Neymar return to Barcelona being driven by Lionel Messi, Graham Hunter tells Transfer Talk podcast

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Lionel Messi is behind Barcelona's attempts to bring Neymar back to the Nou Camp, says Spanish football expert Graham Hunter

With Neymar telling PSG he wants to leave the club, and Barcelona making a bid to bring him back to the Nou Camp, Sky Sports News spoke to Spanish football expert Graham Hunter.

He explained to the Transfer Talk podcast how Lionel Messi is driving Barca’s pursuit of Neymar and what he will give the club if they agree to his demand.

Hunter also looks at which players the La Liga side may offer PSG in return for their star player, and how Barca may line up next season if Neymar does make a sensational return.

Messi central to Neymar move

“Messi is a central player in all of this, Messi is not a stroppy player – people have portrayed him as such falsely. But when he sneezes, Barcelona catches a cold.

“[Josep Maria] Bartomeu, the president, has said before he leaves – and he must quit the club in 2021 at the latest – he wants to leave Messi renewed once more.

Neymar told PSG manager Thomas Tuchel he wanted to leave the club at the end of last season
Neymar told PSG manager Thomas Tuchel he wanted to leave the club at the end of last season

“Whether Messi is saying ‘get me Neymar’ or whether he’s whispering ‘before we sit down to negotiate, I want the front line reinforced with Neymar’, the fact is: Messi wants Neymar back.

“He, [Luis] Suarez and Neymar – even though they’re different characters – are very friendly. Messi found a partner that understood him technically, who served him and who created masses of space. The last time Barcelona won the treble, they had that ‘MSN’ up front.

“It’s clear Messi believes his route back to the Champions League isn’t just Neymar specifically, but more people supplying goals around him. Messi is saying ‘if you want me to sign a new contract, first renew Neymar’.”

PSG embarrassed Barca board

“These are two clubs that have got a degree of bad feeling between them. The boards don’t get on particularly well, which stems from the fact a couple of seasons ago, this current board at the Camp Nou were embarrassed hugely by saying ‘no way is Neymar leaving’. Embarrassment like that isn’t easily forgotten.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not have a good relationship with his PSG counterparts, says Hunter
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu does not have a good relationship with his PSG counterparts, says Hunter

“Saying ‘do Barcelona have the money?’ doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Barcelona have spent with such frenzy – particularly in the amount paid for Coutinho – they needed to take a £50m loan to complete the buyout of Antoine Griezmann.

“Can they go and buy Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain? No. Paris Saint-Germain have said ‘this is a €300m player’ – well, no he’s not, and Barcelona don’t think that either. It’s a stare down between the two clubs right now.”

Which Barca players could be included in the deal?

“[Philippe] Coutinho is somebody I’m informed PSG do want. They are playing hard to get, but they do want Coutinho.

“PSG would like Ivan Rakitic, but he has made it clear to Barcelona ‘I’ve got a big contract, I feel valued here, my family is happy – I’m staying’.

“[Ousmane] Dembele is somebody that Barcelona would trade because there’s no starting place. But Dembele’s saying ‘I’ve got a long contract, I don’t want to go’. So the list of players Barcelona are able to push on Paris Saint-Germain is shorter than they want.

Philippe Coutinho is likely to be part of any deal that sees Neymar go to Barcelona, according to Hunter
Philippe Coutinho is likely to be part of any deal that sees Neymar go to Barcelona, according to Hunter

“Another who would be on offer is Malcom, who made a big name for himself in Ligue 1 with Bordeaux. Maybe he ends up at Paris Saint-Germain. But the French champions are turning their noses up at him because they are bargaining hard. They don’t want to feel they are being taken for a ride by Barcelona.

“It’s somewhere between [Nelson] Semedo, Malcom, Dembele – who doesn’t want to go – and Coutinho, who should be part of this deal if it takes place.”

How will Barca line up?

“Marc-Andre ter Stegen had the best season of his life last season; he will stay. The first-choice centre backs will be [Gerard] Pique and [Samuel] Umtiti. They will definitely reinforce at left and right back.

“The formation to give balance is 4-2-3-1. The two in the middle come from [Frenkie] de Jong, Arthur, Rakitic and [Sergio] Busquets.

Sergio Busquets' place in the Barcelona midfield could be under threat, believes Hunter
Sergio Busquets’ place in the Barcelona midfield could be under threat, believes Hunter

“Messi will play at ten, Neymar left, Griezmann right and Suarez at nine. When you’ve got all four of them in the team, that will undoubtedly be the formation.

“But Suarez, at his age, won’t play every match, Messi is measuring out his matches a little bit more and look at the amount of time Neymar spent injured at Paris Saint-Germain. It’s not the case that you’re going to see these four – if Barcelona do get Neymar back – every single week.

“But in a first-11 game, when they sign Neymar to add to Griezmann, the formation is 4-2-3-1 and the guys who shore things up will be from De Jong, Arthur, Rakitic, and Busquets.”