As the Neymar-to-PSG €222 million train continues to gather steam, it's worth taking a step back and wondering one simple question: How did we get here?
Neymar, in a rather ideal club situation and playing alongside two of the world's preeminent attacking stars while heading into a World Cup year, has become the subject of the summer's biggest transfer saga. When you consider everything else that has already transpired, that's a pretty incredible feat.
AC Milan has gone all in to become elite again. Manchesters United and City are spending big, as expected. Monaco has sold high on just about all of its Ligue 1-winning stars (though a few, including Kylian Mbappe, still remain). Lionel Messi pledged his allegiance to Barcelona, while Cristiano Ronaldo seemingly wavered back and forth on his to Real Madrid. Yet Neymar's potential record-shattering move from Barcelona to PSG absolutely makes for the biggest headline of them all. He's 25, in the prime of his career and the centerpiece for an in-form-again Brazil heading into Russia 2018.
So in thinking of that one simple question, a number of other key ones come to mind. Here's what we know–and what we think we know–about the transfer story of the summer:
Is this seriously going to happen?!
It sure seems like the biggest transfer in the history of the game is on the verge of happening. Barcelona players and coaches have been diplomatic, saying the right things (and repeating them on all of their stops around the United States). They think Neymar's happy. They want him to stay. It's his decision, just like any move is any player's individual decision. We hear your talking points, and we see your spin.
That said, with Neymar's father apparently at the wheel, the story has failed to disappear and has instead gained momentum. Reports from Spain to France to Qatar have this going down as soon as this week. Does that mean it's a guaranteed done deal? Absolutely not. But what seemed like a long shot a couple of weeks ago seems way more realistic as of now, and the transfer window is still open for a few more weeks.
Isn't Neymar linked to PSG or Manchester United every summer?
Yes. And there's often substance to the links, though the complexity of a deal like this makes it difficult for anything legitimate to actually transpire.
What about Financial Fair Play?
To quote Roma president James Pallotta, Financial Fair Play is a s**t show. If there's a will to get this done, it will happen. It just might take some creative bookkeeping and some legal maneuvering.
Well, there's the financial aspect, which is the driving factor for plenty of personal decisions. Neymar will absolutely clean up in Paris (not that he isn't in Barcelona). In terms of the transfer fee, there's a small group of clubs who could afford it, and PSG is in it. It also helps that a number of his countrymen and close friends–Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura, Marquinhos–play for the club. Before he personally destroyed PSG in the second leg of Barcelona's epic Champions League comeback this past season, he saw first-hand what the club is capable of doing when it's clicking.
If he was really leaving, why did he play for Barcelona in the ICC?
That's a fantastic question and one that likely had PSG wincing at every passing minute he remained on the field. Neymar was subjected to a harsh early tackle in Saturday night's Clasico in Miami and could have severely hurt his ankle. To his credit, he stayed in the game and played on. In fact, he played rather hard for Barcelona in all of its International Champions Cup matches, scored some fantastic goals and celebrated with his teammates as if nothing unusual were going on around him. No matter how this plays out, there's no questioning Neymar's commitment to the shirt he's been wearing.
Why would Neymar make such a move in the year leading into a World Cup?
It's a risk, no doubt. But it's also not like Neymar is going to some second-rate club, and his playing time is not going to be an issue. PSG will contend for league and European titles with or without Neymar, and perhaps he's the piece that pushes the club over the top. One could argue that as long as he's second fiddle to Messi (or third fiddle to Messi and Luis Suarez), he'll never win a Ballon d'Or or get the solo recognition he might receive elsewhere. If Neymar goes to PSG, he'll be the centerpiece of an ambitious project. It's hard to argue with that logic, from Neymar's perspective.
Is Qatar behind all of this?
Let's put it this way: There is not NOT a strong connection. Follow the chain: Qatar Sports Investments owns PSG. Money is no object to said ownership group, which has already dumped millions upon millions into PSG and can absolutely fund the world-record transfer fee. Qatar is (until notified otherwise) hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Neymar will be the most marketable and recognizable worldwide superstar of the next five years. Neymar playing for PSG is akin to Neymar playing under the Qatar umbrella. Is €222 million, before record-level wages, a wild investment in one player? Absolutely. Does Neymar becoming the ambassador of all things Qatar and 2022 World Cup make it worth every penny? You bet.
Why would Neymar leave La Liga for Ligue 1?
Given what's happened recently with him, him, him and him (oh, and himself!), Neymar likely has millions of reasons to get out of Spain and avoid future issues, though simply leaving doesn't make any past misdeeds wash away. Also, we all deserve to know the answer to the question: Can he do it on a cold, rainy Wednesday night at Strasbourg?
Didn't Neymar like JUST sign a long-term extension with Barcelona?
Yes! Last October, Neymar extended his stay at Barcelona through 2021. Contract extensions mean little in terms of loyalty and commitment in the world of insane transfer fees. Neymar did say the following less than one year ago:
"Barcelona have incredible players. Before I joined the club I was a little intimidated. But once I got into the dressing room I could see that the players are very humble. They are great teammates and they have become my friends. I knew that Barcelona were something great and at first it was hard [to adjust] but they helped me get adapt. I feel right at home and I am very happy."
Who says happiness is everything? And who says that public statements by players, coaches and club executives are binding?
Where would Barcelona go from here?
In short, anywhere it wants. It's going to reek of desperation, though, and teams will be wise to inflate the price tags for their coveted stars. Liverpool seems pretty set on not dealing Philippe Coutinho, while Juventus has reportedly set an exorbitant price tag on Paulo Dybala. Does Neymar's potential replacement have to be from South America? Of course not, though finding someone who can mesh with Messi and Suarez will be absolutely vital to a seamless transition.
Like if Real Madrid were to sell Ronaldo, having all that cash to spread out to improve the balance of the team, as opposed to funneling it all into one player, could ultimately prove to be a better long-term solution. Barcelona has roster flaws, and a financial windfall to spend to fix them isn't a bad thing. Of course Barcelona does not want to lose Neymar, from both sporting and PR points of view, but would losing him mean taking a substantial step backward on the domestic league and Champions League levels? It certainly doesn't have to.