Two years after Neymar wasn’t going to leave Barcelona for PSG, only to then leave Barcelona for PSG, there is now a new storm of speculation hinting at only one possible outcome: Neymar, who isn’t going to leave PSG for Barcelona, will leave PSG for Barcelona.
There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical here. Paris Saint-Germain is rich beyond belief; they don’t really need the money from selling Neymar, nor any of the players that Barcelona are reportedly offering up as part of a swap-and-cash deal. Neymar is also one of the ambassadors of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which for all intents and purposes owns PSG. Letting Neymar walk just two Champions League trophy-less seasons after he obliterated the world transfer record would serve as a negative assessment of PSG’s ability to compete with Europe’s elite not just on the field but in the transfer market. To top it off, Neymar forcing his way out would open the door for PSG’s other superstar, Kylian Mbappé, to leave sooner than later.
And yet! Here we are again, because of supposedly credible rumors from a variety of sources that peg the likelihood of Neymar’s return to Barcelona anywhere from “It’s being talked about” to “Bust out your 2017 Neymar jerseys because he’s definitely coming back.” The first report to really make waves was from Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte, one of the best sources for breaking news about Brazilian players. In it, the paper said that Neymar had already agreed to move back to the Catalan giants, with Barcelona offering up €100 million in cash along with one (or more) of the trio of Ousmane Dembélé, Ivan Rakitić, and Samuel Umtiti.
Any of those three players would be a pretty solid fit for PSG: Dembélé is young, talented, and French; he wouldn’t be a perfect Neymar replacement in talent, but probably in fit. Rakitić is older but still capable of bossing a midfield, which is by far PSG’s weakest area of the field. And Umtiti is another undervalued and talented French youngster; as stalwart Thiago Silva ages out of a regular role, Umtiti could slot into the center of defense and give PSG a great national team pairing with Presnel Kimpembe.
Since the Globo Esporte bombshell, all manner of publications have jumped into the fray. Trustworthy Catalan source Catalunya Radio said it spoke to Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who told them that Neymar is not happening and that Antoine Griezmann is the team’s transfer priority. That report was contradicted by El Mundo, which stated that should Barcelona get Neymar, Griezmann would then go to PSG in return. (It should be noted that El Mundo is not generally considered a good source for Barcelona news, but that’s the nature of the transfer rumor mill; once a credible report gets thrown out, everyone else jumps in with addendums and contradictions.)
Because you can’t have a Barcelona story without Messi, El Mundo also reported that the Argentine talisman has personally requested Neymar’s return. Despite Neymar ostensibly leaving Barça to be his own man, outside of Messi’s shadow, the two (along with Luis Suárez) are known to be good friends off the field, and reuniting the dreaded MSN front-line would make sense on the field, even as Suárez continues to become more and more washed.
Seeing all the rumors laid out back-to-back makes one thing clear, to me at least: There’s a high probability that none of this will happen. Plenty of players (even this summer, hello Sergio Ramos) agitate for a move away in order to secure a more beneficial contract. It’s possible, if not probable, that Neymar is simply doing just that, hoping to become even more obscenely paid in the French capital. Admitting that his attempt to “be his own man” failed after just two injury-riddled seasons would be a big blow to his reputation among soccer fans, after all. That reputation is currently under fire anyway, as he’s being accused of rape in his native Brazil, the specifics of which have only gotten more bizarre since the initial allegations were made public.
No reports have yet linked the rape allegation with any of the current rumors. As a purely on-field issue, losing Neymar without winning much of anything in his two seasons in France would be a huge blow to the image PSG self-projects as one of Europe’s top-tier teams. Even bringing in two France national team starters wouldn’t soften the blow, assuming the Globo Esporte report is even true about the conditions of a sale.
For Barcelona, this transfer would not be as sure-fire as PSG’s original purchase two years ago. All the principals in the MSN front-line are two years older; Messi is superhuman so he might still be the G.O.A.T. for a few more years, but Suárez was pretty terrible in big matches this season, and Neymar’s frail bones took some serious punishment in his time away. Losing Dembélé and Umtiti would hurt the club’s youth movement, even though the former is perhaps more injury-prone than Neymar and the latter’s knee might be completely crabmeat at this point. (I don’t think anyone except Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde would be sad to see Rakitić leave, though he was better for the blaugrana than most fans give him credit for.)
In the end, whether Neymar re-ups for PSG or not, one thing is for certain: We’re in for another summer of this bullshit. Things will likely get clearer on July 1, the first day of the transfer window in Spain and the first day where it makes financial sense to buy Griezmann. If Barcelona announces the Fortnite enthusiast on or around that day, everyone can probably move on from all of this with a shrug. If not ... the thing that couldn’t possibly happen might end up happening, for the second time in two years.