It wasn’t until Aug. 3 that Neymar made it official, publicly announcing he had accepted a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona for a record-breaking fee. But according to former Barcelona teammate Xavi, the Brazilian star informed his teammates of his plans as early as late June.
“He say to us at Messi’s wedding that he wanted to change, that he wanted to change the club,” the 37-year-old Spaniard, who currently plays for the Qatari club Al Sadd SC, told BBC’s World Football radio on Thursday. Lionel Messi married his childhood sweetheart Antonella Roccuzzo on June 30 at a ceremony in the pair’s hometown in Rosario, Argentina.
“I said to him, ‘but why?’ ” Xavi, a longtime Barcelona captain, continued. “[Neymar said,] ‘Well I’m not happy in Barcelona. I prefer . . . to have a new experience in Europe at Paris Saint-Germain.’ And finally, [he said] it was his decision and we must respect it.”
The news comes as quite a curveball given the course of events that didn’t see rumors start to fly about a possible exit to France by Neymar until mid-July. Even then, many refused to believe the news, as Neymar had established a genuine friendship and chemistry with his teammates, including Messi and fellow striker Luis Suarez, that many speculated wouldn’t make sense to give up at this point in his career.
Throwing an additional monkey wrench into the timeline, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who also attended Messi’s wedding, fueled speculation that the rumors of Neymar’s impending exit were untrue when he posted a selfie with Neymar on Instagram on July 23 accompanied by the simple caption, “He stays.” Neymar later said of the caption, “I told him not to do it,” after a reporter asked him about it at his inaugural news conference as a PSG player.
PSG paid a staggering $263 million to acquire Neymar, who had spent the previous four seasons with the Catalan club. That was apart from the $36 million the 25-year-old will make in base salary for the next five seasons at the Ligue 1 club. Neymar, however, said after the deal was finalized that money was never his main motivation.
Echoing what Xavi said Neymar told his teammates in June, the Brazilian said at his first PSG news conference in early August, “What I think about is happiness. If I was following the money I would maybe be in some other country.”
“I want to write history here. This is the only reason,” Neymar said of his decision. “There are new challenges, and I want to help write the history of the club. Our biggest challenge is the Champions League, but there are other trophies too.”
Neymar has played 10 games with PSG so far this season, including three Champions League appearances. In total, he’s scored nine goals and seven assists to lead the team to 10 wins in those games. Paris Saint-Germain sits atop the Ligue 1 standings with 25 points, six points clear of second-place Monaco. PSG is also on track to win Group B of the Champions League as the only team to win all three of the matches it’s played so far.