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RIK SHARMA: PSG’s Neymar move has rocked Barca to the core – but isn’t the club’s only problem

Date Posted,August 3, 2017

Even beyond the astronomical costs of the deal, which stretch to half-a-billion euros all included, Paris Saint-Germain’s strike for Neymar is chilling.

Chilling from a Barcelona perspective. A deal that rocks the club to its core. Europe’s giants are not accustomed to losing players they don’t want to see the back of. Much less a player integral to the team, in his prime at 25.

Neymar will be the best player in the world one day, of that there is little doubt. When Lionel Messi abdicates the throne, the Brazilian winger is well placed to succeed him. A brilliant dribbler and box of tricks with end product in spades, Neymar recorded 185 goals and assists in his 186 Barcelona games.

These are numbers that keep him alongside Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at football’s peak. The last time Barcelona lost a player like this was Luis Figo’s shocking move to Real Madrid in 2000, which shook the football world.

PSG’s Neymar move has rocked Barcelona (Image: Getty Images North America)
Lionel Messi and Neymar during pre-season (Image: Mike Ehrmann)
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An angry poster appeared outside Camp Nou in the week, plastered on a telegraph pole, labelling Neymar a mercenary. That label may have some truth to it—and certainly PSG’s millions are strong incentive—but he also likes the French club’s project and relishes the chance to be the main man.

PSG resisted Barcelona’s overtures for Marco Verratti, a power play, standing their ground and showing world football they are determined to become one of the elite.

Barcelona have suffered in the transfer market this summer, with attempts to sign the Italian hitting an iceberg, while even their bid to bring Paulinho back to Europe from China was rebuffed by Guangzhou Evergrande.

Barcelona failed in their bid to sign Marco Verratti (Image: Icon Sport)

They signed Benfica’s Nelson Semedo but even he wasn’t first choice for the right-back position, with Arsenal digging their heels in over Hector Bellerin.

Barcelona don’t have a young team either. Their key men have been hitting the big three O. Messi, 30. Captain Andres Iniesta, 33. Luis Suarez 30. Gerard Pique 30. Ivan Rakitic 29. Javier Mascherano 33. Sergio Busquets 29.

Beside Neymar, the only younger players showing the potential to be crucial first-team stars for years to come are goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen (25), defender Samuel Umtiti (23) and midfielder Sergi Roberto (25).

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Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are both over 30, as are quite a few of Barcelona’s stars (Image: REUTERS)

An even bigger problem is how arch-rivals Real Madrid not only lifted the Champions League and La Liga double last season, flexing their muscles, but have also been hoovering up young talent to secure the future of their side.

As well as signing Spain’s outstanding young midfielder Dani Ceballos and the superb Theo Hernandez, they already boast Marco Asensio, Mateo Kovacic and Jesus Vallejo, all of whom are destined to become stars.

Madrid have been improving steadily under Zinedine Zidane, who has gone from a rookie gamble to a double-Champions League winning manager. He has always been sure of himself, calm and unperturbed, but now he has the results to back up his demeanour.

Zinedine Zidane has won two Champions League medals during his time as manager of Real Madrid (Image: David Ramos)

It’s never this simple, but on paper Madrid have the squad and coach to dominate Europe for years to come.

With Neymar leaving, the only thing left for the Catalans to do is hunt for the sliver of silver lining.

And it exists in possibility rather than certainty. The possibility that they can use the end of the MSN trident as a pivot to spin on, to head back down the path they strayed on to.

A path lined with gold but one which, in the long-term, might limit their success, like a weary traveller who stops for a night in an inviting, comfortable town and never rouses himself to leave.

The Luis Enrique years were a hugely successful diversion, with football based on dazzling, irrepressible attacking talent rather than the passing, midfield-based football of recent years.

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With Neymar’s departure they can head back to the trail mapped out by Johan Cruyff and traversed by Pep Guardiola, recalibrating their compass and focusing on restoring weight to the midfield, rather than the attack.

However whether the board will follow this path is unknown—they may choose to replace Neymar with like for like, hoping Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele can fill the gap, or even Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann.

But whatever happens, at least there’s still Messi. The Argentine penned a new contract this summer and looked supercharged during their pre-season victories during Barcelona’s tour of the United States.

With Messi among their number, Barcelona will never be down and out for the count.

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