You can expect things from Ashley Young. He had a fantastic season. But he is not a Neymar
It was pre-season in 2015 when Louis van Gaal accidentally insulted his own player while making a salient point about Manchester United’s lack of a creative and electric attacking superstar.
The complexion of United’s squad has been much changed in the intervening two years, though Young remains. United signed Anthony Martial later that summer; Marcus Rashford has been unearthed from the youth team; and global icons have been signed in the shape of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba.
But United’s Neymar-shaped void remains unfilled. Until, perhaps, this summer. A stunning report in Spain’s Sport newspaper on Monday morning claims United are ready to pay the Barcelona forward’s €200m (£172m) release clause. In full. According to the paper:
Jose Mourinho, the coach, is the mastermind behind the operation and has spoken directly to the Brazilian player. The calls are regular to try and convince him to leave Barcelona and join Manchester United, with the coach saying that it would be a step forward in his career because he wouldn’t be living in Messi’s shadow. To help convince him, Manchester United have promised the player that in summer they will pay the €200m release fee clause. No negotiations and no discounts. The €200m in one go. The English side, who already paid €120m for Pogba, are willing to throw the kitchen sink at the deal, smashing their own transfer record.
But how likely is it that United would pay such an astronomical figure? And would Neymar actually want to leave Barcelona?
Are the numbers realistic?
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Monday’s report is the suggestion that United are willing to write a cheque for £172m straight off the bat. That would almost double the existing transfer record, which United themselves set last summer with the £89m purchase of Pogba.
The last time the transfer record doubled was back in 1968 when Juventus paid Varese £500,00 for Pietro Anastasi, five years after Roma bought Angelo Sormani from Mantova for £250,000. Comparable leaps to the figures being talked about for Neymar would be when Barcelona paid £922,000 for Johan Cryuff in 1973, when the previous record was £500,000, and then £3m for Diego Maradona in 1982, when the previous record was £1.75m.
It would be a dramatic escalation; a paradigm shift in terms of what football clubs are prepared to pay for players. But there is a case to be made that it wouldn’t be excessive, by any means.
If you spread £172m over the course of a five-year contract it represents a commitment of £34.4m per year. Then factor in the commercial benefits having one of the most marketable players in the world would give United – the poster boy of the game in Brazil, who looks set to ascend to greatness in a post-Ronaldo/Messi landscape and already has a huge global following.
The signing of Pogba showed how unconcerned United are by the act of paying a huge transfer fee. Superstar players are not necessarily a means to an end, they are an end itself for a club which plays the commercial game like no other in world football.
As managing director Richard Arnold said in an interview last year:
Listen, you know the guys that play for us are some of the biggest names in the game, in what is the biggest TV show in the world
With this mentality, there are no better potential acquisitions than Neymar, a player who burst onto the consciousness as a YouTube sensation and has become one of the most famous faces in the sport with a game built on entertaining. He would be the biggest actor in the Premier League show and, as Messi and Ronaldo recede into old age, possibly the world too.
Would Neymar really want to join United?
The Premier League is a championship that amazes me. I like the playing style and the teams. And who knows, someday, I would like to play at it, yes. I admire Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool — these are the teams that are always there fighting. And then you have high-level coaches like Mourinho and Guardiola. These are coaches with whom any player would like to work.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: United's sensational £172m Neymar plan: Could they pull it off?