BARCELONA, Spain – Neymar is ready to leave Barcelona, and Paris Saint-Germain is ready to put up a record $262 million to make it happen.
The 25-year-old Brazil striker, widely considered to be among the best soccer players in the world alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, broke weeks of silence Wednesday when he told his Barcelona teammates he wants to move on after four trophy-laden seasons.
The cost of the player’s buyout clause is 222 million euros ($262 million), an astonishing price that Neymar’s representative said PSG is willing to pay.
“After Neymar gave me the green light on Aug. 1, I went to Paris and today I brought back PSG’s offer to pay the (buyout) clause, which will be done in the next hours,” Wagner Ribeiro said Wednesday at the airport in Barcelona.
Ribeiro, speaking at an airport entrance as Neymar headed toward a flight, said his client would be with the French team by this weekend. He refused to say where Neymar was flying.
The payment of the buyout clause would dwarf the previous world record transfer of 105 million euros (then $116 million) that Manchester United paid for France midfielder Paul Pogba last year.
After Neymar and his father met with Barcelona officials on Wednesday, club spokesman Josep Vives said the player was reminded of “the release clause in his current contract, which as of July 1 is 222 million euros, which must be paid in full.”
Messi, who has led a dynamic striking trio with Neymar and Luis Suarez, wished the Brazilian well.
“It was an enormous pleasure to have shared all these years with you, my friend Neymar. I wish you the best of luck in the next stage of your life,” Messi wrote in Spanish on Instagram along with a slide show of pictures of the two playing and celebrating together.
Driving a blue Audi with two passengers, Neymar breezed in and out of the Barcelona’s training ground outside the city earlier Wednesday. He had arrived in Spain on Tuesday night after holding publicity events for both his personal brand and Barcelona in China.
Last year, Neymar signed a new contract with Barcelona that tied him to the Catalan club through 2021. Vives noted that Neymar “is still under contract with FC Barcelona, but with temporary permission to not take part in the training session.”
Barcelona said Neymar did not specify where he wanted to play next, but the only club speculated to be after him — and one of few which could handle the cost of the transfer — is the Qatari-owned PSG.
PSG did not answer messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
A style icon and a national hero in Brazil, Neymar is a lucrative lure for advertisers. Clubs like PSG have taken notice.
With his lightning-quick feet, creative instincts and scoring touch, Neymar helped maintain Barcelona as one of the top clubs in Europe for the past four seasons as he blossomed into a worldwide star. Club president Josep Bartomeu had said that the club would do everything to keep him, but to no avail.
Neymar scored 105 goals — some of them true gems — and was a key playmaker for Barcelona as it won a Champions League, two Spanish leagues, three Copa del Reys, one Club World Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and two Spanish Super Cups.
Yet, even before this drawn-out saga, Neymar also provided more than one headache for his club.
His transfer from Brazilian club Santos in 2013 became the source of a legal dispute that has dogged Barcelona even since. Barcelona said at the time that his transfer cost 57 million euros, while an investigative judge says that the real cost was at least 83.3 million euros.
Now Bartomeu and predecessor Sandro Rosell, who resigned as president of the club amid the transfer scandal, are facing trial on charges of fraudulent administration.
Neymar has also mixed his flair for fancy goals with bouts of immaturity on the field, often needlessly taunting defenders and trying to upstage them with his dribbling skills.
But nobody doubts Neymar is one of the greatest talents of his generation.
PSG saw it first-hand in last season’s Champions League. In his most memorable performance for Barcelona, Neymar scored two goals and set up two more to inspire a historic 6-1 rout to overturn PSG’s 4-0 first-leg win in the last 16.
Unless PSG gets last-second jitters, Neymar will take over a team that is searching for a leader who can achieve elusive Champions League success.