When Paris Saint-Germain finally announced that they had been successful in their pursuit of Neymar last summer, it was the biggest PR coup football had seen for almost a decade. Not since Real Madrid signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United had a signing felt quite so momentous, with PSG’s £198m outlay on the Brazilian forward truly announcing their arrival among the European superclubs.
Not since Ronaldo departed Old Trafford had one of Europe’s top sides, at its absolute zenith, stolen away the leading light of another club also at the height of its powers. Just as United, on the back of consecutive Champions League finals, lost their best player to the inexorable pull of Real, so too did Barcelona lose Neymar to the glamour of the PSG project despite their own immense success in the preceding years.
Despite La Liga initially refusing to accept Neymar’s release clause on the grounds of the payment failing to meet Financial Fair Play rules – a ploy which, once it failed, only made the situation seem like an even more stunning power play from PSG whatever the ethical implications – he arrived in France for his lavish unveiling in early August, the whole thing feeling completely unreal.
Not only had PSG broken the world record transfer fee, they had violently smashed it to pieces, leaving Paul Pogba’s once-monumental £89m move to United the previous summer looking like a shapeless hunk of debris in the shifting sands of world football.
Dream becomes nightmare?
If that was the PR dream for a club which so desperately wants to be seen as a legitimate force in world football – not only because it is politically expedient for its Qatari owners but also because it could be hugely lucrative in the long run – Neymar leaving after only one season would be a horrifying nightmare. While it would no doubt require Real Madrid to move heaven and earth financially, reports that Neymar would be open to moving to the Bernabeu have started to gain momentum.
Despite PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi saying that Neymar would “2000%” be at the club next season, Spanish outlet AS are reporting that things have changed since Les Parisiens were knocked out of the Champions League by Real. According to them, Real’s representatives have met with Neymar’s father and lawyers to sound them out on a potential transfer fee. Whether or not the situation is that dramatic – and indeed drastic – the sheer volume of reporting on the issue suggests at least one party is probing the possibility of a deal.
With reports in France and Spain suggesting Al-Khelaifi is set to travel to Brazil to discuss Neymar’s future – PSG’s leading goalscorer is currently recuperating in his home country after fracturing his metatarsal in February – the club hierarchy appear to have at least countenanced the possibility of their supernova signing lighting things up elsewhere. They must realise, more than anyone, that losing Neymar would be a disastrous blow to their prestige.
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Were Neymar to leave for Real after only one season with PSG, the entire project at the Parc des Princes would be thrown into turmoil. No sooner would they have attracted the sort of footballer who gives a club global appeal and international marketability than they would have lost him, marking a fleeting moment of greatness as opposed to a sustainable vision for world domination.
To lose him to Real – the original superclub, the home of the Galacticos – would be disastrous for PSG’s carefully cultivated public image. Ultimately, in sealing the ultimate PR coup, Les Parisiens may have to face the ultimate PR disaster in turn. Neymar and his representatives must know his immeasurable symbolic value to the club, which gives them enormous power as negotiators. The PSG hierarchy will be desperate to quell talk of his premature departure, lest their time at the absolute summit of the game prove to be fitful and brief.