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There was about a seven-minute stretch late last season, some of the key moments of FC Barcelona’s year, when it seemed like Neymar was truly arriving as one of the game’s transcendent players.
In Barcelona’s now-famous 6-1 rally against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16 second leg, Neymar and his peers still needed three goals in the 88th minute when he counted out his paces behind a free kick.
Barcelona had taken a 3-0 lead after the Parisians had claimed the first leg 4-0, but Edinson Cavani had scored for the visitors in the 62nd minute, bursting the momentum in Barca’s comeback.
But if Cavani’s goal was supposed to be a dagger, Neymar whipped in a free kick, scored on a penalty and then drifted in a cross for Sergi Roberto’s winner in the 95th minute that sent Barca into the quarterfinals. It was the third time in five years that Barcelona had knocked PSG out in the quarters.
And so it was comprehensible that, for a third straight summer, PSG would attempt to sign Barca’s brightest young star. A report out of Brazil earlier this week posited that the French giants were about to trigger the $255 million release clause in Neymar’s contract – just as all contracts in Spain, by law, have a mandatory buyout figure. For context, when Manchester United broke the transfer world record for Paul Pogba last summer, it paid Juventus $115 million.
Yet, somehow, a quarter of a billion dollars doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable a figure. Because players of Neymar’s caliber – one of the five or so best attackers in the world – almost never hit the market anymore. Not when they’re on the right side of their prime, like the 25-year-old is. And certainly not when they’re already at a juggernaut club like Barcelona.
Because Neymar is as close a thing to a safe bet as you can have in an industry where every transfer is a gamble, and where a 60 percent success rate on your transfer signings is a solid return.
The question, then, is whether Neymar really is on the market. The Brazilian report, from Esporte Interativo, said he had accepted an offer from PSG. Yet we’ve heard such reports before. Again and again and again. About Neymar and others. And half the time, if not more, they are untrue.
It’s also worth remembering that Neymar signed a new five-year deal with Barcelona less than a year ago. He says he’s happy there. And he plainly seems to enjoy playing with fellow superstar attackers Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Indeed, you could convincingly argue that they form the greatest threesome of strikers ever assembled.
Neymar reckons that last season was his best. Most observers would disagree, and, statistically, it was his worst campaign in three years – until a late surge when he suddenly carried the team for a few weeks. Some reports have it that Neymar chafes under his second-fiddle spot in the hierarchy, if he isn’t third fiddle. But even if that’s true, he surely realizes that Messi and Suarez are both 30 and that their declines will set in sooner rather than later. This will be his team in a few years.
Then there’s the fact that Barca, of course, vehemently denies that Neymar will leave. A chorus of club officials has declared his departure an impossibility. The club’s vice president says he is “200 percent” certain Neymar will stay, regardless of the mathematical impossibility of such certainty.
“We will not consider any offers we receive for him,” a club spokesman has said of Neymar.
But this ignores the fact that if Neymar’s release clause is triggered, Barca doesn’t get a say in whether he goes or not. It would unlawful to prevent a departure at that point.
There are rumors that Neymar’s father and agent — who was instrumental in brokering a deal for Neymar to eventually join Barcelona from Santos, possibly when he was still a teenager — is unhappy with his son’s current club. Neymar Sr. apparently works as some kind of scout for Barca in Brazil, but his recommendations don’t seem to be taken very seriously. It sounds like he has a patronage job but doesn’t realize he isn’t supposed to actually be doing that job.
At any rate, if PSG can afford to pay a fee of almost 2 1/2 times the current world record, and there’s nothing in its recent transfer history to suggest that it can’t, signing Neymar makes a surprising amount of sense. Should he really be interested.
For one, it could well bust up a Barcelona dynasty that has stood in the way of PSG’s own European ambitions again and again, given the aforementioned aging of Neymar’s attacking cohorts. Because just as there’s hardly any buying a Neymar, there isn’t any replacing him either. There’s a reason Real Madrid paid $52 million in order for Brazilian under-17 star Vinicius Junior, who has almost no experience at the senior team club level, to join from Flamengo two years from now. Because he could be the next Neymar. And to land the next Neymar, you have to lay out crazy money when he’s that young.
Besides, there is no longer any real sense of what market value is in the exchange for professional soccer players. Driven by its skyrocketing TV rights value, the English Premier League now generates 27 times as much revenue as when it was founded a quarter century ago, per the Telegraph.
That money has washed over the transfer market and spilled into the leagues that may not earn quite as much of their own, enabling the towering transfer figures we’ve seen in the last year or so. And lest we forget, PSG’s Qatari ownership is one of the richest in the game.
Transfer fees have come untethered from the framework of precedents that once existed. So, yes, Neymar could fetch more than twice what any other player has ever cost. And he might even recoup that investment – plus some undoubtedly colossal salary – for his club in image and broadcast rights, merchandise and ticket sales, and prize money.
Neymar’s valuation in his contract might just be about right. Because there is only one Neymar. And he was thought to be ungettable. So if you can get him, you probably should.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphebet.
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