In Spain, those of a Catalan persuasion will tell you, “Real Madrid know how to win behind closed doors. We win on the field”. The meaning is clear: Madrid, one way or another, win and not always by playing football. Barcelona, on the other hand, are the winners on the pitch. Divisive and provocative words they are, but, this season many a Barca fan will point to the ‘Neymar Case’ as proof.
For some time now Barcelona’s purchase of Neymar has been under investigation. The club are facing potential fines – and we are talking between €5.5m and €55m – over the details of the signing. There are a range of alleged irregularities, ranging from how much the club said they officially paid for him to the tidy sums the player’s father inherited. Everyone involved denies any wrongdoing.
And it is strange indeed why only this transfer is the subject of an investigation, and those of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfers to Real Madrid never raised an eyebrow, despite similar rumours having surfaced here and there.
Speculation is rife in Spain that Madrid, and Florentino Perez in particular, are behind it all. The President has even been questioned on Spanish television about whether he is involved, to which he emphatically responded: “You know perfectly well that I am not and it seems ridiculous to me to answer that.”
Of course, this is all just conjecture, wild conjecture at that. Whoever it is behind the motion, on the evidence of Saturday afternoon it is all starting to affect Neymar.
The Brazilian started his life at Camp Nou rather promisingly. In his first 22 games, he scored 10 goals and provided 10 assists. Not a bad return at all. Yet, in his last eight outings – only three of which he has started – the Brazilian has just one goal and one assist.
It’s not just his numbers either. Neymar is not impacting games the way he could and should be. Against Real Valladolid, this was unmistakably clear. The Brazilian was off the pace and confused of his role. His lack of understanding with Lionel Messi was noticeable and this is cause of concern.
It is perhaps no coincidence that it was while Messi was injured that Neymar seemed to be enjoying himself. He exuded confidence, put in some dazzling displays and scored some wonderful goals. Since Messi’s return however, he has not been the same. This has led some to conclude that the two cannot play together. Judging by how they fared against the Pucela, there is a good case for that.
Not only was Neymar below par, but so too was Messi. And it wasn’t just his performance, but his attitude too. There have been reports that some of his teammates are unhappy with his lack of effort of late. His body language certainly suggests that something is not quite right.
There a slew of theories as to why but no one really knows. The only thing that is clear is that Messi not himself at present.
And neither are Barca, in general. Tata Martino rejected the claim that his players did not have the right attitude in Valladolid. Shortly afterwards however, Sergio Busquets contradicted the Coach. Anyone who watched the game will likely side with the latter.
But the Barcelona players cannot be criticised too much. So much has gone on at the club of late. Tito Vilanova – their former Coach – was forced to step down due to illness. Victor Valdes is itching to leave for pastures new. Former President Sandro Rosell resigned as a result of the investigation into Neymar’s signing. Club captain Carles Puyol just last week announced that he will call time on his Barca career on June 30. Then there was the unfortunate news of Andres Iniesta’s wife suffering a miscarriage before the trip to Valladolid, which was why he did not play.
It is a difficult time for Barca, no doubt. Despite all their troubles, they are not out of the title race just yet. They may be four points behind leaders Madrid now, but there is a Clasico on March 23 and they will certainly not be lacking in motivation when they go to Santiago Bernabeu.