Football transfers are pointing to future where, instead of congregating at same three clubs of Barca, Madrid and Bayern, world’s 10 best players are found in 10 different destinations.
Perhaps it was an appropriate figure to mention, considering a mooted price that would double the world transfer record. Barcelona vice-president Jordi Mestre said he was “200 per cent” certain Neymar would stay at Camp Nou.
Gerard Pique seemed similarly emphatic on Twitter. Others are less sure. Neymar could become the £196 million (nearly Dh938m) man, twice as expensive as every other footballer in history. The figures are eye-catching, but the underlying impact would be greater.
Neymar has the potential to redraw the map of European football. His could be a perception-altering move. Paris Saint-Germain are obviously hoping it will shift the balance of power their way.
At the most basic level, buying the Brazilian could seem both a revenge mission and a way of ensuring history does not repeat itself. Barcelona’s extraordinary performance to beat the French side 6-1, and overturn a 4-0 first leg deficit in the Uefa Champions League, was inspired by Neymar: he scored two of their three late goals and provided the other. To customise an old phrase, if you can’t beat them, sign them.
It illustrated his catalytic powers. Barcelona’s campaign to keep Neymar is in part about retaining the services of a man who has scored 105 goals in four seasons, but also about preserving the status quo, with its unofficial pecking order: Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top, with Bayern Munich completing a top three composed entirely of traditional powers.
And this is why it would be a transformative transfer if Neymar were to leave. Particularly for South Americans, Barcelona are a destination club. Their pulling power has been rivalled only by Madrid’s. Their experience of the transfer market is decidedly one-sided. No one quits Barcelona when at their peak and in the team. Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas only left for guaranteed first-team football. Barcelona are unaccustomed to rejection, unused to not getting their way.
Meanwhile, should Neymar go, he may join Paul Pogba in a new breed of footballers. Manchester United signed the Frenchman because they paid way over the odds to eliminate the competition, but also because they promised to make him the biggest name at Old Trafford and the face of the club. Neymar was overshadowed by Lionel Messi in Catalonia. He would top the bill in France. Perhaps it points to a future where, instead of congregating at the same three clubs, the 10 best players in the world are found in 10 different destinations, each as a figurehead. The immediate repercussions would include a trigger effect, if Barcelona find themselves with a huge budget and a need to reassert their status. A bigger bid for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho seems likely.
French football would be swiftly reshaped. Perhaps it already has been, with champions Monaco losing Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Equally, Parisian ambitions stretch beyond the Ligue 1 title. Neymar is designed to crack their glass ceiling, to take them beyond the last eight of the Champions League. Paris Saint-Germain have tried importing Galacticos before, even if Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel di Maria were arguably the second-tier superstars, the ones Barcelona and Madrid no longer wanted. They have hired a manager who won European trophies in three consecutive seasons, even if Unai Emery’s triumphs came in the Europa League. Neither brought the breakthrough into the continental elite.
Because the 2010s, so far, have been dominated by Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern. It may be premature to say an era would end if Neymar moves, but there are signs of tectonic plates shifting. It was only the International Champions Cup, but Bayern lost 4-0 to other big spenders AC Milan on Saturday.
Change could be coming. Neymar might accelerate it.