Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu says the club will not attempt to lure Brazilian star Neymar back to the Nou Camp from Paris Saint-Germain this summer as the Spanish giants count the cost of the coronavirus crisis.
Neymar has consistently been linked with a return to the club he left in a world-record €222 million (US$260 million) transfer in 2017, with Barcelona skipper Lionel Messi reportedly among the biggest advocates of a reunion with his erstwhile strike partner.
But as the typically free-spending Barcelona face up to the financial reality of the Covid-19 pandemic, club president Bartomeu has ruled out any move to bring back the 28-year-old Brazilian in the near future.
“In this situation, it is unfeasible,” the Barca boss said in a wide-ranging interview with Spanish outlet Sport.
“Nor do PSG want to sell him, which is normal because he is one of the best players in the world. Last summer we tried very hard, but this summer there will be no attempt.
“The situation is what it is, the club lost €200 million between March and June. And in the 2020/2021 season, we expected to raise €1.1 billion [revenues], but surely we will have 30 percent less.
“If the pandemic situation does not improve, there will be no crowd, no museum, no stores, and money will continue to be lost. It forces us to be very rigorous in our management, we have to review which investments are essential and which can wait. You have to adapt.”
Bartomeu also confirmed that a move for Inter Milan’s highly-rated Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez had been “put on hold by mutual consent,” adding that “the current situation doesn’t allow for major transfer fees.”
The news is unlikely to go down well with Messi, who vented his anger at performances after Barcelona recently relinquished their two-season grip on the La Liga title to Real Madrid.
Messi has been seen as among the most eager of supporters of a deal to bring Neymar back, and is also said to be a fan of Argentina teammate Lautaro.
Speaking on beleaguered manager Quique Setien, who took over from the sacked Ernesto Valverde in January but has overseen a slack run-in to the season which allowed Real to overturn a two-point gap at the top of the table and clinch the title, Bartomeu claimed the club had never considered dismissing their new manager – also insisting he would be in the Nou Camp dugout next season.
“He’s under contract. When we brought him in, we explained that it was a project for this season and the next one. To judge a coach for a few months, in the middle of a pandemic, is very complicated. [midfielder] Arturo Vidal said the same thing: they’ve had very little time to get to know each other and work together,” Bartomeu said.
“Not at any moment (did we consider sacking Setien). I know there were reports which came out and said if he didn’t win the next two matches we’d replace him, but we never spoke about that… Setien is our head coach.”
Barcelona’s decline in fortunes on the pitch has coincided with turmoil off it, including a bitter public row between Messi and sporting director Eric Abidal as well as boardroom unrest which saw bosses embarrassingly have to deny claims that they had waged a social media campaign to undermine the reputation of critics linked to the club, including Messi.
That has further fueled talk that Messi could be on his way out of the club when his current contract expires next summer, with Inter Milan among the supposed suitors.
Bartomeu again dismissed that notion, saying: “Messi has always said he wants to end his professional experience at Barca.
“Despite the fact his contract expires in 2021, Leo will have another three or four years of top level football.
“I have no doubts he will keep his word and see out his career in Barcelona.”
Barcelona have a chance to salvage their season when they host Napoli in the Champions League last-16 second-leg on August 8, with the tie in the balance at 1-1 from the first leg.
Overcome Napoli and a one-leg quarterfinal against either Chelsea or Bayern Munich awaits, with the Germans firmly in control of their last-16 tie after a 3-0 first-leg win in London.