Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has added fuel to the fire of speculation linking Barcelona superstar Neymar with a move to Real Madrid after being quoted praising one of his rival club's biggest talents.
Zidane was asked for his thoughts on Neymar's ability to so often showboat and frustrate his opponents toward the end of fixtures, choosing to hail the trickster's quality, per Santiago Siguero of Spanish daily Marca: "That's what Neymar is like. There are those who like it, and others who don't. When you do too many tricks, it's to be expected that your opponent will get angry, but in terms of entertainment value, it's great that people get the chance to enjoy the performances of such a player."
Despite winning a European and domestic treble at the Camp Nou last season, rumours are afoot that Real Madrid will make an attempt to sign the Brazilian. In December, Joaquim Piera of Sport even went so far as to report Real president Florentino Perez is "obsessed" with taking Neymar to the capital.
Neymar hasn't exactly gone to great lengths to rule out a move away from Barca, but the Mirror's Ed Malyon insisted this is little more than a way of securing the contract extension he desires:
Ed Malyon @eaamalyon
Those around Real Madrid found it funny when Sergio Ramos leveraged MUFC for a new deal but seem oblivious to Neymar doing it to them.2016-1-26 15:21:20
Aside from the political difficulties involved in the transfer, Real Madrid would also have to shell out a massive fee to sign Neymar, likely to be beyond the £85 million they reportedly paid for Gareth Bale in 2013.
Neymar's contract contains a release clause worth €190 million (£144.4 million), and former Barca and Brazil icon Ronaldinho recently told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser he only wishes for his countryman to be happy (h/t Daily Mail's John Downes):
Neymar to Madrid? I want him to be happy, he's a friend. I would love him to continue at [Barcelona] and keep making history, but I'm not going to advise him to stay or go, he should just follow his heart. In happiness there is advice, because what is good for one is not always good for another.
Zidane's recent words of praise are likely to only intensify murmurs of a possible Catalonia exit. The player's father, Neymar Sr, believes the tax controversy hounding his son could lead to a future move away from Barca, according to the Sun's Phil Cadden.
That being said, moving to Madrid wouldn't stop Neymar being pursued by the Spanish authorities over allegations of tax fraud, meaning it would have to be the player's distinct desire to push through the move.
Even then, it's very difficult to imagine the Selecao superstar following in the footsteps of former Primera Division great Luis Figo, one of the few major talents to represent both the Blaugrana and Los Merengues.
Barca fans recently showed their support for Neymar, as shown by Bleacher Report UK, emphasising the belief their current star is more committed than Figo, a player they consider to be a traitor:
Bleacher Report UK @br_uk
“Neymar is not Figo” #Barca fans urge Brazilian to snub Real Madrid & stay at the club. https://t.co/bKN9JJJanF https://t.co/0sF44RIKVN2016-1-28 11:51:45
Neymar's showboating often divides opinion amid fans and pundits, with some taking the stance that one of the world's finest players goes to unnecessary lengths in humiliating his foes.
Embarrassing opponents is something Zidane was also familiar with during his days at Real Madrid, and the Blancos boss may be open to seeing Neymar one day do the same under his command.