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Transfer Rater: Sarr to Arsenal

Football Whispers
Read
 By Rob Train

Real Madrid would be wise to resist the temptation of signing difficult Neymar

ESPN FC's Julien Laurens tries to make sense of the rumours linking Neymar with a move back to Spain.

"Everyone knows I wanted to sign him at that moment," said Florentino Perez at a lavish ceremony in the Eiffel Tower during which Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a fifth Ballon d'Or. "But football is like that, sometimes you can do it, sometimes you cannot."

The Real Madrid president was referring to his attempt to beat Barcelona to the signature of Neymar, who eventually joined Barcelona from Santos in May 2013. At "that moment", the Brazilian was the most sought-after property in world football. The aftermath of Barca winning that particular battle still rumbles on.

Perez's former Camp Nou counterpart Sandro Rosell is currently at "his Majesty's Pleasure" in Madrid's El Soto prison awaiting trial in a money-laundering case surrounding television rights to Brazil international matches in Andorra but his involvement in the transfer of Neymar to Barcelona is no less infamous with the player's father allegedly pocketing a substantial chunk of a fee that was declared to be €57 million but was later suspected of rising to as much as €95m.

Rosell resigned as a result of the investigation, which painted Neymar Sr. in a less than attractive palette. The influence of the player's father on his career has been the subject of plenty of legal interest and he hasn't done badly out of his son's ability: reports suggest that Neymar Sr. pocketed a cool €36m commission for brokering his son's move to PSG last summer.

And still Neymar Jr. insists that Barcelona owes him a "loyalty" bonus of €25m while his entourage did not lack gumption in suggesting his former club be expelled from European competition for the affront.

As Barca vice president Jordi Mestre noted last month: "He played cat and mouse with us. What Neymar's behaviour created was the market inflation."

And how. Barca subsequently spent their £222m windfall on Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, two €50m players exorbitantly priced by their selling clubs precisely because Neymar's intransigence allowed them to hold the Camp Nou for ransom.

Neymar can be a burden at times despite his talent.
Neymar is a transcendent talent but is he worth all the extra stuff that comes with him?

All of which leaves Perez facing a PR nightmare if he pursues Neymar now, as well as an astronomical fee. Minimum release clauses do not exist in Ligue 1 so PSG, backed by the financial might of Qatar, can demand what they like for their prized asset: €400m may be the tip of the iceberg on a move that will be met with equal coolness by the Bernabeu. For that price tag, the Madrid faithful would probably prefer to see Jessie J up front.

A former Barcelona player with a reputation as a mercenary will not be met with the same enthusiasm as Cristiano Ronaldo was in 2009.

Perez goes to great lengths to market Real Madrid as a "club senor", a cut above the grubby mores of modern football, and in recent years he has gone some way to backing those lofty claims with action, or lack thereof, in the transfer market. But the Real chief's claims to overseeing a footballing Mount Sinai that other clubs should strive to mount will fall flat if he descends to find his followers in little mood to obey number 11: thou shalt not pay half a billion for a controversial superstar with no genuine connection to the cause. Neymar is a once-in-a-generation talent, but Real already have Ronaldo.

A well-manicured eyebrow was raised at the Ballon d'Or ceremony on the Eiffel Tower when Perez suggested Neymar would be more likely to win one at the Bernabeu. But context is king. Perez qualified his statement by noting: "I see it difficult for him to reach the level of Cristiano, honestly."

The Eiffel tower is a monument to folly that took Parisians around three decades to warm to. Neymar has little chance of turning an increasingly sceptical Parc des Princes crowd around in three months.

The Bernabeu is equally unlikely to be the haven Neymar seeks. If he found labouring under the shadow of Lionel Messi to his distaste, the considerable Portuguese elephant on the pitch in Madrid is hardly a lesser adversary. Ronaldo will not relinquish his left-sided role lightly, despite a gradual move towards the middle. And in any case when he decides to hand over the crown it will not be to Neymar, however urgent the case in some media to install the Brazilian as his natural successor.

Marco Asensio is the prince regent at the Bernabeu. Not quite one of Madrid's own, he was signed at an early enough age to be embraced as such. Much more so than Neymar and his infamous entourage and money-driven father. Perez has made a fair few mistakes during his two spells at the helm of Madrid but they are mostly remnants of his first mandate.

Signing Neymar would be a throwback to the market-driven blindness of the first Galactico era. Barca saw the light, and pocketed €222m. Perez would be a fool to enrich PSG by double that amount for a player who guarantees the same number of negative headlines as he does positive performances on the pitch.

Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.

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