Transfer deadline day might have already been and gone in Britain, but in many European countries it remains open until Monday and some huge deals could still be struck.
Most of the big-money moves are likely to take place in Spain’s La Liga, where potential swoops by the big guns have dominated the headlines for much of the summer.
The biggest story, of course, has been the uncertainty over the future of a certain Brazilian superstar…
Is Neymar returning to Barcelona?
By far the most high-profile, drawn-out and costly move of the summer would be the return of Neymar to Barcelona from Paris St Germain.
On the face of it, the transfer should be simple: Neymar wants to join Barca, PSG want him out and Barca want him in. But the deal is beset by political boardroom machinations deep enough to make Brexit look like a playground squabble over hopscotch, so it has been very difficult to get over the finishing line.
A big complication is that Barca don’t have enough money, they even had to take out a bank loan to complete the signing of Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid earlier in the summer. The Catalan club have been trying to conjure up creative alternatives, such as a player-exchange or a loan deal with a compulsory purchase clause, but none of these have been accepted by PSG.
The French club rejected Barca’s latest offer following two days of talks earlier this week, and reports on Saturday claimed that Neymar has now given up on sealing the move despite the clubs agreeing a valuation of around 200 million euros. However, given the secretive and shady nature of this particular deal, that could be no more than another outbreak of mind games. It’s probably safest not to believe anything until the final bell has sounded.
|European transfer deadline day – Monday, 2 September||Deadline (times all BST)|
|English League One and Two||17:00|
Considering the sky-high fee and the acrimonious manner of his departure from the Camp Nou two summers ago, it’s not surprising that Neymar’s possible return to the club is being met with a fair amount of opposition.
Former Barca director Toni Freixa summed up the hostility by tweeting: “We’re jeopardising the club’s economic sustainability. I don’t understand what interests are at stake, but those of Barcelona surely are not.”
But president Josep Maria Bartomeu appears to be ready to forgive Neymar and forget all the fuss his forced departure caused a couple of years ago, so one of the most sensational transfers in football history could still happen despite the lack of progress in recent days.
However, an increasingly popular conspiracy theory – expressed by former France international Frank Leboeuf among others – claims that Barca have no intention whatsoever of completing the deal and are actually handing Neymar an elaborate form of punishment for his earlier treachery, with the added bonus of stringing along PSG for a few months.
Dembele and Rakitic: pawns in the deal?
The key to completing the Neymar deal could be whether one or more of Barca’s current stars agree to move to Paris in return, and over the course of the summer practically half the Camp Nou squad have been linked with PSG as part of the transaction.
Right-back Nelson Semedo, central defender Samuel Umtiti and former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho (who ended up joining Bayern Munich on loan) are among those who were reportedly offered or requested as pawns without agreement being reached.
Another name thrown into the hat is Ivan Rakitic. And suspicion is provoked by the fact that although the experienced Croatian midfielder has been virtually ever-present over the last couple of years (only Lionel Messi has started more league games since manager Ernesto Valverde arrived in 2017), he was left on the bench for the first three games of the new campaign.
Along with Rakitic, Barca could be prepared to part with flying French winger Ousmane Dembele, who has been no more than a partial success since arriving as a big-money replacement for Neymar from Borussia Dortmund (where he had been managed by current PSG coach Thomas Tuchel).
Dembele has shown flashes of his enormous talent during his time at the Camp Nou but he has also tested Valverde’s patience by regularly suffering injuries amid reports of personal indiscipline – it should be noted, though, that Dembele has played more games for his club (66) than Neymar (58) in the last two seasons, so the ‘injury prone’ tag cannot be fairly used as a decisive factor against the Frenchman.
Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo – largely overlooked by Valverde so far this season – and young centre back Jean Clair Todibo have also been touted as possible PSG recruits. There’s every chance that Neymar’s move to Barcelona will only happen if at least one player heads in the opposite direction.
A late Real bid for Pogba?
Real Madrid have also been consistently linked with a swoop for Neymar this summer, with the Bernabeu club’s president Florentino Perez a long-term admirer of the Brazilian star’s match-winning abilities along with his commercial pulling power off the pitch.
However, the arrival of Eden Hazard and the failure to dispense with Gareth Bale or James Rodriguez means that Zinedine Zidane’s squad is already amply stocked with winger/forwards, and speculation about Real snatching Neymar away from Barca has significantly died down over the last few days.
That doesn’t mean Real have definitely concluded their business for the summer though, because an addition to the centre of midfield is very much on the agenda for Zidane, who quipped on Saturday that his club could still explode a “bomb, or two bombs” before the window closes.
Over the last 12 months the club have allowed the departures of Mateo Kovacic (to Chelsea), Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) and Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid) without making any major additions in the middle of the pitch, leaving inexperienced Uruguayan Fede Valverde as the only alternative to the long-serving trio of Luka Modric (who will turn 34 next month), Toni Kroos and Casemiro.
It’s no secret that Paul Pogba has been Zidane’s number one target ever since he returned to the Bernabeu six months ago, and the coach has been left frustrated by his club’s failure to make progress with Manchester United over his compatriot.
Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen and Ajax star Donny van de Beek are the other leading options, and Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon has also been linked, but Pogba remains Zidane’s favoured choice and it would be unwise to completely rule out developments before Monday’s deadline.
Zidane certainly won’t want to head into the campaign with only four midfielders at his disposal, so it would be more surprising if Real don’t sign someone. The question is whether United can be persuaded into striking a deal.
Atletico and Sevilla swooping for strikers?
La Liga’s early pace-setters, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, are both looking to boost their striking departments before Monday’s deadline.
Atletico have already come close to signing all-action Spain international Rodrigo Moreno from Valencia, with a planned 65 million euros swoop progressing far enough for Rodrigo to start saying his farewells to his Valencia team-mates on the dawn of the new season.
But then AC Milan’s bid for Atletico forward Angel Correa – which would have financed the deal – fell through at the last minute, so Rodrigo has stayed in Valencia for now. Milan’s move for Correa could still be reignited, though, and that would pave the way for Rodrigo to complete his transfer to the capital.
In turn, the income from that transfer could see Valencia finalise an agreement with Barcelona for creative midfielder Rafinha, while the Mestalla club are also seeking a cut-price right-back following a long-term injury to regular starter Cristiano Piccini.
Along with Atletico the only other team in La Liga to win their opening two games is Sevilla, where there has already been a summer of frantic activity after the return of iconic director of football Monchi resulted in no less than 12 new signings – and they are not finished yet.
The Andalusians waved goodbye to three strikers during the off-season, with Wissam Ben Yedder, Andre Silva and Luis Muriel all departing, and West Ham striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez has been lined up to support Dutch target man Luuk de Jong, a summer arrival from PSV.
Another striker who could be on the move – perhaps even to Sevilla if the Chicharito deal falls through – is Real Madrid striker Mariano Diaz, who scored 21 goals for Lyon in the 2017/18 season but is unwanted by Zidane and will be available for around 20 million euros on deadline day.
All these potential transfers, though, are being abandoned into the shadows cast by the truly big story of the summer: will there be another late twist in the Neymar saga?