The first transfer to break the £100m barrier cost nearly £200m. The easiest way for Barcelona to appease their supporters will be by investing that money in a high-profile successor. Here are seven players they could sign – and one who they already have signed – to replace Neymar.
Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
Liverpool have already turned down a £72m bid for Coutinho this summer, with Jürgen Klopp warning Barcelona to back off. “The very important message is that we are not a selling club and that’s how it is,” said Klopp. “We believe in working together and developing together. We want to make the next step together and for this we need to stay together.”
Coutinho signed a five-year, £150,000-a-week contract in January but Barcelona’s interest is understandable. His return of 13 league goals last season made him the joint top scoring Brazilian in Europe’s top five leagues. The player he was level with? Neymar, of course.
Coutinho looked at his best in a deeper role towards the end of last season and Liverpool’s transfer activity suggests Klopp wants to keep using him as a No8. Barcelona had also considered him as a central player – and an eventual replacement for Andrés Iniesta – but if the club up their bid and the player itches for a move, he may yet take Neymar’s place.
Paulo Dybala, Juventus
While last season wasn’t Dybala’s finest by any stretch – he managed just 11 goals and seven assists in Serie A – Barcelona witnessed first-hand how lethal he can be earlier this year. The Argentina forward scored twice against Barcelona in the first 22 minutes of the Champions League quarter-final to set Juventus on their way to a 3-0 aggregate win. That stunning performance piqued Barcelona’s interest in the player and he might be tempted by the idea of lining up alongside Lionel Messi before the World Cup next year.
The former Barcelona right-back Dani Alves, who joined Paris Saint-Germain last month, thinks Dybala would benefit from a move away from Italy. “We have spoken many times,” said Alves in June. “I told him that one day, I do not know when, he will have to leave Juventus to improve even more.”
To make the move work, though, Barcelona would have to change their shape. Dybala prefers to play on the right – in Messi’s space – rather than in Neymar’s position on the left. Ernesto Valverde could find a solution by using the 4-2-3-1 formation he preferred at Athletic Club last season, with Dybala in the No10 role behind Luis Suárez.
Ousmane Dembélé, Borussia Dortmund
“One day I will play for Barcelona,” said Dembélé last summer when he moved from Rennes to Borussia Dortmund. That day could come sooner rather than later for the France winger, who completed more dribbles (103) than any other player in the Bundesliga last season. Only Emil Forsberg (19) registered more assists than Dembélé (12) in the league and his tally of six goals was a respectable return for a 20-year-old in his debut season in Germany.
Again, though, the potential sticking point is Dembélé’s preference of playing on the right. He is adept with both feet, but his strongest route to goal is picking the ball up on the right before cutting infield. That being said, with Messi now 30, Barcelona will need to line up his long-term replacement sooner rather than later – and Messi could always move infield to give Dembélé space on the wing. Alternatively, 20-year-old Dembélé may be young enough to develop into a left-sided player at least for the time being.
Antoine Griezmann, Atlético Madrid
Atlético Madrid’s transfer denied them the chance to buy Alexandre Lacazette – who became Arsenal’s record signing – but it meant the club could retain the services of Griezmann for one more season. He only scored 16 league goals last season – down from 22 in his previous two seasons – but only Messi (15) has scored more goals from outside of the box than Griezmann (10) in La Liga in the last two years. The downside with Griezmann is that he looks to cut inside from the right and attack with his favoured left foot, a manoeuvre favoured by – you guessed it – Messi.
On top of that, Griezmann has a preference of playing as the spearhead of the attack, a role currently occupied by Suárez, who, after 29 league goals last season, is unlikely to be sacrificed as Barcelona’s lead striker, even if he does turn 31 in January. If Barcelona are looking for a replacement for Suárez, Griezmann is the ideal candidate, but Atlético’s transfer ban means they won’t sell until next summer. Griezmann did make a name for himself on the left wing with Real Sociedad, but he has moved on from those days and now wants to be the central figure for club and country.
Ángel di María, Paris Saint-Germain
Neymar’s arrival may leave Di María or Julian Draxler without a starting place at Paris Saint-Germain. Di María is perhaps better on the right wing but he is a capable performer on either flank. Di Maria’s adaptability means he can excel in either a 4-2-3-1 formation or a 4-3-3, meaning Valverde wouldn’t have to alter Barcelona’s system too much.
He created more clear-cut goalscoring chances (21) than any other player in Ligue 1 last season, while placing third for key passes (77), which would undoubtedly benefit Suárez. Di Maria and Messi combined well for Argentina at the World Cup in 2014 and he would be a cost effective replacement for Neymar, albeit a short-term solution. The move would also have the bonus of annoying Real Madrid fans.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea
Speaking of Real Madrid, the club have been heavily linked with a move for Hazard for some time now but he could be the ideal replacement for Neymar at Camp Nou. He is out until September, at the earliest, with an ankle issue but he has the pedigree and profile to succeed in Barcelona.
He probably should have won the player of the year award in England for a second time last season. He scored 16 goals – his highest yet for Chelsea – as well as completing the most dribbles, drawing the most fouls and creating the most chances from open play.
As far as like-for-like replacements go, Hazard is perhaps the best fit on the left wing. His style of cutting in from the left on to his right foot is very similar to that of Neymar, meaning Valverde wouldn’t need to tinker too much with the current set-up.
Kylian Mbappé, Monaco
Mbappé’s breakthrough campaign was impressive to say the least. He was directly involved in more goals (23: 15 goals, eight assists) than any other teenager in Europe’s top five leagues last season. His style of play is eerily similar to that of Thierry Henry, another former Barcelona player, and his willingness to pull to the left before driving for goal would make him an ideal replacement for Neymar.
Mbappé seems perfect to Barcelona’s approach and, while he would favour a central role, starting him on the left before making him Suárez’s natural successor would benefit all parties. Real Madrid thought they had secured a deal for Mbappé with a bid of £161m, but Barcelona can more than match that bid now.
Gerard Deulofeu, Barcelona
Barcelona have made three signings so far this summer: they made their loan deal for 21-year-old defender Marlon Santos permanent; they signed the Benfica right-back Nélson Semedo for £26m; and they activated their buy-back clause to re-sign Gerard Deulofeu. The former Everton winger captained Spain in the European Under-21 Championship final earlier this summer in Poland, where he continued the fine form he had shown last season for Milan.
Deulofeu was perhaps Milan’s standout player in the second half of the season. The 23-year-old ranked third for successful dribbles in Serie A in the calendar year (49) behind Felipe Anderson (63) and Paulo Dybala (50), and only Radja Nainggolan (41) made more key passes from open play than Deulofeu (40) – although four goals and three assists in 17 appearances represented a modest return. Barcelona would love to promote an academy graduate but Deulofeu plays on the same side of the pitch as Messi and may not have the star power wanted by supporters.