De Futebol

It looks like Neymar is gone at Barcelona. This is according to the Daily Mail. “It will be the most stunning European football transfer since Real Madrid snatched Luis Figo back in 2000, and once again Barcelona will be the victims.

Neymar, poised to step out of the shadow of Lionel Messi and into the spotlight at the Parc des Princes, was the player the Catalans boasted about beating the rest of Europe to in 2013.

But they are on the brink of losing him after only four years, for a fee that will smash the existing transfer record.

‘I don’t think that will happen,’ said Barcelona’s technical secretary Robert Fernandez on Monday when asked if a club would meet Neymar’s €222million (£196m) buy-out clause.

If that was throwing down the gauntlet to PSG chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi he seems increasingly convinced that accepting the challenge is what it will take to make the French side Champions League winners.

It was Neymar who stopped PSG progressing in last season’s Champions League. He starred in that extraordinary 6-5 aggregate win with a brilliant free-kick, a penalty and the assist for the 95th-minute winning goal all in seven sensational minutes.

It seemed to be the night he moved ahead of Messi as Barcelona’s most important player. But the crown was not passed down the line.

Neymar was sent off for a daft double caution in a 2-0 defeat to Malaga a few weeks later and when he sarcastically clapped the fourth official as he walked off the pitch he incurred a further game’s suspension and missed the Clasico two weeks later.

Barcelona beat Real Madrid without him thanks to a 92nd-minute winner from Messi — yet another reminder of just who was No 1 at the Nou Camp and how difficult it would be for Neymar to overtake him.

As Barcelona’s season faded Neymar also began to feel that the finger of blame was being pointed his way.

He went partying with Lewis Hamilton the night of the 6-1 win over PSG. He had permission but four days after the celebration with the British Formula 1 driver, who he made friends with last summer on holiday in the US, he missed Barcelona’s defeat to Deportivo through injury.

That game also coincided with Neymar’s sister Rafaella’s birthday and it was pointed out that this was the third year running that he had missed the game being played closest to that particular date in his calendar.

As well as the bond with Hamilton he also became friends with the Canadian singer Justin Bieber. There were frequent trips to London on days off.

And at the end of the season during a training-ground row with Barcelona’s then-assistant coach Carles Unzue it was claimed that Unzue warned Neymar not to end up like another Barca Brazilian, Ronaldinho, whose prolific social life ultimately cut short his career.

Unzue is gone but the feeling remains that Neymar is looked upon as the playboy footballer and not the leader of the team. He looks more than happy in the company of Messi and Luis Suarez on the training pitch – the three are as inseparable in training as they are effective during games but there will be no shortage of Brazilian friends waiting for him in Paris.

PSG threw themselves wholeheartedly into a late bid to prise Dani Alves away from Pep Guardiola and Manchester City precisely because they knew it would be something else in their favour as they attempted to lure Neymar.

Cynics in Barcelona will dismiss the talk of Neymar moving for only football reasons. How can playing every week in the French League in front of 48,000 top playing the Clasico in front of 99,000? Will leaving Messi and Suarez’s side really improve his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or? What if PSG’s woes under Unai Emery are repeated this season and the French Cup is all they win again?

Others will not believe his departure until they see him deposit the €222m buy-out clause with the Spanish league to free him from his contract – even if Barca want Marco Veratti they will demand PSG pay in full and then discuss other business afterwards.

Neymar has cried wolf before with last year’s rumblings ending with him signing with the club until 2021.

This week’s stories seemed to be following a similar pattern. Spanish papers got the ball rolling on Monday with reports that the 25-year-old was ‘uncomfortable’ and the same paper had world exclusive pictures of Neymar on a yacht in the Mediterranean 24 hours later.

It suggested more choreographed ‘noise’ and the sports website promised an interview with the player declaring his commitment to the club on Wednesday but news that Neymar’s father was on his way to Paris for talks this morning seemed to carry far more weight.

Voices from other Premier League clubs who have kept a careful eye on the situation over the last 12 months also suggest this time the player really is about to leave.

When Barcelona lost Figo in 2000 they wasted the money on the disastrous signings of Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit among others. They will have to get their rebuilding right this time.

Veratti will remain an option and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele or Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe will head up the targets as the Brazilian’s direct replacement.

‘No one is more abracadabra than Neymar,’ former Barca coach Luis Enrique once said. Barcelona will argue that Messi still has more magic in his 30-year-old legs than the younger pretender.

Which is precisely why Neymar is now on the verge of leaving for the City of Light.