Football: Neymar exit gossip rumbles on

Barcelona forward Neymar vying with Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina during their ICC friendly match. The Brazilian international has been strongly tipped for a blockbuster move to French Ligue 1 side PSG.
Barcelona forward Neymar vying with Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina during their ICC friendly match. The Brazilian international has been strongly tipped for a blockbuster move to French Ligue 1 side PSG.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Brazil's star forward subject of fevered rumours linking him to $352m move to PSG

EAST RUTHERFORD (New Jersey) • Neymar gave Barcelona fans a dazzling reminder of what they could be about to lose on Saturday, scoring twice as the Spanish giants defeated Juventus 2-1 in a pre-season International Champions Cup (ICC) match.

The 25-year-old Brazilian superstar is at the centre of frenzied speculation linking him to a world record €222 million (S$352 million) transfer to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

Neymar had kept the guessing game about his future bubbling away after posting a picture of himself looking pensive on Instagram on Friday.

But there was little to suggest that the charismatic striker is overwhelmed by the transfer saga as he produced a bewitching performance in front of a sell-out 82,104 crowd at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Italian Serie A champions Juventus had a couple of chances to score themselves, but were made to rue forward Mario Mandzukic's profligacy when Neymar fired the LaLiga giants into the lead in the 15th minute, playing a clever one-two with strike partner Paco Alcacer and drilling his finish past veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Nine minutes later and Neymar grabbed his second, picking his way through a static Juventus defence before burying a low shot beyond Buffon once more.

Juventus made a raft of half-time substitutions which led to the introduction of Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Douglas Costa among others.

  • €222m

  • Cost of the potential transfer deal between PSG and Barcelona to sign Brazil superstar Neymar

The changes immediately gave Juve a sharper attacking edge and Dybala was quick to test Barca 'keeper Adria Ortola with a rasping shot on 62 minutes that was turned around for a corner.

From the ensuing set piece, Giorgio Chiellini nodded home Dybala's cross to make it 2-1.

As well as reiterating his desire to see Neymar remain at the club, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said the match was a good indicator of his side's pre-season progress.

"There were a lot of good things in this game. Intention to dominate through the whole match, even though we had a tough opponent in front of us," he said.

Barcelona next play Manchester United on Wednesday in Landover, Maryland, the same day Juventus take on PSG in Miami.

However, all the talk is expected to surround Neymar's transfer saga in the next few days.

Sources close to Barcelona told The Guardian on Friday night that the forward wants to leave for PSG.

French newspaper Le Parisien reported on the same day that Neymar has told some of his team-mates that he was going to join compatriots Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Marquinhos and Lucas Moura at the Parc des Princes.

British tabloid The Sun has also claimed that the reason for Neymar wanting to leave was that he wants to get out of Barca talisman Lionel Messi's shadow.

And according to ESPN, a Barca source said the club are growing tired of the ongoing speculation and are no longer interested in "playing a game that they do not want to play", and will allow Neymar to decide whether he stays or goes.

"At Barcelona, those who want to play will do so. Nothing more can be done," the source added.

Barcelona are already targeting another Brazilian forward in Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho should Neymar leave.

But they were met with strong resistance when Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp specifically told last season's King's Cup winners that they are wasting their time - no matter how big the offer.

Klopp has already rejected a £72 million (S$127 million) bid from Barcelona for Coutinho, who scored a superb winner in Liverpool's 2-1 Premier League Asia Trophy victory over Leicester City in Hong Kong on Saturday.

But Barca are set to test Liverpool's resolve with an improved offer of around £80 million.

"If I say he is not for selling, he is not for selling," Klopp said.

"There is nothing else to say. It's a club decision, it's my decision. That's how it is. I can say 20 times, he is not for sale."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Neymar exit gossip rumbles on'. Print Edition | Subscribe