it?

  7. Rami
    August 11, 2017

    Crazy stuff out there.
    Coutinho has officially handed a transfer request to liverpool, There were some sources denying it at first, But then they all confirmed it actually happened.
    Transfer requests can’t legally force a club to sell, But it is a clear intent that the player doesn’t wish to stay anymore, In a way it twists the hand of the club to sit and negotiate, Forcing an ‘unhappy’ player to stay, Isn’t a pretty sight.

    Also, Transfer requests aren’t purely symbolic, They can have ramifications on the player, The most important one being, He’ll lose the potential to collect the loyalty bonus many players receive on top of their salaries at the end of a season, And it’s a lot of money.
    What i mean is, If liverpool ignored his request and forced him to stay anyway, He will not receive the few millions he should get at the end of next season, Despite him staying, This is why it’s considered a measure of last resort.

    We still don’t know how liverpool will respond to this, But i’m sure our club is already preparing another offer, Higher than thr 100m liverpool rejected.

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