Neymar kicked off what could be the transfer saga of 2021 when he said with a smile this week that he wants to start playing with Lionel Messi again.
But rather than Neymar leave Paris Saint-Germain and return to Barcelona, as both he and the Catalan club had hoped for in the summer of 2019 until poor finances laid such plans to ruin, it would be Messi who is jumping ship from Camp Nou to France.
The issue of Messi’s future remains unresolved following his attempt to leave ahead of this season. Barça successfully blocked his exit then because the player refused to open a messy legal battle against the club that had the faith to gamble on him at the age of 13.
But Barça may soon have no choice if Messi decides he still wants to go next year. His contract is up in the summer and he is currently on course to become a free agent. It means that any club can open formal negotiations and secure a pre-contract agreement from 1 January.
PSG Exploring a Deal
RMC claims that Neymar has already been pushing for PSG to sign Messi since the summer. It is said that the Champions League finalists explored the possibility, but time was against them in a shortened off-season and it would have been a complicated transfer even in normal circumstances.
Neymar is believed to have spoken to Messi about it, trying to sell PSG to his former colleague and dangling the prospect of elusive Champions League glory with him on board.
RMC quotes a source close to PSG: “You never know. The club has already proven it is capable of things we thought impossible to achieve by signing Ney and Kylian [Mbappe] in the same summer.
“It would be foolish and above all unprofessional not to not think or work on a deal for a player who is free and has one of his best friends at the club. To line up Neymar and Messi, even for [just] two seasons, that would be incredible.”
Where Does Mbappe Fit?
RMC notes that Mbappe is out of contract in 2022 and it has been suggested that selling him for €200m could effectively grease the wheels – perhaps by creating the budget – for Messi to arrive.
AS picks up on the aspect that Mbappe could be the fall guy that has to make way.
PSG may only have the finances available to afford Messi if they cash in on Mbappe, who remains heavily linked with Real Madrid – although whether Los Blancos or other could actually afford him in the current climate is a potentially impassable hurdle.
French journalist Julien Laurens has also mentioned Mbappe, adding that an ageing Angel Di Maria, who will turn 33 in February, may also have to be sacrificed to make it financially viable.
“Financially you can't have Messi, Neymar, Mbappe," Laurens told BBC Sport.
“It's impossible. I'm not sure you can have Messi, Neymar and Di Maria, who is out of contract at the end of season. So maybe let Di Maria go, sell Mbappe to Real Madrid and then bring Messi in.”
Neymar’s PSG Contract
RMC claims contract talks between Neymar and PSG are going well, but Mundo Deportivo (MD) slightly differs, alleging that those ongoing talks with Neymar - whose deal expires in 2022 - could end up hinging on whether Messi joins him at Parc des Princes.
In short, the claim is that if Messi joins PSG, then Neymar will pledge his future to the club. If not, he could waver. MD says Neymar and Messi are in touch on a daily basis and that the Brazilian, known for his impatience, is confident they will be back together on the pitch.
The View From the Top at PSG
So far, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has refused to be drawn on the issue in public, diplomatically answering that ‘Messi is a Barcelona player’ when directly quizzed on the possibility of a deal by French broadcaster Cyril Hanouna.
Could Messi Stay at Barcelona?
On the potential for Messi to stay at Barcelona and sign a new contract, presidential hopeful Joan Laporta has explained that the club has to prove to the player they can be competitive at the highest level. That wasn’t the case in Europe last season and isn’t so far in La Liga this season.
Money, Laporta says, isn’t the issue.
“Leo wants Barcelona," he told Radio MARCA. "What I want is to give him back his happiness. It's not just a question of money, you have to create a competitive team. Leo has been cheated and that is a big loss. He's a winner and can't stand to see other teams lift the Champions League.
"The last time I spoke to him was in October. I am very grateful to him for all he has done for Barcelona. I have known him since he was 16 years old and he is an extraordinary person.
“There is mutual appreciation and respect. We must be inside [the club] to make an imaginative and credible proposal to him."