Smoke, mirrors and PR spins: what's really going on with Marco Verratti and Neymar this summer?

Reports from Brazil have linked the Barcelona star with a move to PSG while Verratti continues to set his sights on a switch to the Nou Camp. But what's really going on behind the scenes?

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 20 July 2017 18:06 BST
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Could the two players really be swapping shirts this summer?
Could the two players really be swapping shirts this summer?

Paris has suddenly become the centre of attention in world football again this week, precisely because the city’s football club is still toiling to thrust themselves to the centre of the game. Just as Marco Verratti seemingly escalates his attempts to leave Paris Saint-Germain, the deposed French champions have ramped up efforts to sign Neymar.

Both situations involve a lot of smoke and mirrors, and it’s difficult to say what will happen, but the key is that they are both connected and how they conclude will genuinely say an awful lot about where PSG are as a club and the current landscape of European football.

Figures close to the hierarchy at Camp Nou feel that Verratti is “absolutely desperate” to leave France for the Catalans, and that there is absolutely no danger of Neymar moving to the Parc des Princes because this is all a typical ploy to get a much better deal, especially in a summer where teammate Leo Messi was made the highest-paid footballer ever. A particular attitude was reflected by one involved individual who dismissively told The Independent, “no serious player wants to go to PSG”.

Many might disagree and, illustrating just how much spin and PR there is in all of those, a recent story emerged from Spain and Brazil that Barcelona wanted Neymar to publicly refute the claims he is willing to go to PSG but he refused. We may never find out if that is actually true but what is true is that PSG themselves feel this is much further along than a negotiating ploy, and that they have a genuinely good chance of getting Neymar.

Then again, if it is to be an effective negotiating ploy, that is exactly what the two competing parties have to believe.

Paris Saint-Germain do have a bit of an issue in that regard. Regardless of their immense resources and ambitions, they are still in a league seen as second-tier and largely uncompetitive even after a season when a youthfully vibrant Monaco became champions. But the very problem with those resources and ambitions is that they are currently just persuasive enough to be used as a massive bargaining chip any time a player wants something.

They need to break that, and the only way they can is by actually going and signing players of a more serious level - and hanging onto those they’ve got like Verratti.

Marco Verratti is desperate to leave PSG

You couldn’t get a more high-profile power play than threatening to activate Neymar’s £173m release clause in response to Barca’s attempts to sign the Italian playmaker. It would be a game-changer, while also changing the Catalan club’s whole plans, ensuring they would need to sign an attacker - adding yet another spark to this already volatile market.

Verratti’s actions in this are thereby all the more interesting, but arguably make the situation even more complicated.

He has just changed agent, dropping Donato di Campli for Mino Raiola. The latter is one of the game’s larger-than-life figures who has made himself particularly famous for two things: getting his biggest clients big transfers or getting them big new deals. You have Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United on one side, and Gigi Donnarumma’s lucrative decision to stay at AC Milan on the other.

Verratti has recently taken on Mino Raiola as his client 

There are many close to the situation who believe Verratti really doesn’t want a new PSG deal and wants to leave but, as one put it, “he’s just put a big barrier between him and Barca, given the huge fees that Raiola would look for”.

Real Madrid have previously balked at such fees, as have Chelsea with Romelu Lukaku. Would Barca? Or would they have to pay up if they lose Neymar?

There is after all one club that have had no issues with those fees, and that is why they are tentatively being mentioned in the Verratti pursuit: Manchester United. Jose Mourinho just happens to need exactly that kind of player, and they can easily afford it.

Whispers from the market have linked United with Verratti (Getty)

It is also the club’s general policy to try and bring in a star every summer, and there have been increased murmurings of the Old Trafford hierarchy working on a mystery mega-deal at the moment.

Some United sources have told The Independent that they feel there is definitely something in the Verratti talk. Beyond that, all that remains little more than the spin and smoke and mirrors confusing this whole situation right now, but hard decisions with concrete consequences are going to have be taken soon.

Central to that is PSG looking to harden up as a club, to move on to the next level and be proper Champions League challengers that regularly get to the competition’s semi-finals at the very least.

If they kept Verratti or at least brought in an even bigger star in Neymar, there would be much less doubt. Right now, though, it’s hard to know what to believe in this saga - other than that it could end up the most important outcome of the summer.

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