How do you replace the irreplaceable Neymar? | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 13.08.2017
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How do you replace the irreplaceable Neymar?

The 222 million euro transfer of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain shocked the world of football. Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho have been identified as his replacement, but how do you replace Neymar?

The latest chapter of the Neymar story began on a chilly night on the north coast of Brittany.

A few flashes of his brilliance excited the 18,000 fans at Guingcamp's modest Stade de Roudourou, which could have sold out more than twice over given the levels of excitement the world record signing has generated in France.

PSG are literally banking on Neymar being an instant success, and he paid back just a little of that astonishing transfer fee with a goal and an assist in the 3-0 win.

By ramming the ball into the roof of the net from close-range in the 82nd minute, Neymar was officially up-and-running in a PSG shirt. The long term hope, of course, is that Neymar can guide his new club to the French title and the biggest prize of all: the Champions League.

Only then, will the 222 million euros start to feel like the shrewd investment PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi claims it to be.

Golden boy

Olympia Rio 16 20 08 Fußball Deutschland Brasilien Finale Tor (Reuters/P. Whitaker)

Neymar is the star player for Brazil, having scored 52 times in 77 appearances for his country

Back in 2013, Barcelona signed the one talent every major club in the world were chasing. Neymar's YouTube–friendly dribbles and flicks for Brazilian club Santos made him the most talked about player in years. Barcelona signed him for a fee advertised as €57m ($76m) to the tax collectors, which eventually turned out to be €86m. The ensuing scandal will see Barcelona president Sandro Rosell stand trial for fraud and corruption later this year.

Despite the controversy, Neymar proved to be well worth the investment. The golden boy of Brazilian football delivered on the pitch, not only for his country at the 2014 World Cup, but also for Barcelona, whom he helped guide to the treble a year later.

Playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, he formed the most feared attacking trio in the world and his poetic style and prolific scoring record of 68 goals in 123 games made him the darling of Camp Nou. There was absolutely no doubt that he had justified the hype.

The contract extension Neymar signed in the summer of 2016 seemed to cement the commitment the player and club had to each other, confirming Neymar as a Barcelona player for years to come – but that only made his subsequent move to Paris Saint-Germain all the more shocking.

A world record fee and $93 million in salary and endorsements throughout the course of his five-year contract seems excessive, but in the current market it's a fair price and, based on Neymar's track record of delivering at the highest level, as safe an investment as is possible these days.

Dembele? Coutinho? Or both?

Rot-Weiss Essen v. Borussia Dortmund Ousmane Dembele (Bongarts/Getty Images)

Ousmane Dembele has been told to train alone while he tries to force through a move to Barcelona

Ousmane Dembele is in pole position to take the vacant No.11 shirt at Barcelona and was the subject of a 90 million euro bid at the end of last week. Dembele has even skipped Borussia Dortmund training to try and force through a deal, which is starting to look like a matter of when not if.

Since transferring from Rennes for 15 million euros last year, Dembele, 20, made an instant impression in the Bundesliga. His impressive close control and sharp eye for goal belies his age and it's not hard to see why Barcelona's attention has turned to a player who would be a great asset to them and a fine long-term replacement.

Philippe Coutinho is in a similar position. Barcelona tested Liverpool's resolve with a 100m euro move for Liverpool attacking midfielder, a slightly different but equally as effective player with a penchant for scoring spectacular goals and more than capable of being a success in Spain.

The question now is whether Barcelona can get one or both of their targets. Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp admits the matter is out of his hands.

"As a manager of a football club I have bosses, and if bosses decide, for example, we sell a player or we don't sell him, then I have to accept it. If they don't sell him, then I'm not involved anymore," Klopp said.

Asked if Coutinho's transfer request could change the club's stance, Klopp added: "You have to ask the club, but I don't think so because I think it was pretty clear what the owners, FSG, said about it."

'Unique talent'

UEFA Champions league PSG vs. Barcelona (Getty Images/AFP/F. Fife)

Pique: "Neymar is a unique player with very special talent that no one else has in this sport."

While Dembele and Coutinho are both impressive players that most clubs would rather have in their ranks than not, Barcelona are facing an impossible situation.

The very fact that Neymar is irreplaceable is what made his transfer all the more stunning. Like when Gareth Bale left Tottenham Hotspur for Real Madrid and Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona, each club were forced to face a future without their talisman. Tottenham took a while to recover and Liverpool still haven't hit the heights they did with Suarez at Anfield.

Barcelona Gerard Pique conceded as much when he was asked about the Neymar deal and subsequent scramble for a replacement.

"Liverpool and Dortmund are making the most of the situation, claimed Pique. "They are playing their cards and it is a difficult moment for Barca to be able to sign without doubt."

"To replace Neymar who is a unique player with very special talent that no one else has in this sport will be difficult.

He added: "What we have to do is make ourselves stronger and not look for a replacement because there isn't one on the market."

The manner of the move has left a bitter taste for Barcelona, whose desperate attempts to derail the deal on the grounds of Financial Fair Play were too little too late.

On a night when Barcelona's current inferiority to Real Madrid was underlined with a home defeat by their rivals in the Spanish Super Cup, the challenge for the Catalan club is not how to replace Neymar, but how well they embrace a future without him.

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