PARIS: Neymar’s decision to post a photo of himself in thoughtful contemplation sparked a fresh wave of speculation that he is on the verge of sealing a world record 222-million-euro ($256.8 million) move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.
The Instagram picture, even accompanied by a matching emoji, shows the 25-year-old Brazilian superstar stretched out on the pitch with his chin resting on his left hand.
It garnered more than 1.5 million ‘likes’ within 12 hours of it being posted in the United States where Barcelona are on a pre-season tour.
Three of the ‘likes’ came from PSG players — winger Angel Di Maria, goalkeeper Kevin Trapp and midfielder Marco Verratti.
French newspaper Le Parisien fuelled speculation Friday with an unsourced report that Neymar had told several Barcelona teammates of his intentions to join PSG, adding that the transfer is considered a done deal by some Barcelona players.
That echoes media company Esporte Interativo’s insistence that an agreement has been reached for Neymar to move to the French capital from Barcelona, where he has played since 2013.
On Tuesday, PSG skipper — and fellow Brazilian — Thiago Silva gave a digital thumbs up to a mocked-up photo montage published by Esporte Interativo showing Neymar in a PSG shirt along with compatriots and prospective teammates in France.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde described the ongoing saga as a “time of rumours”.
“We understand it’s how it is. He is with us right now, one of us,” said Valverde in East Rutherford where his team plays Juventus in a pre-season friendly on Saturday.
That match will give Neymar a chance to display his coveted skills for the first time this summer.
“He’s a player we love and we want,” Valverde said. “Not only football wise, but also for the things he brings to the locker room.
“There’s no need to worry about something we don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. If it happens in the future, we’ll see.”
PSG skipper Thiago Silva told Le Parisien he had no idea if the Brazilian star was about to switch to the French capital.
“I don’t know. I hear a lot from journalists and a player like Neymar would be an interesting addition to the PSG project,” said Thiago, speaking in Florida — where the French club takes on Tottenham in a friendly on Saturday.
“But, for the moment, it is especially important to prepare for the new season. After and if Neymar arrives it would be a good thing for the squad.”
Is Neymar going to sign? “Not yet,” smiled the captain.
The future of the club
In Spain, it was reported by Catalan media group RAC 1 that “certain players” at Barcelona have already tried to convince Neymar not to accept the PSG offer which would dwarf the 105 million euros Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba.
Javier Mascherano said Neymar was “the future” of Barcelona as the Argentine pleaded with the striker to stay put.
“In the case of Ney, obviously he is young, and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” Mascherano told American sports network ESPN.
“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club, and we hope we can keep on counting on him.”
However, it’s believed the Brazilian is being seduced by the immense wealth on offer to him from the Qatari owners of PSG and by the opportunity to have a team built around him.
The daily Sport newspaper also claimed that Luis Suarez has also attempted to persuade Neymar not to split up the MSN frontline at Barcelona made up of Lionel Messi, Suarez and the Brazilian star.
Catalunya Radio said that the deal is “95 percent complete”.
One of the keys would be the payment to Neymar’s father and agent of a “premium exceeding the 40 million” paid when the player controversially moved to Spain from Santos.
Other reports have claimed that Neymar senior has recently met with, or is about to meet, PSG sporting director Antero Henrique.
However, Barcelona vice-president Jordi Mestre insisted Tuesday that it is “200 percent” certain that Neymar will stay at the club.
In a public game of tit-for-tat pronouncements, PSG coach Unai Emery hailed the Brazilian.
“Neymar has advanced his game massively and today he is one of the five best in the world,” said Emery.
“Our president is working hard to attract top players and our fans would be content to count on a new top player to go along with the talent we already have.”
Barca manager Valverde dismisses talk of Neymar move
Meanwhile, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde swatted down talk of star striker Neymar departing for a world-record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, dismissing “rumors” and saying the squad wants him to stay.
Amid reports Neymar’s future at the Camp Nou is in doubt, Valverde says the Brazil international is beloved and wanted at Barca for years to come.
“This is a time of rumors. We understand it’s how it is,” Valverde said. “He is with us right now. One of us. It’s a player we love and we want. Not only football-wise, but also for the things he brings to the locker room.
“It’s only rumors. There’s no need to worry about something we don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. If it happens in the future, we’ll see. But no need to worry about it now.”