Barcelona's Relentless Transfer Strategy
Even After Greizmann, Barca Wanting More
After penning Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, it would seem as if Barcelona has all they need to contend for a treble this coming season. So why are they going after Neymar to add to an already loaded attack? There are probably many factors that go into their pursuit of Neymar, but with current looming questions about how the lineup will work out with the current roster and the amount of talent they already possess, a potential move may seem unnecessary to some.
Where It Stands Now
It is blatantly obvious that Neymar wants to leave PSG and return to the Catalans. Despite reports of his father holding talks with Juventus and rumors that he might go to Real Madrid in a swap for Gareth Bale, Barca is most likely his first option. His absence from training, social media activity, and comments about Barcelona during interviews are all indicators of that fact. Statements from PSG's president referencing not wanting to deal with "superstar behavior" and comments from manager Thomas Tuchel admitting Neymar's desire to leave show PSG are more than willing to let him go for the right offer. Barcelona have not openly admitted to pursuing him and recently, director Eric Abidal has stated that with the signing of Griezmann, Neymar is not a necessity. However, there have been reports that Barcelona have already submitted an offer to PSG giving £90 million plus their choice of two of the following players: Ousmane Dembélé, Phillipe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, Nélson Semedo, and Malcolm. With Barcelona already spending €120 million on Antoine Griezmann coupled with their signings of Coutinho and Dembélé in the recent past, it is unclear whether or not they can pony up the amount PSG are going to search for. As of now, while intentions seem to be clear, the status of Neymar is up in the air.
Why Go After Him?
FC Barcelona, as usual, should be one of, if not the favorite, to win the title of every competition they are involved in this upcoming season. It would be hard to fathom that any other club in the world, at this point in time, would continue to look for more players if they were in Barcelona's position. Regardless, here might be some of the reasons why they're pursuing Neymar:
1. Real Madrid
Psychologically, Barcelona is consumed with trying to match Real Madrid's run of four Champions League titles in five seasons from 2014 to 2018. While Barcelona has gotten the better of them in head-to-head matchups and has won more domestic titles recently, all of those accomplishments have been overshadowed by Real Madrid's success on the European stage. When these two clubs are both consistently among the best in the world and maintain what is the most intense rivalry in all of sports, it is unavoidable that they are going to be judged comparatively. If the Barcelona board thinks bringing in Neymar will bring certain Champions League glory, they will spend the money necessary.
2. Recent Champions League Results
When Barcelona have faced tougher competition in the Champions League knockout rounds, it hasn't just been that they've lost, it's been how they've lost. Losing three goal advantages against Liverpool and AS Roma, looking completely inept and unable to score despite overwhelming possession against Juventus in 2017, and being bossed around in the midfield during the 1st leg against PSG in 2017, were catastrophic outcomes for Barcelona (the last one being overturned by the 6-1 comeback). Barcelona have definitely had the loudest and most talked about exits on the European stage in the past three seasons. Collapses like these have resonated throughout the club and have brought about questions for the team and management that still need answers. This most likely the immediate driving force as to why the club has become ultra-aggressive in the past few transfer windows.
It is no secret that Messi and Neymar are great friends and have unbelievably high chemistry on the pitch. Messi, Suarez, and Neymar made up the most potent attacking trio of all time, scoring over 100 goals in all competitions each year they were together. There are reports out there claiming that he has already advocated his interest to the Barcelona board about bringing Neymar back. The Barcelona that nurtured Messi is one that prioritizes optimal chemistry and teamwork in the traditional style of relentless possession and attacking. Their best years involved Messi playing with teammates such as Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldinho, Busquets, Puyol, Alba, Pique, Pedro, and Fabregas, all players who were or still are among the best in the world when it comes to ball control and passing in their respective positions on the pitch. This structure helped Messi elevate to the extraordinary level that he is currently at. Since Barcelona has recently signed players like Coutinho and Dembélé who have had trouble adapting to Barcelona's traditional style of play and have questionable chemistry with Messi, a Neymar return would bring Barcelona a step closer to their best years in Messi's mind. For example, in Neymar's last season with Barcelona, the team scored 116 goals in La Liga while that goal tally dropped to 90 this past season. Being the player that he is, Messi has a certain amount of influence on FC Barcelona's management and there is no doubt that they take his input into strong consideration.
4. Bringing it Full Circle
It can be argued that Neymar is the source of Barcelona's wave of ultra-aggressive transfer policy. Neymar came in before the 2013-14 season and found success rather quickly, convincing Barcelona that he should and would be there for the long haul. After the 2016-17 season, if Neymar had stayed, Barcelona would have probably just tweaked the midfield and the defense slightly to limit their exposure when they lost possession. When he signed with PSG, he left a void at the left wing position on a team that banked on their world-class attacking prowess in the forward positions. Signings such as Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé occurred as a direct result of the Neymar exit, both exceeding €100 million. It can also be assumed that the €120 million Griezmann signing this summer would not have materialized either if Neymar had stayed. It is near certain that for Coutinho and Dembélé, Barcelona's management now view them as expendable, as they can recoup the player who forced them to acquire these two in the first place. It can be speculated that the club does not or has never felt the sense of commitment to them that their price tags would usually warrant. Their rocky experiences at the club thus far would only validate this sense, and a Neymar return would provide a justified reason for their departure.
Looking Towards the Season
Even without Neymar, Ernesto Valverde has much work to do to bring together a talented squad that is coming off an end-of-season collapse. Griezmann and de Jong have to find places among the forward and midfield lines, and the chemistry has to improve if the team wants to reach its full potential. Adding Neymar would bring about more roster turnover and more questions to be answered.