What was previously unthinkable is now becoming a distinct possibility at Camp Nou: Neymar could be on his way to pastures new. With Luis Enrique stepping down as manager in the summer and nobody lined up to replace him, along with reports of a deteriorating relationship between the Brazilian and Lionel Messi, the 25-year-old may decide to push for a move.
If the worst does come to fruition and the skilful attacker does decide to leave Barcelona, who could possibly fill his golden shoes? Here we make a few suggestions on who may be capable of stepping up to the task.
Although Aubameyang generally plays as an out-and-out striker at the spearhead of a front three for Dortmund, the speedster is also adept at playing on the wings. He could easily slot in on the left of Barcelona’s attacking trident, allowing Luis Suarez to keep his place in the centre. As one of the most sought-after talents in the world, the Gabon international is sure to be on Barcelona’s radar. But as it stands there is no room for him in the starting XI. That could all change if Neymar departs, and Aubameyang is sure to be high on the list of candidates to replace the number 11.
Hazard is once again in line to win the PFA award, and if he does claim the prize it will add to the impressive array of accolades that the 26-year-old has already accumulated. The Chelsea attacker is easily one of the best players in England’s top flight, but whether he has reached his full potential is another question. In a world-beating side like Barcelona, the former Lille man could elevate his status to becoming one of the best players in the world. Hazard has proven in this campaign that he can perform on the left of a front-three in a similar system to the one used at Camp Nou, and Suarez’s seamless transition from the Premier League to La Liga is also evidence that this is a move that could work.
The second factor depends on which manager enters the hot seat after Enrique departs. One of the contenders to take the reins for the next season is the current Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli. The 57-year-old has had an excellent debut campaign in the Spanish top flight and has the potential to do great things with an elite set of players and a bigger transfer budget. As the former boss of the Chilean national team Sampaoli knows Sanchez well, and according to the Spanish newspaper Don Balon the Premier League star will be the Argentinian’s number one target if he lands the coveted job. When Suarez joined Barcelona, Sanchez was worried he wouldn’t get enough game time. But if Neymar departs surely the much-improved forward would be a shoe-in to start every game alongside the Uruguayan and Lionel Messi.
The 25-year-old clearly has the potential to be world class, and it is expected that he will be poached by a top club in the summer who are willing to give him the game time he deserves. According to the Spanish TV station El Chiringuito, Barcelona are interested in Rodriguez and Messi has even given his seal of approval on signing the player. Although James has generally played in a central role for Madrid, he has expressed a desire to take up a more attacking position similar to where he operates in the Colombia national team. Already well accustomed to La Liga, the Madrid star could be a clever acquisition that could come back to bite Barca’s rivals.
At 24 years old, Coutinho has a lot of time to become one of the best players in the world, and the elite clubs that are interested in him would be wise to act swiftly before his valuation skyrockets. According to the Sun, Barca are already in advanced negotiations over the forward. The playmaker could be a shrewd acquisition even if Neymar doesn’t depart, as he could easily slot into a midfield role behind the three attackers.
Although seeing one of the greatest attacking units in the history of football get broken up by Neymar’s departure would be a harrowing blow for Barcelona, there are some worthy candidates to take over the mantle. Barca fans should be able to find some comfort in this at least. One thing is for certain, there will be big changes at the Camp Nou this summer.