Barcelona have confirmed that Brazilian star Neymar has been allowed to talk to Paris St-Germain in what will be a world record transfer. The only stumbling block lies in agreeing the fine details of what is set to be an astronomical fee, in the region of 222m Euros (£198m).
The club confirmed that Neymar formally asked to leave the Spanish giants. The statement sounded somewhat mournful, “Before the morning session began, Neymar informed those present of his wish to leave the club and was therefore given permission to miss training and resolve his future.”
While he’s no doubt a stunning talent, in truth Barcelona will not be much worse off, even with only a modest re-investment of the full transfer fee. An indication, perhaps, of just how strong the higher echelons of La Liga has become in recent years.
I look at three potential replacements for the man Barcelona teammates nicknamed the ‘Lord of the Night’:
1. Philippe Coutinho
After a summer-long pursuit of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool, he now appears to be a solid candidate to replace his fellow Brazilian and long-time friend. Even from the end of last season, the pursuit of Coutinho in itself spoke volumes about the increasingly untenable situation – the likelihood of Neymar leaving Camp Nou. Coutinho would be worth a fraction of the £198m paid for Neymar, although there is now some doubt as to whether Liverpool can hold Barcelona to ransom and drive the price up once the world-record fee is safely in Barcelona’s coffers.
Coutinho appears to have the perfect demeanour and attitude to fit into life in Barcelona, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic said, “It was like being back at school”. The Liverpool forward offers trickery, dynamism and a goal threat from long-range. Crucially though, he is more subservient than his Brazilian counterpart, so ego won’t be an issue. Lionel is the main man in town, and that’s the way it will stay until his retirement.
2. Paulo Dybala
Dybala is one of the hottest properties in world football right now, with several clubs, including Manchester United and Real Madrid, apparently ‘keeping tabs on him’. Quite what that means in real terms is anybody’s guess. Either way, the 23-year-old would provide pace, technique and a keen eye for goal. He is a huge fan favourite at Juventus, so Barcelona would have to cough up serious dough to successfully prise him away from Italy.
Dybala’s relationship with Messi in the Argentina set-up may be a key advantage in getting the deal done. The two men are apparently close friends off the pitch. There’s no indication as yet as to whether he will be invited on holiday with the Messi and Suarez families next summer. Dybala’s versatility is his key selling point in dovetailing within this Barcelona team, being able to play as centre-forward, supporting forward, a false 9 or inverted winger.
3. Kylian Mbappe
At only 18-years-old, Mbappe appears to have his choice of any club in the world. Although there have been many ‘new Thierry Henry’s, Mbappe genuinely does possess similar attributes of grace and an eye for goal. With 15 goals in 29 matches last season, he has the best goal rate of the three candidates here, although still represents a risk due to his relatively younger age.
With that said, Mbappe looks like the real deal and stealing him away from Real Madrid would represent a huge triumph over their great rivals. He has also today told his club that he wants to leave, which is a huge sign that you’re soon on the way out (unless you’re Riyad Mahrez). Mbappe’s stock has never been higher, so he is the hotly-tipped candidate to head to the Camp Nou. He’s odds on.
Whoever Barcelona choose to replace the spiky-haired Brazilian, the fact that they have done the business early, with the world now aware of that £198m in the bank, means they may be held to ransom in the transfer market. There is a chain of transfers about to be triggered with many other elite players being touted around to other clubs – Alexis Sanchez, Ousmane Dembele and Gareth Bale to name a few. They may all now hang on Barcelona’s choice of replacement for Neymar.
My vote is with Coutinho. He offers pure talent and dynamism, but he’s also an ideal candidate to develop and grow into the Barcelona system. As Liverpool’s best player, he won’t come cheap, but they’ll get a fair deal of change from that £198m. Neymar has left behind some big turquoise boots, and Philippe’s the man to fill them.
Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here