In June 2013, Barcelona secured one of the biggest deals in the modern era of South American football as they brought Brazilian starlet Neymar to Europe- with the consensus that he could be a future Ballon D’Or winner.
In the four years since, Neymar has won everything he could possibly get his hands on at club level and has looked to be exactly what Barcelona want- a long-term replacement for club legend Lionel Messi, who’s approaching the twilight years of his career.
Amidst all the success on the field though, there were plenty of problems bubbling away in Catalonia- debt issues, the decline of La Masia and, eventually, the failure to keep up with a Real Madrid side who have now won three Champions League crowns in four years.
The loss of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain would be the cataclysmic result on all of the above issues and the most significant aspect is that it seems the Brazilian superstar believes he’s achieved all he can at Barcelona- a huge difference to previous players like Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Pique and many others, all of whom continued to battle on and win further honours with the club.
Loyalty is a huge thing for Barcelona, as shown by the players mentioned above who have given decades of service to the Catalan side between them, but the club can be accused of being too loyal towards certain players, particularly Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez, and the board’s failure to build upon success.
Since 2015, Barcelona have declined massively on the global stage and the club don’t seem to be able to benefit financially from their superstars despite boasting some of the biggest names in world football. Paris Saint-Germain, meanwhile, are making themselves a global product.
If you could show the entire world all of Barça’s problems, the past week would do the trick. Humiliation to last a lifetime.
— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) July 23, 2017
Rafael Hernandez, a renowned Barcelona-loving journalist and entrepreneur, may sound like he’s exaggerating when he says the past week show all of Barcelona’s problems but he’s not wrong and he’s certainly not alone in his beliefs, with one fan describing Barca as ‘the most ridiculous club on the planet’.
Whilst the most recent developments suggest that Neymar, who scored twice in a pre-season victory over Juventus, will stay at Barcelona, the whole situation has left egg on the face of the Spanish giants and many fans will have lost their faith in Neymar- the player once tipped to fill the void left by Messi’s departure in the future.
Neymar is a very public figure and always have been and, even before he claimed the limelight on the world stage, he earned a growing reputation in South America with Santos- earning numerous sponsorship and PR deals which, in reality, make him more comparable to Cristiano Ronaldo than Lionel Messi.
That’s where there is major differences between Barcelona and Neymar. Despite the global attention the Catalan giants demand, they don’t manage their off-field image in the same way that other top sides do. After all, it was only 2013 when the club got their first real shirt sponsor, Qatar Airways, after previously displaying charities UNICEF and the Qatar foundation.
Rakuten are now the sponsors of Barcelona, paying $200m until 2020, and it stands as one of the biggest shirt sponsorship deals in the world. However, Barcelona’s late arrival to the party means they’ll probably never be able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United, financially.
Again, that causes potential issues for Neymar. Not only does he want to be the main man and focal point at the club, which he’ll never be at Barcelona until Messi retires, he also wants to play amongst the big names. At Barcelona, it’s rare they’ll make a huge move in the market for a superstar- as shown by their failure to secure Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool.
Neymar and Luis Suarez are the only two players signed by Barcelona since 2010 that have cost more than £40m, despite the club needing improvements in defence, between the sticks and in midfield in recent years. In general terms, Barcelona don’t move for ‘big’ names- whereas Paris Saint-Germain have made it clear that’s what they intend to do.
FCB hanging on to 1 thing: that despite huge wages to him+sign on fee to this dad, he listens to players who R trying to convince him 2 stay
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) July 21, 2017
Renowned Spanish journalist Guillem Balague has also discussed the transfer and the most significant aspect in Neymar staying at the club is that he listens to his team-mates, with Messi, Suarez and Gerard Pique said to be influential in the hopes of keeping Neymar at the Nou Camp.
That’s an issue in itself too, as it’s clear something is going seriously wrong if the club are relying on players to convince big names to stay put. After all, those players won’t be there forever- and they’re all now 30, meaning their years at the top are starting to disappear.
In many ways it would be better for Barcelona to sell now rather than risk losing Neymar in a few years, as that’s when playings like Suarez, Messi and Pique will all need replacing. The aforementioned decline of La Masia means Barcelona will have to venture into the market to sign these replacements and Neymar’s strop this summer shows he may not have the patience to wait around.
The bigger issue though is the Barcelona board and their ability to keep Barcelona competitive, regularly making questionable signings and electing to ignore big names. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas have been offloaded, going on to be a success elsewhere, whilst arrivals like Arda Turan, Paco Alcacer and to some extent Ivan Rakitic have not been ‘Barcelona standard’.
At the start of the decade, Barcelona were widely regarded to be the biggest club in the world and the ones to beat. However, they’re now in the midst of a huge decline and the signs coming out of the club suggest they may be unable to pick themselves out of the mud.