Pensive-looking Neymar stirs renewed PSG fever despite Barcelona's assurances he will stay
Speculation continues to mount about possible deal between two clubs over transfer of Brazilian superstar.
Neymar's decision to post a photo of himself in thoughtful contemplation sparked a fresh wave of speculation that he is on the verge of sealing a world record €222 million (Dh951.3m) move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.
The Instagram picture, even accompanied by a matching emoji, shows the 25-year-old Brazilian superstar stretched out on the pitch with his chin resting on his left hand.
It garnered more than 1.5 million 'likes' within 12 hours of it being posted in the United States where Barcelona are on a pre-season tour.
Three of the 'likes' came from PSG players - winger Angel di Maria, goalkeeper Kevin Trapp and midfielder Marco Verratti.
French newspaper Le Parisien fuelled speculation Friday with an unsourced report that Neymar had told several Barcelona teammates of his intentions to join PSG, adding that the transfer is considered a done deal by some Barcelona players.
That echoes media company Esporte Interativo's insistence that an agreement has been reached for Neymar to move to the French capital from Barcelona, where he has played since 2013.
Neymar having a ponder
On Tuesday, PSG captain - and fellow Brazilian - Thiago Silva gave a digital thumbs up to a mocked-up photo montage published by Esporte Interativo showing Neymar in a PSG shirt along with compatriots and prospective teammates in France.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde described the ongoing saga as a "time of rumours".
"We understand it's how it is. He is with us right now, one of us," Valverde said in East Rutherford where his team plays Juventus in a pre-season friendly on Saturday.
That match will give Neymar a chance to display his coveted skills for the first time this summer.
"He's a player we love and we want," Valverde said. "Not only football wise, but also for the things he brings to the locker room.
"There's no need to worry about something we don't know if it's going to happen or not. If it happens in the future, we'll see."
Silva, meanwhile, told Le Parisien he had no idea if the Brazilian star was about to switch to the French capital.
"I don't know. I hear a lot from journalists and a player like Neymar would be an interesting addition to the PSG project," said Thiago, speaking in Florida - where the French club takes on Tottenham in a friendly on Saturday.
"But, for the moment, it is especially important to prepare for the new season. After and if Neymar arrives it would be a good thing for the squad."
Is Neymar going to sign? "Not yet," the captain smiled.
In Spain, it was reported by Catalan media group RAC 1 that "certain players" at Barcelona have already tried to convince Neymar not to accept the PSG offer which would dwarf the €105m Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba.
Javier Mascherano said Neymar was "the future" of Barcelona as the Argentine pleaded with the striker to stay put.
"In the case of Ney, obviously he is young, and I hope he's here with Barcelona for many more years," Mascherano told American sports network ESPN. "He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he's the future of the club, and we hope we can keep on counting on him."
However, it is believed the Brazilian is being seduced by the immense wealth on offer to him from PSG and by the opportunity to have a team built around him.
The daily Sport newspaper also claimed that Luis Suarez has also attempted to persuade Neymar not to split up the MSN frontline at Barcelona made up of Lionel Messi, Suarez and the Brazilian star.
Catalunya Radio said that the deal is "95 per cent complete".
One of the keys would be the payment to Neymar's father and agent of a "premium exceeding the 40m" paid when the player controversially moved to Spain from Santos.
Other reports have claimed that Neymar senior has recently met with, or is about to meet, PSG sporting director Antero Henrique.
However, Barcelona vice-president Jordi Mestre insisted on Tuesday that it is "200 per cent" certain that Neymar will stay at the club.
In a public game of tit-for-tat pronouncements, PSG manager Unai Emery hailed the Brazilian.
"Neymar has advanced his game massively and today he is one of the five best in the world," Emery said.
"Our president is working hard to attract top players and our fans would be content to count on a new top player to go along with the talent we already have."
Updated: July 22, 2017 08:46 AM