Neymar has told Barcelona that he plans to leave the club, with a blockbuster move to Paris Saint-Germain seemingly imminent.
Barcelona responded Wednesday with a statement saying the Brazil striker’s 222 million euro ($262 million) release clause must be paid in full, a scenario which until recently seemed beyond the reach of any rival.
Barcelona said Neymar and his father met with club officials Wednesday to say he wanted to leave. Club spokesman Josep Vives said the team “referred them to the release clause in his current contract, which as of July 1 is 222 million euros, which must be paid in full.”
Wagner Ribeiro, who represents Neymar, told Spanish media that PSG would pay the buyout clause and present Neymar this week. Ribeiro refused to say where Neymar was flying to.
The payment of the clause would shatter the previous world record transfer of 105 million euros that Manchester United paid for France midfielder Paul Pogba last year.
A few hours before Barcelona released the statement, Neymar spent 30 minutes at the club’s training ground in Sant Joan Despí telling his teammates and coach Ernesto Valverde that he wanted to leave. Valverde gave him permission to go.
Vives, however, noted that Neymar “is still under contract with FC Barcelona, but with temporary permission to not take part in the training session.”
Last year, the 25-year-old Neymar signed a new contract with Barcelona that tied him to the Catalan club through 2021.
Barcelona said Neymar did not specify where he wants 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 seeking comment.
Driving a blue Audi with two passengers, Neymar breezed in and out of the Barcelona’s training ground outside the city. He had arrived in Spain on Tuesday night after holding publicity events for both his personal brand and Barcelona in China.
Club president Josep Bartomeu had repeatedly said that the club would do everything to convince Neymar to stay.
Both Bartomeu and Spanish league president Javier Tebas have said they will consider filing a complaint to UEFA if they think the PSG transfer violates financial fair play rules.
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.
He teamed up with Lionel Messi and Luis Saurez to make an almost unstoppable attack. 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 at Camp Nou, Neymar scored two goals and set up two more to lead Barcelona to a 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.