Neymar has started playing for Paris Saint-Germain (and very well, we should add), but that doesn’t mean Barcelona has moved on from his transfer saga. On Tuesday, the club announced that they had filed a lawsuit against Neymar for breach of contract. Barcelona alleges that they are entitled to a €8.5 million repayment of Neymar’s signing bonus, plus interest, because he did not complete his contract.
At this point, it’s impossible to tell whether or not Barca has a case. Without seeing his contract, we don’t know if he was obligated to repay his signing bonus in the event of his buyout clause being triggered. That’s for the lawyers to sort out.
What we do know is that this is an extremely rare occurrence. Teams do not sue their former players after their buyout clause was triggered even if they have standing to, and for good reason — it makes them look petty and vindictive.
Either Barcelona is acting irrationally out of spite for Neymar, or they’ve decided through careful deliberation that principles and retention of power over players are more important than any negative impacts this lawsuit might bring. They’re probably wrong about that.
Priority No. 1 should be getting Lionel Messi to renew his contract
As Barca Blaugranes notes, the Messi deal should have been done already. Barcelona’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu has claimed it was done several times, despite Messi not signing the contract.
Earlier this summer, Bartomeu gave an interview saying Messi had already signed his extension, this was false. Then he said he would sign it after the player returned from his holidays, this was false. Then he said Messi would sign after the US tour, this was false.
Messi is now reportedly waiting to see how the rest of the transfer window goes. If he’s not happy with the direction of the club, he might opt to stick with his current contract. The most successful and most marketable player in the world shouldn’t voluntarily restrict his options if Barcelona doesn’t give him the best chance to win.
But a bigger problem is that Messi and other players might see how Barcelona is treating Neymar and decide that playing for them isn’t worth it, even if they are the best sporting and financial option.
How clubs treat people matters
The soccer landscape is enormous and there are rich clubs in several countries. While Barcelona remains one of the richest and most prestigious clubs on earth, they are not the only game in town. If a player is available on a free transfer or has a set transfer price, they have a lot of options.
One of the advantages that Barcelona kept over its rivals in the chase for top talent used to be that the club was a family, with a defined ethos. Players at Barcelona became close friends and valued parts of the community. The club’s motto “Més que un club” once doubled as a pitch to prospective new talent.
Now, players will see what’s happened to Neymar and be weary about signing on for five years with a buyout clause that can’t possibly be triggered. When a club showed up with a check for the amount of Neymar’s full buyout clause, Barca wouldn’t let him leave and gave him a runaround. He walked away from a €26 million bonus without a fight so he could leave without any hang-ups, but Barca sued him anyway.
Why would any world-class player who had other good options choose to commit to this club? Barca used to be the world’s premier destination, but they’re doing their best to become a last resort for players who Real Madrid, PSG, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and big Premier League clubs aren’t willing to pay.
Barcelona might score a small moral and financial victory with their legal action against Neymar, but they’re failing to see the bigger picture. They’re destroying their reputation.