Welcome to NeyWatch, a series in which we catch up with the daily, often contradictory updates on the hottest story of the summer.
Now seems as good a time as any for Neymar to stop playing coy and go ahead and admit that he’s definitely, 100 percent (er, well maybe like 98.63 percent) leaving Barcelona, because the evidence just keeps piling up on that end.
The latest incident—and the most combustable one yet during this transfer chronicle—came during Barcelona’s most recent training session. As you can see in the video above, it involved Neymar, new Barça full back Nelson Semedo, and some pushing and shoving and a couple angry kicks of a ball. Here’s the Daily Mail describing what happened:
In the video, things initially appear to be going well, with the forward tucking away a goal during a small-sided game.
However, Neymar and right back Semedo then tangle in a challenge for the ball, with the striker squaring up to the new arrival from Benfica.
Javier Mascherano quickly intervenes and Semedo runs back to the game, but Neymar is clearly still unhappy, calling and gesturing after the defender, and having to be restrained by Sergio Busquets.
The furious striker then tears off his training bib and throws it to the ground as manager Ernesto Valverde stands helpless close by, stalking off with only a rueful pat on the back from Mascherano.
Neymar then angrily fires a ball off the crossbar of a nearby training goal, and then boots another one away as he exits the field.
Accompanied by a member of the Barcelona staff, he leaves as training resumes without him, with the player going out into the car park and leaving the training area entirely.
The session took place in Miami, with Barca in the USA as part of their prestigious pre-season tour.
Of course, little dustups between teammates during training like this are generally just about the least noteworthy or meaningful events that take place in a season. They happen all the time and are perfectly natural and almost never amount to any longstanding beef between the combatants. In this case, though, it’s less the fight itself that feels telling and more everything that has surrounded it during these past couple weeks of zaniness.
Despite being smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest transfer stories ever, outwardly Neymar hasn’t evinced even a hint of concern or stress. With the entire soccer world’s eye trained on his every movement, all this eye has seen is Neymar smiling in photos with teammates and posting Instagrams of himself and scoring goal after goal during the preseason friendlies, looking as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.
This speaks to Neymar’s stunning levels of concentration and his ability to block out everything but the essential—traits that have been evident his entire time in the spotlight; remember, this guy was anointed the savior of the world’s single most soccer-mad country and has thrived to an extent nobody could’ve reasonably expected. However, this carefree attitude was certainly just a façade blocking the angst below, and Neymar’s brouhaha with Semedo can (fairly, I think) be read as confirmation of that.
The way Neymar responded to what seems to have been a run-of-the-mill bad challenge, the way he waved Semedo back and then started to charge at the defender after Semedo had already removed himself from the situation, the way Neymar then tore off his training bib and stormed off and reportedly left the training complex all together—it all speaks to an underlying frustration that seems to go deeper than just whatever happened with Semedo that set him off.
This PSG stuff has been going on for a couple weeks now, with report after report saying that Neymar’s current teammates are pulling him in one direction while his family, friends, and potential future teammates at PSG yank him in the other. It all must be incredibly mentally and emotionally taxing on the guy, and this training ground fight looks like a manifestation of all that. And at the end, Neymar walked away from his Barça teammates and left the building. Whether that’s an omen or not only time will tell.
On top of that admittedly speculative reading of what in any other circumstance would be undestood as a routine scrap, and beyond the anonymous reports in the Spanish, French, and Brazilian media saying what is and is not going on behind the scenes of this whole affair, we do have a solid piece of evidence that seems to point ... somewhere. After this weekend’s dumb-fuck, made-up El Clásifaux cash grab in Miami, the Barcelona squad was to return home. Neymar, however, had some sort of sponsorship appearance he was to make in China, and thus was scheduled to head there immediately after the friendly.
This appearance is off now, for an interesting reason. From Reuters:
Suggestions that [Neymar] might have weighty matters on his mind increased when Chinese travel agent Ctrip posted on its official Weibo account that it has had to cancel an event with Neymar because he is “busy with transfer business”.
Not that it’s a secret at all, but in reality we’ve only had two or three clear confirmations that Neymar and PSG actually are working on a transfer agreement, this being one of them. If Neymar really was planning on staying at Barça, he probably doesn’t cancel that trip to China.
That, coupled with the growing mountain of reports in the French press that Neymar and PSG have hammered out all the details of a contract and that PSG are exceptionally confident of pulling the deal off, at this point the transfer feels like a fait accompli, even if the precise funding mechanism of the transfer remains an open question. All of which means we can’t wait to see next week’s headlines that Barcelona have signed Paulinho and offered six of Neymar’s cousins spots in the squad and are now locks to keep him.