Manchester United would like to sign Neymar.
They'd probably like to sign Lionel Messi too. Why wouldn't they? The Barcelona pair are undoutedly two of the best three players in the world and, for a couple of spells over the last 18 months, were the top two. They're game-winning talents, title-winning talents and Champions League-winning talents. They're who United should be targeting.
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Manchester United can afford to sign Neymar too.
Of this there is no doubt. The gap between them and their nearest Premier League rival is sufficient to sign a player on Paul Pogba money every single summer, and that's before you factor in the considerable salary dump we are seeing them undertake with Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger leaving this winter, plus more fringe players to follow in the off-season. They're a club of "enormous economic potency," according to SPORT. In a more local dialect, they're "minted."
But Manchester United won't sign Neymar. Not this summer and, in all likelihood, not the summer after that either.
While Barcelona technically have no way of stopping the Old Trafford club from doing so - if they were sufficiently determined - due to his release clause, the Premier League club would still need to convince the player to swap the Nou Camp and being one third of perhaps football's greatest-ever front three for the north-west of England and the slog of the Premier League. At current, that is not something he wishes to do.
Reports from Spain on Monday took their second big swing at this story since the Brazilian superstar signed a new, long-term deal with Barca in October. During those extended negotiations, delayed as they were by Barcelona's self-imposed financial restrictions and the 25-year-old's ongoing court case, United made a lot of sense as a destination.
Newspapers in England, Barcelona and (more mischievously) Madrid all reported that the never-ending battle with Spain's tax authorities was starting to take its toll on Neymar and push him out of the door. United had the money and the desire. Of course talks, however preliminary, took place.
But having signed a renewed pact with the Blaugrana, finally committing his future to Barcelona, the questions over his future disappeared and only one question remained: why was the release clause so low?
One theory is that the clause remained so affordable because Neymar gave up the chance of an even bigger contract to ensure that the seductive clause amount being proposed would stay in place. Club insiders suggest it was to keep the hierarchy of clauses in place, with Lionel Messi at the top and then his teammates staggered below.
But it left the door open.
€200million was around £178m at the time, a prohibitive cost for virtually every club on the planet but not Manchester United. Even with Brexit set to send the value of the British pound into relegation form and the price-tag of players on the continent in the opposite directin, even £200m is an eminently realistic fee for United to pay for one of the planet's most talented, and, arguably more importantly, marketable players. Should the Premier League's next television deal increase even further then it may become, in relative terms, a very reasonable price.
But until the former Brazil skipper gives Manchester United the nod and suggest he wishes to leave Barcelona, this is all theory.
For the foreseeable future, it looks set to remain as such.
Independent News Service