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There used to be a time, a more sensible one, when a transfer that would cost €222million would have been disregarded as ludicrous, a mere fantasy, but we don’t live in that time anymore. Brazilian sensation Neymar, has made history, after completing a world-record €222 million (£200 million) move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, as the French giants have triggered the player’s release clause (BBC Sport).
The 25-year old, widely regarded as the next best player in the world, after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who was tipped as the long-term heir for the Argentine at Barcelona, has decided to move out of the shadows of his illustrious teammate and embark on a new journey in the French capital.
Where does that leave the Catalan giants? They are losing one of their best players that has been one of their main protagonists in the recent success that was achieved under former manager Luis Enrique. And with just less than a month left before the transfer market closes, they need to act quickly to try and replace Neymar.
Money will not be an issue for the club, considering the huge windfall from the sale, and they need to use it to bring in a big name, a statement signing so as to equip new manager Ernesto Valverde to challenge on domestic and European stages. Two names that have been spoken a lot of about, in Spain, as the potential replacements for Neymar, are Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe of AS Monaco.
Here we analyze who will be the ideal man for Barcelona to spend on, in order to replace their star man.
Universally heralded as the next big thing in football, much like Neymar was during his days with Santos, Mbappe has taken the footballing world by storm, with a sensational campaign last time around for Monaco. The youngster broke into the first team in December 2015, few weeks before turning 17 and while he did not have the best of debut seasons, finishing with just a goal and a couple of assists in 14 games, it was in the 2016/17 campaign that he really made a mark.
Mbappe emerged as the focal point of the devastating attacking force of Monaco that ended up scoring the most number of goals across Europe last season, leading them to the Ligue1 title and a semi-final run in the UEFA Champions League. The 18-year old finished the season with a whopping 26 goals and 14 assists from 44 games in all competitions.
The Frenchman has the pace, the dribbling abilities, the skills on the ball and is also a supreme finisher, ticking all the boxes for Barcelona to see him as an ideal replacement for their departed Brazilian. And what’s more, Mbappe has been actively pursued by their bitter most rivals Real Madrid and sneaking under their noses and signing him would please the fans to no end and will make a big statement as well.
However, there are several downsides to such a move as well. Firstly, the French league isn’t considered to be at the same level as the La Liga, so there will be a few questions on whether he can make the step up. Mbappe has just had one full season under his belt so far. Yes, he has shown great potential and looks like a superstar in the making, but shelling out £160million, after just one season, will be a major gamble too.
If reports are to be believed, Barcelona have already made several approaches for Liverpool’s Coutinho and have been rebuffed by the Merseysiders. Manager Jurgen Klopp has gone on record stating that the Catalans will be wasting their energy in their pursuit of the Brazilian as the Reds aren’t going to sell him at any price.
It is not a surprise that Liverpool are taking such a hard stance over Coutinho, as he has developed as one of their most important players since his arrival from Inter Milan back in 2013. The 25-year old has gone on to make 181 appearances for the club, scoring 42 times and bagging 37 assists till date. Last season, he produced the returns of 14 goals and 9 assists from 36 games in all competitions, helping Liverpool to a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Much like Neymar, Coutinho comes with that natural flair and skills on the ball and has proven himself to be a world-class player already for a number of years now. With Coutinho being comfortable on the left-wing and in a central midfield role as well, Barcelona will be getting an established and readymade replacement for Neymar and midfield maestro Andres Iniesta too, for when the legend decides to hang up his boots.
Downsides of this move? Not really. But the biggest roadblock will be getting Liverpool to agree to part with the player. The English giants are on the verge of having Champions League football back at Anfield again and under Klopp, they have a project in progress, which very much has Coutinho at the centre of it all.
While there are no doubts that both Mbappe and Coutinho are extremely talented players and can be more than able replacements for Neymar, the balance tilts in favour of Coutinho because he has proven himself for a number of years now, and is more experienced, unlike Mbappe who has had just one full season behind him. Mbappe can turn out to be an expensive gamble, if he fails to hit the heights of last year.