- Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto speak out about the star Brazilian's summer saga: Whether he stays at Barcelona or goes to PSG in a record-shattering move.
In contrast to last summer, when we experienced Portugal's European Championship triumph and Argentina's loss to Chile at Copa America Centenario, which prompted Lionel Messi to say he would never play for his country ever again (only for him to come back two months later), this summer was meant to be relatively quiet.
It is after all, the summer before the World Cup, where only CONCACAF's Gold Cup is the main tournament in the world of men's soccer.
But then, Neymar, the 25-year-old Brazilian superstar, spiced things up by creating a transfer mini-drama, worthy of a South American telenovela.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced of Paris Saint-Germain's willingness to meet Barcelona's €222 million release clause for the ex-Santos star, full with a €30 million-per-year contract plus bonuses.
It would be a move so incredulous that it almost defies belief. But then again, this is the marketing power of the beautiful game, and PSG, owned by the wealth of Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, is looking to become not just one of the wealthiest clubs in the world, but if it gets it way, become the most popular team on the planet. Both on and off the pitch.
And who better to do this than the commercial viral machine that is Neymar.
Aside from the gargantuan financial bait, luring Neymar is also about helping him step out of the shadows of his Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi, and eventually becoming the best player in the world.
This is a player who is extremely aware of his potential and his influence as a leader, and as Brazil's captain, he wants more out of his club. Given the added notion that PSG has a large number of Brazilian players–most notably one of his good friends, Dani Alves, who just joined PSG this summer from Juventus–Neymar would feel at home in Paris. Able to truly be himself and be the main draw at the box office.
Neymar's father, who has so much influence on his son both personally and professionally, has led the saga-driven story, maneuvering both PSG and Barcelona boards like string puppets, being the only source of communication when it comes to contract negotiations, and as the French club waits on the go-ahead and trigger Neymar's release clause, Barcelona is trying to calm the waters.
On Saturday night, after the Brazilian mesmerized MetLife Stadium against Juventus by scoring two goals (the second, a dazzling run where he took on five defenders before scoring), Gerard Piqué posted a photo on Instagram during a private gala in New York City, with both hugging and laughing and a caption in Spanish that read: "He's staying."
This image, naturally, shook social media, and many wondered what had been said that prompted the Spanish center back to post such an announcement. On Monday, Piqué, who was scheduled to do some publicity for the media in New York, declined to speak to anyone.
Perhaps, he realized the implications caused by such a post and made things even more problematic for his teammate, so he decided to go silent. Or maybe Piqué, who is known to detest tabloid rumors, wanted no part in this two month telenovela. Whatever the reason, that image added more fuel to the fire. Other Barcelona players, however, have chimed in, giving their perspectives on the saga.
"Neymar is one of the best players in the world, and he doesn't need me, or Piqué, or anyone to tell him what to do," Jordi Alba said on Monday, speaking to the press prior to training in New Jersey. "From what I've seen, I think Neymar wants to stay. I don't know if the rumors are true or not, but as far as I can see, Neymar is happy here with us."
Added Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto: "He seems happy. And he's our teammate. I wasn't there when Pique took the photo, but obviously we want him to stay."
This has been the general consensus surrounding this never-ending transfer ride, as more Barcelona teammates play the role of moderator.
"We see it very calmly. We want Neymar to stay with us, he's one of the best players in the world, and with us, without a doubt he makes the club stronger," Andres Iniesta said after training, speaking to People en Español. "And everyone's wish is that he stays here and that it becomes a reality. We don't really see this scenario, like everyone else does. In that sense, we're very relaxed about it."
Whatever happens on the next installment of this storyline, we must remember that from a soccer perspective, the outcome has everyone wondering if this will shift the power rankings among soccer’s elite.
On one hand, a Neymar move would undoubtedly improve PSG’s chances of recapturing the French league title, especially since Monaco sold key players Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva to Manchester City, Tiemoue Bakayoko to Premier League champion Chelsea and Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe remain in the shop window. The bigger quest, and the ultimate goal, is to win the Champions League, something that PSG has never done. And with Neymar in the fold, it could become a reality.
On the other, you have to think about the French league itself, which fails to live up to the same technical ability as La Liga or the Premier League. Would Neymar be risking his development, especially at such a crucial time, in the build up to the 2018 World Cup?
This might be an argument that falls flat, especially when you consider the fact that Julian Draxler, another key component of Unai Emery’s squad who had a fantastic Confederations Cup and was named player of the tournament, has been looking more and more like the future of German soccer.
Whatever happens with Neymar, one thing is for sure. We are all going to be exhausted when it’s over.