Why Neymar's 'classless bluff' has a knock-on effect for Liverpool and could take Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona

The Brazilian may have left himself in the lurch with PSG so far not triggering the Barcelona star's release clause

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Saturday 29 July 2017 12:57
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Will Neymar force through a move this summer?
Will Neymar force through a move this summer?

As tempers rose at Barcelona training after Neymar’s angry confrontation with new full-back Nelson Semedo, so too did the prospect that the Brazilian superstar may well leave for Paris Saint-Germain - but then there are already many at the club cocking an eyebrow and wondering whether that was the whole point.

Whether that is true or not, what is certainly true right now is that the French club have not yet paid the 25-year-old’s release clause.

One suspicion at Barcelona is that PSG don’t actually want to pay that release clause, due to the many complications and the possibility of also paying a lot of tax on it, so some of the player’s camp want to try to force the Catalan club to negotiate.

The greater suspicion, however, is that this whole episode remains - to use the words of one figure connected to proceedings - a “classless bluff” for Neymar to get a new contract.

If that is the case, and the player doesn’t actually want to play for PSG, he may have backed himself into a corner because Barca are really not in the financial position right now to offer him the kind of mega-deal he craves. That could well have brought the situation to a stand-still, albeit with a lot of tension.

Many at Camp Nou are increasingly irritated with how his entourage have gone about all of this, and some of the more “old-school” elements around the first-team squad would genuinely get to the point where they see no harm in letting him go.

The feeling remains that pretty much all of PSG’s current players would love to come to Barca anyway, and that the only reason he would possibly want to go there would be for money, and if that is the case they wouldn’t want to keep him anyway. A club of the Catalans’ size are naturally accustomed to the type of players they sign having egos and who look to match those egos with market rate, but there is still a line required to keep the chemistry of the team correct and ensure they actually have the kind of competitive mentality required. The primary goal should be to win, win in the right way, and you will be rewarded for it.

That could still be to misunderstand Neymar’s personal motivations, however, as well as to misunderstand his immense importance to Barcelona. No one could possibly doubt his on-pitch motivations having seen him in some of the club’s biggest games over the last three years - not least the 6-1 win over PSG themselves. At 25, as well as at that level of talent, he should also represent the future of the team beyond Lionel Messi; the Argentine’s direct successor as the focal point.

There is a growing feeling in Spain that Barca are underestimating a lot of this and have not really been as well prepared as they should be, even if many of the suspicions are fair.

They are in for Philippe Coutinho and, while Liverpool’s stance is that they will not sell for any price, the younger Brazilian’s camp feel there is a “70%” chance of it happening - partly because they think Neymar will go to PSG. If it does actually happen, and Barca do actually get Liverpool to buckle, it is fair to wonder whether Coutinho is an adequate replacement. He is an undeniably good player, and one who can further progress, but he’s not at Neymar’s level.

If Neymar does go, Barca really need a Pablo Dybala or a Kylian Mbappe. That’s the quality you’re talking about, but not really the quality they’re actually talking about buying right now. Part of that could be down to the fact the funds simply aren’t there, but will be if Neymar goes, although that should still mean they do some contingency work.

Coutinho and Neymar are close friends on and off the field with Brazil

The alternative of course is that, if it does come to actual negotiation, Barca will just tell PSG to thereby give them Marco Verratti and reshape their own side.

A curious element in all this, however, is that it is only the French club being mentioned despite Manchester United’s long-standing interest in Neymar. It is well known that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward would “love” the Brazilian at the club, but Old Trafford sources say they are wary of getting used by the player’s entourage in the way that happened with Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos in 2015.

It's an appropriate addendum to the situation, and the residual feeling that so much of this is a game of brinkmanship and bluff.

We won't know for certain until hard moves beyond shapes in training start to happen.

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