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.
According to the Manchester Evening News, Manchester United are ready to splash the cash on the superstar in the summer, even though Jose Mourinho compared trying to capture the player to “breaking open a safe.” Nevertheless, if the Brazil captain does become available, there won’t be a shortage of clubs scrambling for his signature.
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.
Aubameyang appears to be the ideal replacement for Neymar and, amid interest from Manchester City, the Borussia Dortmund striker’s agent recently revealed that the only two clubs his player would entertain a move to would be either Barcelona or Real Madrid. In the last two seasons, the 27-year-old has asserted himself as one of the most fearsome strikers in the Bundesliga, and is keeping pace once again this season with Bayern Munich’s clinical Robert Lewandowski.
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.
After a slight dip in form last season during Chelsea’s disastrous title defence, Hazard has recaptured the astounding form that led to him win the PFA Player of the Year award two seasons ago. Once again, the Belgian has been the driving force behind the Blues’ juggernaut-like charge on the Premier League title, and his imperious form is one of the main reasons that betting tips sites have feared advising against backing Antonio Conte’s side to do the business week in, week out.
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.
As a former Barcelona player, some may think that a return for Sanchez is highly unlikely, but there are a number of factors that could come into play that would help bring the Chilean back to the Camp Nou. First, it is becoming increasingly likely that the Arsenal man will leave the Emirates in the summer. He has carried this underperforming Gunners side at times this season and has been visibly distraught over the lack of passion and drive among the squad. Sanchez is absolutely desperate to win silverware, and knows that unless there are wholesale changes in North London, trophies are a long shot.
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.
Transfers between the two Spanish superpowers of Real Madrid and Barcelona have been rare throughout history, with the current boss Enrique being one of the few players to have moved from the capital to Barcelona in 1996. Anyone who crosses over between the great rivals is normally considered a traitor, but surely Rodriguez would be spared those kind of allegations after being completely phased out by Zinedine Zidane. After a great season in 2014/15 when the Colombian scored 13 goals and claimed the same amount of assists, he has gradually played fewer matches. In the current campaign, he has only been afforded eight appearances in the league.
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.
Coutinho is clearly destined for great things, and before his injury earlier in the season he was the primary contender to emerge as the PFA Player of the year at the end of this campaign. Unfortunately the ankle injury the Brazilian picked up against Sunderland caused him to miss a number of games, and then he struggled to get back to his best quickly upon his return. However, the dazzling trickster has shown this season that he is well on the way to becoming a world beater with some fantastic goals and skills.
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.