LONDON • Brazilian Neymar is considering approaches from Manchester United and Chelsea, as he seeks to move ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as Europe's best-paid footballer.
According to sources close to the 25-year-old, the Barcelona star has targeted an annual after-tax salary in the region of €25 million (S$37.2 million), a sum that would exceed Ronaldo's remuneration at Real Madrid.
Equally important to the Brazil international is the opportunity to escape the situation at Barcelona, where Messi and Luis Suarez are considered more important to the club's success, and to play for a team structured around his own attacking talents.
Neymar has told friends that both United and Chelsea have asked if he will push for a move to England.
According to his account, Jose Mourinho has been particularly persistent in his courtship, with the Old Trafford club promising to meet his financial demands and - if necessary - pay the €200 million release clause in his Camp Nou contract.
Although that deal was extended as recently as October, club sources describe it as "a sticking plaster" intended to patch over a conflict between Neymar and his employers.
Annual after-tax salary which Neymar is gunning for.
However, Mourinho told ESPN Brasil last week that it would be difficult to sign the star.
"I think (trying to sign him is like) going to try to break into a safe, impossible," the United manager said.
"I always try to be objective and pragmatic with the clubs and ask the clubs for what can be given to me. Neymar is absurd.
"A club like Barcelona cannot and will not lose Neymar.
"Although Messi is still a young player with years to go, he is already 30, and Neymar will be the great player of Barcelona after Messi."
Neymar recently hinted about a move to the Premier League and possibly linking up with Mourinho could be in his plans despite the clear obstacles in place.
"The Premier League is a championship that amazes me," he said. "I like the playing style and the teams. And who knows, someday, I would like to play at it, yes.
"I admire Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool - these are the teams that are always there fighting.
"And then you have high-level coaches like Mourinho and (City's Pep) Guardiola. These are coaches with whom any player would like to work."
Mourinho would also have to ward off a challenge from Barcelona's arch-rivals Real Madrid, who are reportedly plotting summer moves for Neymar and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann.
Chelsea are also said to be interested in both forwards, with manager Antonio Conte willing to match Mourinho's offer.
But, according to Spanish outlet Diario Gol, Real are plotting a move for the La Liga duo -with president Florentino Perez determined to land a big name in the summer.
Real can afford the mammoth buyout clauses in both players contracts - and Perez reportedly has his cheque book ready.
Diario Gol adds that Griezmann is Real's preferred option.
THE TIMES, LONDON