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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Neymar's call to leave Barcelona for PSG may be profitable but not necessarily wise

Brazilian forward runs risk of being remembered as player who turned back on perfection.

Neymar's move has the potential to be a one-off in football transfer history, writes our columnist. Tim Goode / Press Association
Neymar's move has the potential to be a one-off in football transfer history, writes our columnist. Tim Goode / Press Association

Javier Mascherano took a pay cut to join Barcelona. So did Cesc Fabregas. That is sometimes the way of the things for the super-rich. They do not even need to use all of their wealth.

Barcelona’s slogan, “mes que un club”, had proved prophetic – they had come to seem an ideal, not just a club.

Footballers admired Barcelona for the purism, the philosophy and the silverware. They wanted to gravitate to Barcelona, whatever the cost. Such were their seductive powers.

Unlike virtually every normal club, they were unaccustomed to rejection. It simply did not happen to them.

Until, that is, Neymar told them he wanted to leave.

It is not merely his transfer fee, with Paris Saint-Germain needing to activate the €222 million (Dh967.8m) buyout clause and more than double the world record, which will send shockwaves around the footballing world.

It is the fact that someone has turned Barcelona down.

Very few walk away from Barcelona when at the peak of their powers and playing a pivotal part in the team: the original Ronaldo did, to join Inter Milan, and Diego Maradona, to sign for Napoli, but both happened before Barca became the 21st-century behemoth – the blend of style and success that seemed to render them the ultimate destination club.

Others wanted to come. Neymar has chosen to go.

It is probable that Barcelona, suddenly furnished with the game’s biggest transfer budget and with a need to reassert their pulling power, will seek a statement signing of their own.

Liverpool should certainly brace themselves for a bigger bid for Philippe Coutinho, even if he is likelier to be Andres Iniesta’s direct replacement than the new Neymar. Paulo Dybala seems the likeliest candidate, although Juventus’ Argentine lacks Neymar’s profile and commercial appeal.

Neymar did not just offer stardust.

In three seasons together, he, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi scored a combined 364 goals. Defenders may enjoy seeing the MSN reduced to just the MS. If Neymar came last in the acronym, his exit shows he was not satisfied with competing with Suarez for second billing behind Messi.

Yet he runs the risk of being the remembered as the man who turned his back on perfection.

A post shared by Leo Messi (@leomessi) on

Because, though advocates of Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas may disagree, they formed arguably the greatest forward line ever assembled, even if Barcelona’s last two Uefa Champions League campaigns were curtailed at the quarter-final stage.

One possibility is that, shorn of Neymar, with Iniesta in the autumn of his career and with Pep Guardiola’s influence fading, the Catalans slip back to the pack, perhaps leaving Real Madrid alone as the sole superpower left.

Another is that PSG will supplant them at the summit.

Also from Richard Jolly: How Neymar could redraw map of European football with move

That certainly has to be the intention. They have belonged in second bracket of European forces, serial quarter-finalists who have not reached the last four of the Champions League since their star players were George Weah and David Ginola.

It will not be enough for PSG simply to regain the French title. With Monaco weakened by the sales of Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko, they ought to do that anyway. Owners Qatar Sports Investment are clearly targeting Champions League titles. As no French club have won the competition since a Marseille team tainted by corruption in 1993, that would be transformative.

Ian Hawkey: PSG have traditionally had a Brazilian core which Neymar could add to

But it is hard to see how PSG can expect to pass Financial Fair Play, even if Neymar’s signing leads to a fire sale of squad players to raise funds. The fee is so vast that it seems certain to remain not just a world record but an outlier.

Perhaps the decision will be so rare that it continues to stand out. Perhaps no other star will walk out on Barca.

But in the meantime, Neymar’s decision has the potential to seem era-defining. It will be hugely profitable, but that does not necessarily make it wise.