Antoine Griezmann seemed certain to join Barcelona this summer, as the player himself had announced his intention to leave Atletico Madrid with the club's Chief Executive Gil Marin claiming he left to play for Barcelona.
The situation took a confusing turn though, as reports emerged of Barcelona’s interest in taking Neymar back, meaning that Barcelona may not have the financial power or space in their front three to accommodate the World Cup winner.
Graham Hunter was on Tuesday's OTB AM to explain the situation, highlighting Messi’s desire to play with the Neymar again as a key factor in the club’s predicament.
“The deal between Barcelona and Griezmann was agreed in principle, written and signed", Hunter said.
“And then, what happens is your superstar Leo Messi says ‘I want Neymar back’... [Barcelona's President Josep] Bartomeu has said that before his mandate goes out in 2021, one of his last legacies will be to renew Messi yet again, and therefore all the power is apparently in the hands of the playing leader, Messi.”
After failing to win the Champions League again this season, Messi believes the return of his former teammate, and close friend, Neymar, will be crucial for himself and strike partner Luis Suarez to bring Europe’s elite trophy back to the Camp Nou.
“Neymar’s movement, ability on the ball, and previously his willingness on the left, not centrally, meant acres more space for Messi, took markers off Messi, gave him brilliant passing options... They’re on the same wavelength," Hunter explained.
“As distinct as they seem as professionals, they are really close friends. The three of them (Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez) have remained in a WhatsApp group, have remained really tight. I’ve rarely seen anything like it off the pitch, they almost wear the same clothes.”
Luis Suarez also seems to be on board with the addition of Neymar instead of Griezmann, in what could be his final year at the Catalan giants.
“To add Neymar to that [attacking lineup] is something that Suarez sees as getting extra juice out of probably his last year at FC Barcelona in my opinion, again in my opinion, likely before he joins David Beckham’s Miami project.”
“Messi is looking at the Champions League. He sees Neymar as a key figure in making them able to kill teams off in the way that Dembele didn’t if you remember in that [semi-final] first leg [in the Champions league] when Liverpool were three nil down.”
The return of Neymar would make Griezmann’s transfer to the club very unlikely, as there is no apparent system which could accommodate all four players, and the club would likely not have the required revenue to pay for Griezmann’s buyout clause and wages as well as Neymar's.
“I don’t see that he does [fit in]” Hunter said of Griezmann. “People are already beginning to ask ‘where’s the fit for Griezmann?’ I saw it, others didn’t, when it was simply Messi and Suarez he was joining.”
“To spend what it would take to bring Neymar and Griezmann to the Camp Nou seems to be utterly impossible."
The situation suggests that there could be a summer full of transfer sagas, as Neymar leaving PSG would likely spark other big-name transfers for the top players in Europe, including a possible move for Griezmann to PSG.
Written by Alex McCarthy.