- Real Madrid may well be months away from signing Neymar, the Paris Saint-Germain forward who holds the transfer-fee world record.
- Several factors at play suggest a transfer may be coming, including reports that PSG is under pressure to comply with financial-fair-play regulations, the player’s apparent unhappiness in Paris, and Real’s known love for the Brazilian.
- Should Real and PSG agree to a transfer, it could mean Neymar becomes the sport’s first half-a-billion-dollar player.
- Read all of Business Insider’s coverage for the 2018-19 soccer season here.
Neymar, one of the most divisive athletes in soccer, looks set to stun the industry for the second time in his career in the coming months.
He has his detractors, it’s true. But boy can he play.
You see, Neymar has a penchant for dribbling, possesses the ball skills and playmaking ability of his Barça predecessor Ronaldinho, and is a forward who, put quite simply, scores great goals for fun. He’s considered the third-most-valuable athlete in soccer, above Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
That’s Neymar. Surely you’ve heard of him. He gained international pedigree when in 2013 he joined FC Barcelona for four seasons, quickly becoming a part of the famed three-man “MSN” attack that featured Messi and Luis Suarez.
He won two La Liga titles, three Copa del Rey trophies, and the 2015 UEFA Champions League during his time at Camp Nou. He was regularly seen as one of the top five players on the planet, banged in 105 goals from 186 games in all competitions, and completed highlight-reel plays that delighted fans and the media alike, like this:
He seemingly had it all. But in 2017, at 25 – four years younger than Messi, a player he could have gone on to replace, perhaps even emulate – he gave that up to smash the transfer-fee world record and move to Paris Saint-Germain.
For a $261 million fee, Neymar moved clubs, leagues, and countries in a deal that sent shockwaves through the globe.
But less than two years into his Ligue 1 career in France, the forward apparently wants out once again – and he could become soccer’s first half-a-billion-dollar player in the process.
He has already generated a total of $350 million in transfer fees from his 2013 move from Santos to Barcelona and his 2017 transfer from Barça to Paris. A summer transfer back to Spain – this time to Madrid – could add $250 million to his career transfer fees, making his combined lifetime transfer fees about $600 million.
How do we know he might be on the move? Five factors suggest another transfer is coming, perhaps in a matter of months:
- There have been reports of growing pressure for PSG to comply with financial-fair-play regulations.
- The rapid emergence of Kylian Mbappé means the club is less reliant on Neymar.
- Neymar is apparently unhappy in Paris and dreamed of playing for Real Madrid as a kid.
- Neither Neymar nor his father (and agent) has ruled out a summer switch.
- Real wants and needs a Galactico-style signing to replace Ronaldo and elevate a failing team – and Neymar fits the bill perfectly.
1. There’s pressure to comply with financial-fair-play regulations.
The Times reported that PSG was “under pressure” to “adhere to UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations.”
The regulations are designed to prevent what has become known as “financial doping,” which PSG has been accused of by the La Liga president, Javier Tebas, who cited its recent mega-signings.
Financial doping occurs when a soccer club injects massive amounts of cash that it did not raise itself through commercial deals, gate receipts, or player sales. This money, potentially given or lent by a wealthy owner, is said to be used in player recruitment to make teams competitive at the highest echelons of world soccer.
PSG’s signings of Neymar and Mbappé for about $500 million led UEFA to open an investigation into the club’s dealings and whether it was compliant with the regulations.
Transferring Neymar could raise $261 million in a transfer fee and save PSG about $41 million a year in wages. Facilitating that could mean PSG wouldn’t have to concern itself with the regulations.
Paris Saint-Germain did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s query about whether it needed to transfer a player to comply with the regulations and whether it would consider transferring Neymar.
2. The rise of Mbappé means Neymar may not be missed.
Mbappé is a versatile player who excels as a center forward, a winger, or even an attacker in a more withdrawn role.
But the reason he excites is not where he plays, but how he plays. Mbappé channels the greats of soccer because he has the pace and wing-forward instincts of an in-form Thierry Henry, the dribbling finesse and ability to manipulate space of Brian Laudrup, and the scoring instincts and prolificacy of the former Brazil striker Ronaldo.
Mbappé burst onto the soccer scene with AS Monaco in 2016, made a mega-money move to PSG within a year, and won the FIFA World Cup with France in 2018 as a teenager.
Now 20, Mbappé is the second-best performer in Ligue 1 this season, according to data from WhoScored.com. Though he’s second to Neymar, Mbappé has a superior striking efficiency, with one goal scored or created for every 56 minutes he’s on the pitch, compared with Neymar’s average of one goal every 59 minutes.
As Mbappé is still young, he’s likely to improve every season and grow as a professional soccer player. He is, after all, most likely six or seven years away from his athletic prime, according to the BBC.
And even with Neymar out of the PSG lineup since mid-January with a recurring foot injury, Mbappé has shouldered the goal-scoring burden with aplomb. In the seven games Mbappé has played while Neymar’s been in rehab for his foot, the Frenchman scored seven times and provided one assist. He has helped the team beat Manchester United, scored jaw-dropping goals, and ensured that PSG remains dominant in Ligue 1.
No Neymar? No problem! ????
Kylian Mbappe, take a bow… ???? pic.twitter.com/aWEqHlC3c9
— Goal (@goal) February 18, 2019
Mbappé has shown PSG that it doesn’t need Neymar, especially if Neymar is unhappy.
3. Neymar is reportedly unhappy in Paris.
The journalist Diego Torres, writing in the daily Spanish newspaper El País last year, said Neymar didn’t enjoy the Parisian weather, felt isolated from his teammates, and chose to spend time with his entourage rather than the team.
And Italy’s soccer website CalcioMercato said that he “seems to be regretting his world-record switch,” that “the environment and the defensive approach to the game” in Ligue 1 were disappointing to him, and that he was enraged when PSG fans booed him in January.
One thing that could solve that unhappiness is the realization of his childhood dream to play for Real Madrid.
He was even trialed at Real when he was a teen, according to Goal.com: In 2005, at age 13, Neymar spent 19 days at Madrid, watched games at the club’s impressive Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, and took photos with the team’s top players like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, and Roberto Carlos.
“The Real Madrid dream is a reality,” Neymar told ESPN Brazil at the time, according to Goal.com. Ultimately Neymar returned to Brazil, blossomed with Santos, and did not go back to Spain until he joined Barcelona nine years later.
4. He has refused to rule out a summer switch to Real.
Both Neymar and his father and agent, Neymar Sr., have refused to rule out a blockbuster move.
The player told the Brazilian news network Globo TV earlier this week that “Real is one of the biggest clubs in the world,” according to Goal.com. He said that “everyone that is followed by Real Madrid would feel attracted to play there” and that he was “happy in Paris,” but added that “no one knows the future.”
Neymar’s father was just as ambiguous during a recent interview with the French program “Téléfoot,” saying his son “feels very happy in Paris,” that his “present is in Paris,” but that “it’s hard to talk about the future because in football it can change at any time.”
And change may be coming for Neymar.
“Madrid is a very big club. Any player with quality would like to wear their shirt,” he told Globo TV, according to CBS Sports.
Perhaps anticipating the reaction to that comment, he added: “For God’s sake, I’m not saying I’m going to play for Real Madrid. Calm down. I’m not saying that.”
But Neymar is certainly one of the players with quality he mentioned.
5. Real wants – and needs – a ‘player with quality.’
Real Madrid’s players are used to being the kings of Europe. For the past three seasons, with Zidane on the touchline and Ronaldo on the pitch, the team kept winning the UEFA Champions League.
But with Zidane gone and Ronaldo transferred, the team appears to be in disarray. On Tuesday, it was humiliated in the Round of 16, as Ajax stunned Real 4-1 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate – Real’s worst European run in a decade. It’s also third in La Liga, 5 points behind Atlético Madrid, its local rival, and a dozen adrift of Barcelona, its bitter enemy.
Something has to change. The two-time Champions League-winning coach Jose Mourinho has been linked with a return to Bernabéu, while The Independent, Sky Sports, and Goal.com have reported on Neymar transfer rumors over the past nine months.
Those close to Real have made it no secret that the club desires Neymar, even making public pitches to the player. Real’s president, Florentino Pérez, used a player-of-the-year ceremony to woo Neymar, saying in 2017 that it would be easier for Neymar to achieve No. 1 status if he were in Madrid.
“Madrid is a club that gives a big player everything they need to do so,” Pérez told a Spanish radio station, according to Reuters. “Everyone knows I wanted to sign him.”
Guillem Balague, a Spanish soccer expert who presents for Sky Sports and has written books about Pep Guardiola, Messi, and Ronaldo, said last year that Neymar could “fill the void” left by Ronaldo.
Balague said there was nobody Pérez saw who “can have the commercial impact of him, but also on the pitch as well,” adding that Neymar “definitely wants to leave” PSG.
So what does all of this mean?
There are enough factors at play to reasonably conclude that there is credibility in the transfer rumors linking Neymar with a headline-grabbing summer move from PSG to Real.
Real has courted Neymar in the past, Neymar has spoken glowingly of the Madrid club, and the transfer would benefit PSG because it helps ensure it complies with financial-fair-play regulations while not weakening the team (thanks to Mbappé’s incredible form).
There may even be a transfer fee ready. Marca, a national Spanish daily newspaper, reported last year that a release clause in Neymar’s PSG contract would soon become active that meant he could be bought out of the deal should PSG be reimbursed for what it paid Barcelona in 2017.
That’s $261 million.
It could mean Real is a matter of months away from unveiling the sport’s first player worth half a billion dollars in transfer fees alone. But only time will tell whether he’ll have the impact expected of a signing that big.