Real using charm offensive to distract Neymar from UCL tie -- for now
La Liga president Javier Tebas declared that Neymar had not only peed in the pool when he left Barcelona last summer, but he "got on the diving board" to do so.
It was Neymar's own ambitions that forced him to consider and ultimately follow through on the move to Paris Saint-Germain, though, rather than some desire to hurt La Liga. And those same ambitions can be worked on by Real Madrid in the buildup to their Champions League matchup with PSG on Wednesday night, as every quote, comment and story does more to take the Brazilian's focus off the actual game.
Tebas was speaking like a scorned lover who had just been walked out on, and the reason his message was so bitter was because Neymar mattered. He mattered regarding how La Liga sold themselves around the world, and he would eventually take over as the league's poster boy, too, which seemed inevitable if he stayed. There is talk now of a La Liga lull in the Champions League as English clubs take back the reins from their Spanish counterparts after years of dominance.
Neymar has one or two more daggers in his repertoire, however, and he could do further damage to Spanish football if he can overcome the battle between his Paris Saint-Germain side and Cristiano Ronaldo's Real Madrid. And this is why Los Blancos are trying to do everything they can to unsettle the Brazilian. PSG manager Unai Emery has responded by deciding that PSG will not train at the Bernabeu before the game, perhaps thinking there's no need to give it any more importance than it already has.
Real Madrid players and management have not been bashful regarding how important this clash is, and Zinedine Zidane admits the game could well decide his future; they'll also pull out all the stops to win it with mind games already in full swing, with Marcelo dishing out one particularly stinging blow: "PSG are in a good moment, that's evident," he said. "They have a really good team, an excellent squad. And Madrid have their history and tradition." Not exactly a ringing endorsement for his side's current form, but his sentiments are that regardless of how Real Madrid's form looks, they can never be counted out.
It's not a stretch to suggest Real Madrid have dominated the Champions League in recent years. Many even refer to it as Real Madrid's competition, as if you need any more intimidation coming into their home in an effort to take what they believe is theirs. They've won it in three of the past four years, and now Real Madrid are relying on some extra motivation that the Champions League brings them back to how they were once viewed around Europe.
"In my opinion, the great players have to play at this club. And I think Neymar will play for Real Madrid one day," continued Marcelo as he peppered further speculation on Neymar's future. The insinuation, of course, is that PSG aren't a great club -- certainly not of the same ilk as Los Blancos at least.
It's not important, for now anyway, whether Neymar joins Real Madrid or not. What matters, for Zidane's side, is that Neymar is unsettled going into the game and feels the weight of not only the present, but the future, too, and whatever that holds for him. What matters, too, is pressure management, and while Zidane takes it off his players -- for example, saying everything that has gone wrong this season is his responsibility -- his players take it and put it back on the most expensive player in the world.
PSG director Antero Henrique has already suggested that there is a lot of pressure coming from Spain over Neymar's move. Real Madrid know they can use the size of their club to turn Neymar's head, and the fact that he came so close to signing with Los Blancos -- even going on trial in the capital of Spain back in 2006 -- doesn't help as Real Madrid tried to get a step on Barcelona before they ultimately lost out to their rivals.
Angel Di Maria said that once players hear the Champions League music, they transform. His suggestion was that players gain an extra ounce of confidence, concentration and motivation. But what happens if it goes the other way at the Bernabeu on Wednesday?
Neymar recently said that the rumours about him moving to Real Madrid will always be there, possibly because the pair are such a good fit -- all that Champions League tradition and his star power.
He is all too aware of what's at stake on Wednesday, too. Whether Real Madrid can do anything about the Brazilian's state of mind once that music starts to play is another thing entirely, but they'll do everything they can in the buildup to force his mind to wander.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne