Football

Abidal claims he could have returned Neymar to Barcelona in 2019 – but the board signed Griezmann instead

The Frenchman was working as director of football at Camp Nou when the opportunity presented itself to re-sign the Brazilian superstar from PSG

Eric Abidal has claimed that, while working as director of football at Barcelona, he could have brought Neymar back to Camp Nou in 2019, but the club’s board signed Antoine Griezmann instead.

A return for the Brazilian forward had been mooted for some time prior to the Blaugrana entering into discussions regarding a possible deal with Paris Saint-Germain.

In the end, Griezmann was prised away from domestic rivals Atletico Madrid, but Abidal maintains the South American superstar could have returned.

What has been said?

Former Barca defender Abidal told The Telegraph: “Ten days before the end of the transfer window, I went to Paris to talk with Leonardo [PSG’s sporting director] and I was with my CEO, and we were talking about Neymar.

“I think if the CEO goes to Paris Saint-Germain, it’s because we can sign him. If we didn’t sign Griezmann before, I think 100 per cent we could have re-signed Neymar because what we needed was a winger and when Neymar was in Barcelona he was amazing.

“This is not about which player is better, it was what I thought was the position we needed at the time. The team needed a real winger. The president decided to sign Griezmann.

“One of the arguments against Neymar was that he had a court case against the club, so it’s not easy. They said he would have to stop the court process if he wanted to come back. That wasn’t my problem because I was not at the club when that dispute happened. In my view, I could sign the player, but it didn’t happen.”

Who else did Abidal miss out on?

Abidal was one of those to be offloaded by Barca on the back of the humbling 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League that brought to the 2019-20 campaign to a close.

Manager Quique Setien was also relieved of his duties after just seven months at the helm, and Abidal says he advised the Blaugrana to go in a different direction.

He added on drawing up a shortlist of candidates to replace Ernesto Valverde in January 2020: “On my list was Mauricio Pochettino, Quique Setien, Max Allegri and Xavi Hernandez. Quique was appointed, but my first option was Pochettino.”

Quizzed on whether he ever spoke with the former Tottenham boss, who has strong ties to Barca’s local rivals Espanyol: “Yes and not only me. I told the board ‘I have to bring the best coach we can in the market. I’m not here for politics because he was before in Espanyol’.

“For me, it’s not politics. I wanted the best and Pochettino is one of the best in our game. He reached the Champions League final with Tottenham, you have to respect this, he has a good philosophy of playing, a good philosophy of training, players love him and I think he would be a better coach now for this situation, but with a real project.”

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