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REAL MADRID

Real Madrid: Zidane return leaves Neymar out in the cold

El regreso de Zidane aleja a Neymar del Real Madrid

FRANCK FIFE

AFP

The emergence of Vinicius, the status of Kylian Mbappé and the reluctance of the Real coach to sanction a move means the Brazilian won't be a Madrid player.

Neymar and Real Madrid: a story of star-crossed lovers that last summer seemed as though it may have a happy ending now looks destined to end in a tragically as Shakespeare’s great play.

The nods towards the Bernabéu from the Brazilian superstar over the course of the last year have been returned with a raised eyebrow from the Spanish capital, not least by Florentino Pérez, whose heart has always been set on securing the signature of Neymar. Almost as soon as the former Barça player completed his move from Camp Nou to PSG in August 2017, Neymar appeared to be agitating for a move back to Spain and it did not go unnoticed by Real Madrid. Negotiations were entered, in a discreet bid to persuade PSG owner Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to consider manking a whopping profit by sending Neymar back to LaLiga to wear the White of Madrid in the summer of 2018.

But despite Real emissaries travelling to Brazil in February of the same year to speak to Neymar and his advisers while he was recovering from the first of two foot injuries he has suffered since joining the Ligue 1 giants and that would keep him sidelined until the World Cup in Russia. However, the principle issue was that signing Neymar was always the obsession of Pérez, who had wanted to land the player ever since he saw him as a 14-year-old, and not so much his technical staff. Neymar’s father knew this and sought to make hay from the shining Madrid sun.

Real’s head of international football, Juni Calafat, became a personal friend of the Neymar family during the player’s visit to Valdebebas 13 years ago and a deal to take the Brazil captain to the Bernabéu was always on the table, even when he eventually went to Barcelona with the aid of André Cury, the Catalan club’s man on the spot in South America.

The main stumbling block in the bid to bring Neymar to Madrid, other than the obvious and effective intervention of PSG, was the Real Madrid coach at the time: Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane return makes Mbappé prime target

The Frenchman admires Neymar, the football player. But according to club sources and those close to Zidane, he always believed that the enormous outlay that would be required to secure the Brazilian’s signature could be better invested elsewhere, that there were players of a similar standing who would but more full into his ethos of team above individual and squad harmony. Zidane saw Neymar and the media circus that accompanies the Brazilian as an unnecessary distraction and was unimpressed by his tendency to fly back to Brazil at every opportunity. The difference of opinion on that subject between Zidane and Pérez was one of the reasons the Frenchman stood down in the first place.

At the same time, PSG were busy blocking all exit routes and Neymar decided that the best thing he could do was knuckle down, pledge his allegiance to the club and to new coach Thomas Tuchel and try and lead PSG to a glorious season after Brazil’s disappointment in Russia. Real Madrid and Neymar waved “adieu,” but the sensation is now that the farewell was little more final.

Vinicius Junior has become the figurehead of the new Real Madrid and at just 18 years old has won the hearts of club and fans alike. With the youngster called into TIte’s Brazil squad and occupying the same position on the left of attack as Neymar, the club’s priorities have changed. And Neymar’s own teammate, Kylian Mbappé, has now usurped the Brazilian in Pérez’s affections. Zidane is also a firm admirer of the young France forward and Pérez is rather more hopeful that the aura of Zidane can be used to lure Mbappé south.

With Zidane handed the keys to the Bernabéu to ensure his return from self-imposed exile, it is the manager who will have the final say on transfers. Given his reluctance to sanction a move for Neymar initially, his preference for compatriot Mbappé and the respective ages of the two PSG stars, it would appear evident that Neymar’s chance to move to Madrid has definitively been and gone.