Where next for Neymar? Ranking PSG star's options as summer transfer rumours swirl
Two weeks ago, Neymar was stretchered off in PSG's Ligue 1 clash with Lille. It was his fourth ankle injury in four years. And it felt like the end of the road in a PSG shirt.
The forward is a brilliant footballer, a world-class showman, and one of the best to ever play the game. But, for PSG, he's also something of a liability.
At this point, he doesn't make his team markedly better, and his off-field antics are becoming a massive distraction for the Ligue 1 leaders.
Everything points towards a summer exit. The player needs a fresh start, and the club are perhaps better off without him.
But it's not easy to get rid of a footballer of his profile.
At 31, Neymar is coming towards the end of his prime, has two years left on his contract, and makes a whopping €1 million(£960,000/$1.1 million) per week.
He doesn't have a release clause, either, meaning PSG could effectively set their asking price. And it's unlikely that they'll let such a prized asset leave on a cut-rate deal.
Still, under the right circumstances, anything is possible. And whichever team brings him in are still getting a lot.
Neymar's talent is otherworldly, and he's also a proven winner. He would also be a big money-maker off the pitch, with shirt sales and gameday revenue sure to spike by virtue of his signing.
But there are, of course, some problems.
Another ankle injury for Neymar 😞 pic.twitter.com/w4vMJJgTc2— GOAL (@goal) February 19, 2023
Neymar is, as already mentioned, injury-prone, occasionally problematic in the changing room, and notably egotistical. Getting him to buy into any system would be immensely difficult.
That doesn't mean some major clubs won't be inclined to try, though.
So, who might bring him in, and why? GOAL ranks Neymar's potential destinations...
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#12 Real Madrid
Neymar played for Barca, pretty much a non-starter for any player who might be linked with Real Madrid.
Besides, Los Blancos have their attention on the potential signature of Jude Bellingham — and might still be in the hunt for Kylian Mbappe.
So, Neymar to Madrid, then? In a word: never.
Liverpool's summer transfer window will likely be geared towards the pursuit of Bellingham.
It is no secret that the reds are at the forefront of the hunt for the Dortmund star — and are guaranteed to have to cough up a massive sum to bring the player in. Even if their Bellingham pursuit fails, Liverpool will look elsewhere for midfielders, or even shoot for centre-back depth before even considering Neymar.
And is it possible to think of a player less suited to manager Jurgen Klopp? The Reds have certainly changed down from the counter-pressing, incessant-intensity approach of a few years ago, but the manager has built a team that requires effort and fluidity — neither of which Neymar is known for.
This is not to say Liverpool cannot be an expressive team, but they prefer to be a little more direct than the kind of side in which the Brazilian could thrive.
And as fun as it would be to see Neymar linking up with the likes of Darwin Nunez and Mo Salah, he's a poor fit at best.
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Wouldn't this be fun? Neymar, dribbling around, getting clattered, then dribbling around some more. Cynical opposition coaches like Jose Mourinho instructing their players to do everything to get the centre-forward sent off. Juventus manager Max Allegri, notoriously averse to adventurous tactics, watching as the Neymar chaos unfolds.
There is an argument that Neymar would make Juventus quite a good team. With Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot holding down the midfield (if they can hold on to the latter), Federico Chiesa and Angel Di Maria on either wing, and Dusan Vlahovic up front, Neymar would have a balanced platform in which to operate.
That Juventus attack will certainly be in the mix for a Champions League spot, with the Brazilian giving the Old Lady just enough of a boost to secure European football.
However, enticing as the prospect is, such a move is highly unlikely. Juventus, who have already been hit with a 15-point penalty this season, are under investigation for further financial violations, leaving their future uncertain. It turns out that one has to pay quite a bit of money to actually buy players at market value...
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Arsenal's reasons for not signing Neymar are largely similar to Liverpool's. Manager Mikel Arteta demands total obedience, a strict adherence to his system, and a certain kind of no-nonsense mentality. It's why Arsenal are on track to win their first league title since 2004.
Besides, Arteta is content with his current left wing option in Gabriel Martinelli. The 21-year-old has been fantastic this season, and his blend of pace and trickery is ideal for an Arsenal side that thrives on the break. Furthermore, Martinelli recently penned a long-term deal that will keep him at the Emirates until 2027.
Arsenal have also shown a preference for signing players 25 and under, only breaking their policy for Leandro Trossard and midfield backup Jorginho. They will not, in all likelihood, splash £100m on a 31-year-old to play in a position in which they are already well-stocked.
The only reason Arsenal are more likely to buy Neymar is they don't have an obvious summer target that will exhaust their transfer budget.
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#8 Bayern Munich
There might just be a Bundesliga title race this year. And that's a problem for a Bayern side that have become accustomed to running away with the league.
Other teams around them have certainly improved, but the Bavarians are also arguably worse than they were last year.
Their front line is ageing and increasingly injury-prone, and with Robert Lewandowski gone and Sadio Mane struggling to stay fit, there isn't a proven goalscorer in the side.
The Brazilian would certainly add an injection of quality that the Bavarians need, and would enjoy linking up with a creative force as expressive as Jamal Musiala. There's also enough legs around Neymar to account for his occasional lackadaisical approach to defending.
Bayern, then, have the need, the fit and, most importantly, the money to make this work. It would certainly be a short-term proposition, but they no longer look like the same force in the Bundesliga and aren't as threatening in Europe as they used to be. Neymar would bridge that gap.
There's one rather large obstacle, though. Bayern, as they've stated several times, are not in the habit of paying massive money for thirty-something superstars...
#7 Manchester United
This signing would have been very likely before new manager Erik Ten Hag took over.
For nearly 10 years, Man Utd lacked a recognizable transfer policy. Players were signed with little thought and deployed with limited tactical nous. The Red Devils of 18 months ago would have snapped up Neymar in a heartbeat.
And everything about Neymar screams Manchester United. He's a star, a big ego, a player capable of lighting up Old Trafford. The Brazilian sells kits in bunches, scores goals for fun, and can change any game.
Neymar would also likely enjoy playing for United. It's a massive market, with a fanbase that adulates its big signings. The club pedigree also doesn't hurt.
But United have already experimented with the big signing in Cristiano Ronaldo, and it didn't end well.
And under Ten Hag, United appear to have become more level-headed in the market, addressing key areas with players of the right profile and age to make an impact for years into the future.
Besides, the Red Devils are supposedly on the hunt for a proper No. 9. Neymar doesn't fit the bill.
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One thing is for sure: Neymar certainly won't be playing in Kansas City.
But he might be tempted by a massive media market. LA Galaxy have recently opened up a spot for a marquee signing, and it's no secret that Inter Miami are trawling for a major European talent. New York Red Bulls and NYCFC could also potentially make this signing happen, too.
Neymar, then, could certainly end up in a city to match his exorbitant lifestyle.
The slow pace of MLS would also certainly suit Neymar. Although the league relies heavily on physicality and work-rate, its teams tend to be far more methodical on the ball. Give Neymar an opportunity to play in an MLS team, and he will thrive.
There are a few issues, though. For one, no MLS team could afford to buy the star outright. PSG would have to agree to let the player go. And playing in a lower-calibre league would certainly hurt his national team prospects. Still, it's a country and league made for late-career Neymar vibes.
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*if they can afford him.
A Barca reunion makes so much sense, especially if the Blaugrana somehow manage to wiggle their way out of La Liga financial restrictions. They are thin at left wing, lack a creative presence in the final third, and their recent flirtations with Lionel Messi suggest they are open to a good reunion.
Barca will likely go after Messi before they consider Neymar, but if a move for the Argentine doesn't work out, the Brazilian might fancy a return to Camp Nou.
The 31-year-old had an awkward exit from Barca, entering a legal dispute with the club. Although the supporters weren't happy that the player decided to leave for PSG in 2016, they could at least partially understand why Neymar wanted to step out of Messi's shadow.
The Blaugrana do have a couple of obvious positions of need, namely centre-midfield and right-back. But they are also crying out for a creative difference-maker who can link up with Robert Lewandowski.
So, if Messi signs, then this one is probably impossible. If not, though, Barca might be tempted.
Neymar, in Newcastle?!
The magpies are only in the mix because they can afford the PSG man. Backed by a Saudi Arabian consortium, they certainly have the cash to bring Neymar in. Furthermore, they're a club crying out for a marquee signing to make a proper push for Champions League football.
And Neymar could be the one to lead the way. Although Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin are both fine footballers, they're not necessarily Champions League quality — especially with Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all likely to improve this summer.
Newcastle need an impact signing. Neymar could be that guy. The Magpies already have a Brazilian contingent, too, which could help.
And unlike most other teams on this list, they would have no problem affording him.
#3 Manchester City
The Man City manager has almost tried to challenge himself in the last year. Jack Grealish was an imperfect signing, but Guardiola bought him anyway. Erling Haaland, though one of the world's best, was always going to be an awkward fit. And now, the manager has elected to play the rest of the season without a recognisable left-back.
Is Neymar the next big challenge, the next slightly odd insertion into the City XI? He certainly could be.
Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan both seem likely to leave this summer, and Riyad Mahrez isn't getting any younger. City, then, need a player in Neymar's position.
There are, admittedly, more prudent signings out there. Bellingham, for example, is a far more sensible £100m investment. And Neymar will simply not agree to be a left wing-back.
But deployed at the right position, he has the wow factor, the spark that City have often lacked this year. Guardiola has never had a problem piecing together unusual systems to ensure his players all get on the pitch. There could be a universe in which Neymar, Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne all share a pitch. And it would be so much fun!
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#2 The Saudi Pro League
No European club will ever match the cash that PSG paid for Neymar. A middle eastern side could come very close, though.
It all depends on how Neymar views his next move. Does he want competition? European football? A glamorous location?
Or, does he just want a lot of money?
Well, a Saudi club could certainly offer the latter.
Al-Nassr of the Saudi Pro League already splashed millions to keep Cristiano Ronaldo happy. And another club, one equally flush with cash, could make a similar deal. Ronaldo is scoring for fun out in the Middle East, and it's likely that Neymar would, too.
Furthermore, the league is clearly trying to raise its profile, and become more relevant on the global stage. What better way to do so than adding one of the biggest stars in world football?
Are Chelsea likely to sign another false 9? Probably.
Are Chelsea one of three clubs that can realistically afford him? Yes.
Are Chelsea likely to be tempted by a player's marketability? Quite possibly.
The London club have, rather prudently, brought in a new recruitment team after a series of moves. However, Neymar is the kind of big signing that Chelsea – and chairman Todd Boehly – would want.
This would all be a bit unfair for Graham Potter – if he's still in a job by next summer. The former Brighton boss thrived overseeing a team that he could mould to his will, with the exact players he wants. Neymar is the very antithesis of a Potter signing. But that doesn't mean it won't happen.
He's an interesting tactical fit, too. Neymar, unlike the litany of false nines and wingers that Chelsea have signed over the past six months, is a proper goalscorer.
With Enzo Fernandez and Mateo Kovacic adding defensive cover, and a wealth of creative players around him, this could be great to watch. Add to that the fact Chelsea badly need a game-changer in attack, and this all starts to make sense.
The current most ostentatious owner in world football buys the most ostentatious personality. Seems like a perfect match.