Reports claim Neymar asked for Barcelona return, link to €400m Real Madrid move
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde called the possibility of Neymar's return to his club "a fantasy" after reports published in Spain on Friday said the Brazilian has asked to come back to the Camp Nou, while also linking him to a €400 million move to Real Madrid.
Mundo Deportivo cited unnamed sources as saying that Neymar has sent Barcelona messages about the possibility of a return after leaving the club last summer to sign with Paris Saint-Germain, who paid a world-record transfer fee of €222m to activate his buyout clause.
Meanwhile, AS reported that Barcelona's rivals Real Madrid have already told Neymar's father, who also serves as his manager, that they are willing to pay nearly double that amount and meet PSG's asking price of €400m.
The reports then became the main topic of conversation at news conferences at both Spanish clubs later on Friday. While Barcelona's Valverde was hesitant to comment on the reports, Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane said he believed a hypothetical €400m transfer was not out of the question.
"It seems like a fantasy to me," Valverde said when asked about the chance Neymar could return. "We don't know where it's come from or where it's going to end. We aren't going to talk about suppositions."
A Barcelona press officer would not allow Valverde to then answer whether he would like Neymar back in his team.
According to Mundo Deportivo, Neymar reached out to Barcelona players and executives to say he regretted joining PSG for a number of reasons and asked if a transfer back to the Camp Nou would be possible in the summer of 2019.
This contact reportedly came before PSG's Champions League elimination to Real Madrid this week after a defeat that Neymar missed with an ankle and foot injury.
However, the newspaper also said that many within the Barcelona organization doubted Neymar's sincerity, instead believing the interest to merely be an "alibi" while he really explores the chance to join Barcelona's arch-rivals Madrid.
According to AS, Real Madrid officials met with Neymar Sr. and two lawyers in Paris "a few weeks ago" to discuss the possibility of a transfer and said the club would be willing to pay €400m, as well as a signing bonus for the player and another increase to Neymar's already world-record salary.
Neymar's €222m move to PSG appeared extravagant because the world transfer record before last summer was Paul Pogba's €105m return to Manchester United. But since then, Barcelona has signed Ousmane Dembele for €145m and Philippe Coutinho for €160m, while PSG also bought Kylian Mbappe for €180m.
And Zidane, asked about the possibility that a club could soon by €400m for a player as mooted by AS, believed that such a price would soon be entirely possible.
"I'm not going to talk about a player that is not mine, but €400m? Well, they paid €222m. It is what it is," he said. "When [Real Madrid] bought me they paid €72m [a record in 2000], or I do not know how much, and I thought it was crazy.
"More than 10 years later a player costs €220m; in 10 years they might spend €400m. Or even earlier than that."
At Barcelona, Valverde was also asked if he could see a club one day spending €400m, and he replied: "I have no idea. But, in any case, it's not an option for me."
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.