Barça bank on Messi–Neymar pairing

Barcelona went against type by playing their trump card in the transfer market early this year and securing the services of Brazilian star Neymar for 57 million euros ($75.7 million, £49.5 million) back in May.

Barça bank on Messi–Neymar pairing
Barca also desperately needed a scoring option that isn't Messi, and Neymar may be the answer. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/Mohd Rasfan/AFP

The 21-year-old had been on the Catalans' radar for some time with Barca having even made a down payment of 10 million euros to Santos for first option on the player a year previously.

However, the confirmation of his transfer was hastened by the feeling that Barca needed to react quickly to having been thrashed 7-0 by Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League semi-finals.

Is Spain's top flight a guaranteed two-horse race? Read here to find out more.

Initial scepticism as to whether Barca really needed another forward option rather than a defender subsided after Neymar's stunning performances as Brazil won the Confederations Cup in June.

One question that remains unanswered though is how Neymar's talents will dovetail with four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi?

As much as the Argentine is often lauded for not being the stereotypical egotistical modern footballer, the success that both player and club have had in recent years has very much depended on building the side around Messi's talents.

The need for Messi to play in a deep-lying central striking role hastened the sale of Samuel Eto'o, resulted in Zlatan Ibrahimovic ending his sole season in Catalonia on the bench and has also limited Cesc Fabregas' chances to play where he has successfully combined with Xavi and Andres Iniesta with Spain.

Those sacrifices though have been worth a return of 271 goals over the past five seasons and concerns over how Messi and Neymar will co-exist appear to have been overblown for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as much as they still need defenders, Barca also desperately needed a scoring option that isn't Messi.

Over the past five seasons in which Messi has starred, Barca have won the Champions League twice and on both occasions Messi was outscored by his striking partners over the course of the season.

In 2008/09 Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry combined for 62 goals to Messi's 38 and in 2010/11 Pedro and David Villa's joint tally of 55 just edged past Messi's 53.

By contrast in the last two seasons, while Messi has rattled in more than 50 goals each time, Barca's second top scorers were Villa with 16 and Cesc Fabregas' 15 in 2011/12.

Moreover, unlike Ibrahimovic or Fabregas, Neymar is naturally much more compatible with Messi as he likes to start on the left of a front three and cut inside towards goal.

With Villa's departure to Atletico Madrid last month, that position is now vacant in the Barca side and Neymar's movement should also help drag defenders away from focusing their attention solely on Messi.

Most importantly of all though, is that Neymar seems to be accepting his rung in the Barca hierarchy.

After being hammered 4-0 by Barca in the Club World Cup final just under two years ago, Neymar admitted he and his Santos teammates "had been given a football lesson" and that he "aspired to get to Messi's level".

Fast-forward to 2013 and Neymar insisted at his official unveiling as a Barca player that he had come to Barca to "help Messi continue being the best in the world".

Asked about his first impressions of Neymar this week, Xavi told Catalan sports daily Sport that "the important thing is that he is humble, he will fit perfectly into the Barca philosophy".

Should the South American duo hit it off, that philosophy will, more than ever, be based on winning with an exciting brand of attacking football.

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‘Complete bombshell’: Messi tells Barça he wants to leave

Lionel Messi has informed Barcelona that he wants to "unilaterally" terminate his contract with the Spanish giants, a club source confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.

'Complete bombshell': Messi tells Barça he wants to leave
Photo: AFP

Lawyers for the Argentina star sent Barça a fax in which they announced Messi's desire to rescind his contract by triggering a release clause, sending shockwaves throughout the world of football.

However, the club maintains the clause expired in June and that he remains under contract until the end of the 2021 season.  

“In principal, this clause expired on June 10th, but the unusual nature of this season disrupted by the coronavirus opened the way for Messi to ask to be released from his contract now,” wrote Spanish sports daily Marca.

“It's the first step towards opening negotiations over his departure, on the basis of which his release clause amounts to 700 million euros.”    

Messi joined Barça's youth academy at the age of 13 and made his debut for Barça in 2004 as a 17-year-old.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is the club's record scorer with 634 goals and has won the Champions League four times.    

But his future at Barça was thrown into doubt following a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in Lisbon 11 days ago.

The humbling defeat sparked drastic changes within the club. Coach Quique Setien was sacked after barely six months in charge while sporting director Eric Abidal was also dismissed after Barça's first season without a trophy since 2007.   

Argentine sports daily Ole described Messi's wish to leave as a “complete bombshell”, but the Argentine has had regular disagreements with the club's board in recent times.

'More out than in'

According to Spanish media, Messi met with new Barça coach Ronald Koeman last week and told the Dutchman he saw himself “more out than in” the club.    

Since his appointment Koeman has reportedly told Luis Suarez he is no longer part of Barça's plans, delivering a similar message to Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti.

Bayern's demolition simply exposed Barça's ageing team for what Messi has been saying all along: they are simply not good enough.    

He said it in February and again in July, when a rant in the aftermath of handing Real Madrid the title turned into a brutal, but honest, assessment of their season.

As his relationship with the club hierarchy grew increasingly strained, Messi also reacted publicly when Abidal appeared to blame the players for the sacking of Ernesto Valverde in January.

He also led the fightback from the Barcelona players over a dispute with the board in March regarding pay cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.    

“Respect and admiration, Leo. All my support, friend,” tweeted Barça great Carles Puyol, a long-time former team-mate of Messi.    

“When you shut a tiger in a cage, he doesn't give in he fights back,” tweeted Vidal.

Messi's reported salary of nearly one million euros per week would limit the number of potential suitors, with Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan three clubs linked with an audacious swoop for one of football's all-time greats.