COMMENTARY | Johan Cruyff was a sublime player for Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona then a great coach for the Catalans. More than 17 years after he left the Blaugrana bench he remains one of the club's greatest legends. He's not an idiot, contrarily, and-unlike Pele's-his mind is not losing sharpness or getting out of touch. But good old Johan shocked the world by declaring, in an interview with the Spanish paper Marca earlier this week that, "Signing Neymar I would have planned to sell Messi."
The world press takes what it wants from the Dutch legend's interview and lashes out: Cruyff says Barça should sell Messi. Formulated this way, this is an unpardonable blasphemy, no matter who utters it. It's like telling Christians they don't need God once they have secured St. Peter, and this comparison doesn't do Messi justice. He's truly football's God, while Neymar has a few apostles with seniority (Ronaldo, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic) claiming the immediate place to the Father's right.
While FC Barcelona's signing of the young Brazilian superstar remains the coup of the summer window transfer, it is a reasonable concern to wonder if Messi and Neymar can work together, in other words if the Brazilian would accept to play second fiddle, at least for a few years, to the four-time winner of the FIFA Ballon d'Or. This Barcelona is clearly Messi's team. Yes, he is a dictator, he demands perfection-from himself first-, he sets the rules-by example-and everybody follows. Michael Jordan was the same. Messi, who turned 26 on June 24, is too young to have imitated Jordan, but geniuses of this caliber discover themselves, individually and separately, how the supporting cast must function to be most efficient.
Barcelona became what it is because incredible players like Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets understood Messi's unique talent, accepted his preeminence and helped create a team, a system where Messi's brilliance shines best. (Messi does not have this luxury on Argentina's national team.) The arrival of Neymar, a superb talent, Brazil's best player at 21 and maybe the game's next best player, could disturb Barça's ecosystem. Ibra was rejected after just one season, remember?
Because he was asked, Cruyff expressed his concerns, and because he's on the outs with Barcelona's current junta directiva and its president Sandro Rosell he wasn't shy in listing the most minute, almost trivial, potential causes for conflict-who takes the free kicks, possible interference from sponsors Adidas (Messi) and Nike (Neymar), etc. Concluding that signing Neymar was a risky move that could turn out well but could also create problems, Cruyff stated that he has always preached caution and tried to avoid situations that could evolve into conflicts.
Then the reporter asked Cruyff bluntly, "To avoid conflicts they (Barcelona) could have signed Neymar and sold Messi. Do you agree?" Cruyff plays the game and responds putting himself hypothetically in Rosell's shoes: "After signing Neymar I would have planned to sell Messi."
The world press stopped reading here and ran with it, hence the worldwide brouhaha, but two lines further Cruyff expresses his opinion about the whole matter: "I would not have signed Neymar."
Of course, that's another discussion. You may agree or not with the Dutch legend regarding the signing of Neymar but it is clear that he shouldn't be excommunicated, nor institutionalized. He's not crazy, he still cherishes Barça, and hopefully he's wrong. A team with Messi and Neymar is an incredibly appealing proposition, an unprecedented experiment in football history. If they click, if Neymar accepts that at least for 2-3 more years this is still Messi's team, we should enjoy an incredibly exciting show, something we've never seen.
Of course, to win everything we still need a goalkeeper, a central defender and perhaps a coach. Stay tuned, Cruyff has something to say about pretty much everything.
Vladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He hasn't seen a player like Messi and a team like FC Barcelona
- Sports & Recreation
- Johan Cruyff
- FC Barcelona