Rumours have been circulating that on the back of PSG’s summer clear out which has seen the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos leave the club, further outgoings are on the way.
Much of the speculation has centred around the future of Kylian Mbappé, who is currently not training with the first team due to his refusal to sign a contract extension past the end of next season, but in recent days the future of Neymar has been called into question as well.
French newspaper L’Equipe reported at the weekend that Neymar had let his representatives know that he was keen on a departure from the French capital, although his father fired back at the story, calling the newspaper ‘LE’fake’.
It’s not the first time that there’s been rumours of a departure for the Brazilian though, as when news of Ousmane Dembele’s proposed transfer to PSG broke, there were suggestions of a swap deal that would see Neymar return to the place he departed from back in 2017.
Some might scoff at the idea of a Neymar reunion in Catalonia because of the way that he left, but in many ways it makes plenty of sense this summer.
Why Barcelona should sign Neymar
Hole in creativity
If Dembele does indeed complete that transfer to PSG, a move in the other direction for Neymar offers far more than just a pleasing narrative arc.
Yes, there is a lovely cyclical flow to the idea that Neymar would return to replace the player who Barcelona attempted to replace him with, but in terms of the creativity of Xavi’s squad, he would fit nicely.
Barcelona will be left with a wing corps of Raphinha, Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati and Abde Ezzalzouli if Dembele completes his move, which looks light in terms of both magic and output.
Raphinha was more than competent in his first season in a Barcelona shirt, providing 10 goals and 12 assists across 50 games in all competitions, but many in Catalonia remain unconvinced that he is a full-time fixture in this side.
It’s a similar story with Ferran Torres, who arrived from Manchester City for £50m back in January 2022, but has flattered to deceive in terms of his production levels.
There are positive signs that Ansu Fati is returning to form after an injury-plagued season last year, but worries persist over his fitness across a full season; and Ezzalzouli remains an unknown quantity in a Barcelona shirt despite an impressive loan spell at Osasuna last time out.
There is a feeling amongst many that Barcelona lack an X-Factor player on the wing if Dembele departs, and Neymar would be a natural answer to those concerns. His production levels heavily outweigh anything that the alternate options can provide also.
In a Barcelona shirt, Neymar notched an astounding 181 goal contributions in 186 games, providing a goal or an assist every 84 minutes, and he has surpassed those numbers in Paris. He has 195 goal contributions in just 173 games at PSG, totting up at one every 74 minutes.
There can be question marks about Neymar’s injury issues and his departure, but there can be no questions over his production and goal contribution.
The Gavi factor
There will also be questions asked about Neymar’s defensive work rate, but Xavi already has a system set up to allow for a maverick to play on one of his wings without damaging the solidity of his defensive base.
Last season, we saw Xavi experiment with what some were calling a 3+1 midfield shape, which saw Barcelona line up with a central midfielder (normally Gavi or Pedri) nominally on the left wing, but actually playing with four in the middle.
It allowed Barcelona to take control of midfield battles and gave the freedom needed for the other winger and striker Robert Lewandowski to worry less about defensive duties, and focus on creating and putting away chances.
Such a system would be a perfect fit for Neymar. Whilst the system might need to be mirrored to give Neymar his preferred space cutting off the left flank, he would effectively have two central midfielders covering the space behind him in order to allow him the freedom to roam.
Gavi’s energy and workrate are crucial to this system being deployed correctly – he offers dynamism going forward, but also doesn’t leave his defenders exposed, breaking up play in the middle of the park. Comfortable operating anywhere in the midfield, his versatility might well be the key that could unlock a role for Neymar that gets the very best out of him without demanding the kind of intensity which has seen his injury history chequered.
Pairing the two together could be a match made in heaven for Barcelona fans.
The chance to rewrite the script
When Neymar left Barcelona for PSG in 2017, the general feeling was shock – that a ‘new money’ power had been able to prise one of the best players in the world away from one of the bastion clubs of world football.
In the aftermath though, it became clear that Neymar had wanted his own trajectory to greatness, to be the talisman of a club that he could lead to European glory on his own terms – away from the shadow of Messi, as former teammate Jeremy Mathieu put it.
In truth, that hasn’t really happened. Neymar has won 13 trophies in his six years at PSG, but whilst the era has been defined by domestic success, it has been marred by a failure to secure the Champions League – a trophy he did lift at the Camp Nou.
And if individual plaudits are to be considered, at PSG Neymar has failed to come close to the two third-placed finishes that he achieved off his seasons at Barcelona in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
A return to Barcelona would allow a chance to give his story a happy ending – returning to the place where he arguably hit his footballing peak, in an era where the club is looking to rebuild their status at the top of the footballing tree in Europe.
If Neymar could return to Barcelona and lead them to triumph on the European stage again, it would go down as one of the great redemption arcs in the club’s history.