Barcelona director Albert Soler says losing Neymar was the root of the club’s problems this summer, as they closed the transfer window with failed bids for Philippe Coutinho and Angel Di Maria.
In a tense news conference on Saturday, Soler, seated alongside sporting director Robert Fernandez, was forced to explain why so many things have gone wrong for the club since the end of last season.
On top of losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and failing in bids for Coutinho and Di Maria, Barca have still not managed to get Lionel Messi to sign his new contract, despite president Josep Maria Bartomeu claiming in July that it had been signed.
There were also failed attempts to lure Marco Verratti and Hector Bellerin to the Camp Nou, confusion over moves for Inigo Martinez and Jean Michael Seri, and a series of unfortunate comments from club directors throughout the summer.
Robert said earlier this week he wanted “one or two” more signings, Pep Segura said a deal for Coutinho “was close” in August and vice president Jordi Mestre said he was “200 percent” sure Neymar would stay.
Soler defended the club’s position not to pay a total of €270 million for Coutinho and Di Maria, though, saying it would have been irresponsible and grounds for resignation, while blaming the inflated prices on Neymar’s €222m move to PSG, which he also conceded has affected the team on the pitch.
“On July 19 I received a WhatsApp [message] saying that PSG wanted Neymar,” he said. “Once we had knowledge that PSG were in talks with Neymar, we got to work. Neymar is difficult to replace. The problem is not just the €222m, the problem is Neymar’s no longer with us. His departure affected us on a sporting level and then with the negotiations which followed.
“The fact that Neymar paid his buyout clause and we had €222m meant everyone knew we had that money. We have tried to manage it with the sporting needs we had, that’s always the priority, but there are lines we can’t cross.
“If Robert and I came out here and told you we’d signed two players for €270m, we would have crossed the line of responsibility and then we would have had to resign.”
In one of the more highly-charged moments of the news conference, Soler refused to give a “yes or no” answer when asked if Messi has signed his new contract, which was agreed in June.
However, he reassured supporters that Messi is going nowhere, despite confusing him for Neymar at one point, saying: “When the club announce an agreement, that means there’s an agreement between both parties. All that remains is to formalise it. There’s no problem. I want to reassure the members that there’s no problem.”
Pressed on when Messi will sign, he responded: “Soon. When we say soon, we mean soon.”
Robert, meanwhile, confirmed there was interest in Verratti, Martinez and Seri, but said he was happy with the signings the club have made this summer — Gerard Deulofeu, Nelson Semedo, Paulinho and Ousmane Dembele.
“We have great players in the squad and we don’t think we’ve failed with the new signings, we don’t have any doubts about them,” he said. “We are satisfied in that sense.
“We have an excellent team and the signings add a lot. We’ve been planning our business for a long time. I spoke with [coach Ernesto Valverde] about where we should improve to compete and we’ve chosen players at a great level who can help us.”