Barcelona ‘would have won two or three Champions Leagues’ if Neymar didn’t leave for PSG, claims Pep Guardiola, as he recalls telling Lionel Messi and Co that the Brazilian was ‘the king of Santos’ at the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup final
- Pep Guardiola insists Barcelona would’ve dominated Europe if they kept Neymar
- Barcelona won the Champions League with Neymar, Messi and Suarez in 2015
- However, two years later, Barca sold the winger to PSG in a record £198m deal
- Guardiola has also recalled how he told his Barca squad about Neymar in 2011
- He hailed Neymar as ‘the king of Santos’ when he faced him at Club World Cup
Pep Guardiola sat his all-conquering Barcelona team down for a spot of video analysis before the World Club Championship final in 2011. Santos lay in wait; an unknown quantity for the Europeans out in Japan.
The tape started rolling and focused on a teenager who, although having already made his Brazil debut, was not quite the global superstar who transcends this sport a decade on.
Neymar performed sambas on the screen. Barcelona gawped and drooled at the 15 clips flashing up before them. Guardiola proclaimed here was ‘the king of Santos’ and that he required specific attention. Barcelona eventually won that final 4-0 but ended up spending more than £70million on him 18 months later.
Pep Guardiola insists Barcelona would’ve won two or three Champions League titles this decade if they kept Neymar (right), Lionel Messi (middle) and Luis Suarez (left) together
‘All the players were open- mouthed,’ said Guardiola.
‘What a player. He is a joy to watch. I enjoy it as a spectator. He has Brazil on his shoulders, No 10 in Brazil is not easy to wear.
‘He helps to make football better. I’m pretty sure if he had stayed at Barcelona, they would’ve won two or three more Champions Leagues.’
Big predictions from a big admirer who joked he was expecting a sleepless night before Manchester City attempt to stop Neymar in the French capital on Wednesday evening.
Barcelona and their former player were both open to a reunion in 2019 but PSG’s sporting director Leonardo could not countenance losing his prized asset just as the club tried to pierce Europe’s elite.
Guardiola (left) has been full of praise for Neymar ahead of their Champions League meeting
The Spaniard recalls telling his Barcelona players that Neymar was ‘the king of Santos’ in 2011
Neymar — who has 41 goals in 67 Champions League games — was agitated at the time, unhappy at the club’s lack of competitiveness. They had been embarrassed by Manchester United in the last 16 and had departed at that stage a year earlier. He could not see progress. Parisians were not overly keen on him at that point, either.
But Leonardo held firm, PSG reached last year’s final amid a pandemic that thwarted any chance of exorbitant transfer fees across the continent, and Neymar has indicated he is ready to commit his long-term future to the club.
‘I have been by far my happiest this season,’ said the 29-year-old. ‘Since I arrived at PSG, we all know I have had some difficulties. I have overcome them.
‘My main goal is to win this competition. I have always been a professional player. Some people think wrongly about me. This season we beat Bayern in the quarter-final and will do everything we can to beat Manchester City.’
Neymar has been desperate to win the Champions League since joining PSG in 2017
Although Neymar’s mood centres on the club’s ambitions and performance in Europe, there must be something to be said for Mauricio Pochettino’s role.
Even the most mercurial talents love playing under him and the scenes at Hotspur Way after his sacking by Tottenham last season, the place resembling a funeral, is testament to that notion.
Pochettino has always been a people person and watching he and Neymar giggle at something behind Tuesday’s Zoom lens was to see two men who just get on.
Pochettino has never indulged anyone to the point of preferential treatment. ‘My approach with him is natural,’ said Pochettino.
‘Discipline is important. We allow them to do what they need to do but we respect all players in the same way.’
Neymar, back to being considered a god in Paris after flirtations elsewhere, has never before been treated normally. Maybe that has been the key to his happiness.
Guardiola insists Neymar could’ve dominated Europe as part of ‘the best front three’ he’s seen