As we write this introductory paragraph, Neymar has just dropped off €222m at the offices of the Spanish FA and so is technically a free agent. While the whole football world crosses their fingers and prays that he decides to change his identity, grow a beard, and flee to Mexico to live out a simple life on the land, he'll probably head to Paris and sign for PSG in the next day or so.
There are, of course, many questions arising from this transfer, and a lot of pointing and laughing at Barcelona to be getting on with. But we should probably pause and wonder why nobody from the Premier League — where quite a lot of the money lives — has attempted to hijack this deal. Can you imagine what Neymar would do to Arsenal's defence? Easily worth the money on its own.
This question is particularly pointed when it comes to Manchester United, who we know made an attempt to woo Neymar away from Barcelona a couple of years ago. We also know that Ed Woodward, the man in charge of United's chequebook, is a confirmed fanboy who craves star signings. Yet United don't appear to have even made a token effort this time around. What happened?
Glad you asked. We have some
baseless speculation theories …
1. They sniffed around, but Neymar wanted to go to Paris
This would make a certain amount of sense. We can safely assume PSG have been lovebombing Neymar and his associates for a while. And they can offer certain things that United can't: the chance to live in Paris; the chance to become a transformative icon in a club's transition from "big" to "super"; the chance to pal around with Dani Alves, who does seem like fun. Sometimes, people just want to go other places, and be with their friends, and eat barely-cooked steak until they pass out.
Likelihood: a lilting accordion melody / 222
2. They would like to, but won't be paying that much
Well, £198m is an awful lot of money. But come on. This is Ed "No Fixed Budget" Woodward, Lord of the Seventy-Seven Sponsorships, King of the Nissin Noodles, He Who Rides The Blood Red Yanmar. This is Neymar, who is even better at being incredibly famous than he is at football. And he's really good at football.
If it was just a question of cost, we're fairly sure that Woodward would get this deal over the line if he had to sacrifice a kidney. Two kidneys. Three.
Likelihood: an empty bottle of Casillero del Diablo / 222
3. They just weren't interested
That's the line coming out of the Manchester Evening News. Apparently United "never considered Neymar as a possible signing this summer". Their piece doesn't quite specify why that might be but does go on to say that United "retain an interest" Gareth Bale, which might be a wink and a nudge. Or it might be totally unrelated. Anyway, it happens. You can go off people. It's allowed.
Likelihood: one conscious uncoupling / 222
4. They were worried about getting played
Following on from the above theory, we turn to the Independent. Your friend and ours Miguel Delaney reckons that United's chariness was due, at least in part, to a feeling at the club that "this entire saga was little more than a ploy for a new contract". He mentions Sergio Ramos, who you may have noticed didn't move to Manchester United despite some pretty heavy flirting.
Delaney suggests that this view wasn't just confined to United, either, and quotes an agent's view that "there are a few in football who don’t really trust Neymar’s "money-mad" entourage". Which might well be the case — certainly, his representatives are getting paid. On the other hand, this is one of the things a big club would say if they'd missed out on somebody and wanted to hide that fact. "Oh, we just couldn’t take the risk ..."
Likelihood: a €26m loyalty bonus / 222
5. The Glazers are tightening the belt
So what if it wasn't Woodward balking at the price, but somebody a little higher up. Even the Great Khal of the Hong Kong Jockey Club has his masters, and in United's case, they live in Florida and they don't say much.
Delaney refers to this as well, as an explanation for United's failure (so far) to seal a deal for Ivan Perisic and for some of Jose Mourinho's mutterings about the state of the market. And there have been hints and whispers, here and there, of something going on in Glazerland. Your friendly tBB writers are profoundly un-ITK, so we don't know if there’s anything in it, much less whether it's a plan for a new stadium, or to remortgage, or to sell up completely, or to move the club in its entirety to Tallahassee and rebrand as the Red Devil Alligators.
That last option does sound fun, mind.
Likelihood: USA! USA! USA! / 222
6. Jesse Lingard is better
Yeah, checks out.
Likelihood: 221 / 222
He’s technically a free agent right now, isn’t he? Go on, Ed. Pop on the fake moustache and comedy glasses, get yourself on that Eurostar. Pull off the greatest reverse Mikel in football history. We believe in you.