There was an odd moment in new Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde’s press conference on Monday when, sat alongside him, technical secretary Robert Fernandez was asked about Neymar.
The question went: ‘If someone meets Neymar’s buy-out clause can you envisage Barça without him?’
Fernandez’ response was: ‘I don’t think that will happen.’ Reporters waited for him to go on and wheel out a few more phrases such as: ‘He’s the future of the club,’ and ‘There’s no way we will sell him’. But there was only silence.
The surprisingly short answer almost hinted at Barcelona not necessarily being against someone coming in with €222m and taking him off the wage bill if only there was a club in the world who could.
Hours later, other members of the board delivered a more convincing: ‘He is 200 per cent staying’ message, but it was a delayed reaction.
The Neymar leaving stories follow a similar pattern. First come the reports that he is unsettled at the club, then wait a while, and Neymar comes out and says he is happy.
Diario Sport got the ball rolling on Monday with reports that the 25 year old was ‘uncomfortable’ at Barcelona. The same paper had world exclusive pictures of Neymar on a yacht in the Mediterranean 24 hours later. On Wednesday, the player is expected to declare his loyalty to Barcelona in another interview.
There are too many Neymar unhappy stories for there not to be some fire behind the smoke, even if the training ground pictures of him laughing and joking with Leo Messi and Luis Suarez seem to contradict the suggestion that he wants to be the No 1 somewhere, out of Messi’s shadow.
What’s less clear is if the constant agitation is designed to keep him in the shop window or just to keep him at the front of the queue for the next round of pay-rises.
There are at some at the club who believe it would not be the worst piece of business to lose him. The strain on the wage bill is such that the club are trying to change the ‘Barça constitution’ which dictates that only a certain percentage of income can be spent on the wage bill.
The club needs money for the New Camp Nou stadium project that will cost €600m and other parts of the team need strengthening.
The prospect of Marco Veratti arriving this summer – valued by PSG at £100m – and the French club finding the remaining €122m to meet the rest of Neymar’s buy-out clause, put a smile on some Barça faces.
Supporters don’t have the emotional link to Neymar that they have with Messi and there would not be the same outrage at his sale, especially if the money was reinvested in Kylian Mbappé.
Some dislike the playboy footballer image. He has formed a close bond with Lewis Hamilton and with the Canadian singer Justin Bieber both friendships have done wonders for his English, as have the frequent trips to London on days off.
Reports of an end-of-season training ground row with Barcelona’s then assistant coach Carles Unzue claimed that Unzue warned Neymar not to end up like another Barça Brazilian Ronaldinho whose prolific social life ultimately cut-short his great career and his time at the Camp Nou.
But others argue that none of the off-the-field exploits are diminishing what he does on the pitch. Neymar was the star of the greatest performance of Barcelona’s 2016-17 season when they beat PSG to complete the biggest comeback in the history of the Champions League.
It was his decisive impact in such a short space of time – a brilliant free-kick, a penalty and the assist for the 95th minute winning goal all in seven sensational minutes – that turned the match.
It took him just 177 games to reach 100 goals for the club meaning he had made it to the century landmark in less time than Messi who needed 186 games.
‘No-one is more abracadabra than Neymar’ as Luis Enrique once said. And every top team in Europe would love to own that magic. If he really wants to switch from being Boy Wonder to Messi’s Batman at Barça then he could easily become the main man at PSG, Bayern, United, City, Chelsea or Milan.
Sportsmail asked perhaps the greatest Brazilian attacker to grace the Premier League, Juninho, what he thought Neymar’s next move should be his response was emphatic.
‘When I went to England the Premier League was the best league in the world and it’s still seen that way,’ he said. ‘One day if Neymar goes to England I think he would love it. It would be great to see.’
For now there seems to be little chance of it happening. The seeds of doubt have been sown once more. Reminding the world, as if we had forgotten, that he is out there. But Neymar will probably stay for now.
If PSG were to take him this summer they would need to pay the VAT on the purchase increasing the price by €46m. Then they would have to pay him his €30m net a season and keep the French tax-man happy at 69 per cent.
El Mundo Deportivo did the sums on Wednesday and under the headline ‘The Impossible Operation’ calculated that he could cost them €629m over four years. PSG were busy briefing L’Equipe on Tuesday to much the same effect.
If Neymar is really unhappy he needs to stop signing new contracts so that his price starts to come down. Until such time, suggestions he wants out feel like a €222m tease.