Barcelona star Javier Mascherano has advised team-mate Neymar to stay with the Catalans in order to unlock his full potential, while Athletic Bilbao's Aymeric Laporte claims he never said he would turn down a move to Catalonia.
Rumours linking Neymar with Real Madrid, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain continue to swirl, per Ed Malyon and Richard Innes of the Daily Mirror, with all three clubs expected to make a real push for the Brazilian's services during the summer transfer window.
But, as reported by Javier Miguel of Sport, Mascherano believes Neymar would be best served staying with the Blaugrana:
I'm not one to talk about personal subjects, but the truth is I see him happy and comfortable in Barcelona.
If he hopes to be the best in the world in the future, he has to stay at Barcelona, because it's the team which bests suits his style. But it's a personal decision.
It seems ludicrous to suggest Barcelona would even contemplate selling Neymar, one of the best young players in all of football. The 24-year-old has already scored 16 goals and added nine assists in La Liga this season, per WhoScored.com, showing his remarkable value.
The Brazilian is younger than attacking partners Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi and is hugely popular in South America, adding to his commercial value. While he's already a top performer, there's no telling how much better he could still get as he continues to develop.
Here's a look at some of his top highlights:
There's a reason transfer rumours continue to swirl, however, and it goes beyond the usual speculation top players are subject to. Based on Barcelona's current financial state, the club are at a point where they can no longer afford to add to major contracts to their wage bill.
Sky Sports' Guillem Balague explains what that means for Neymar:
Barcelona cannot afford to give new contracts to Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar as it stands - financially they do not have the power to do so. They need to bring a lot of money in, if they do that they will be able to keep them, but if they don't they may have to get rid of one. That's why Neymar keeps leaving the door open for United and others.
Per Balague, Neymar is gunning for a new contract, and as of right now, Barcelona don't have the money to give the player what he wants. The likes of United, Real and PSG could, which is why they believe they have a realistic chance of prising him away from the Catalans during the summer.
Neymar is expected to stay with Barcelona, who will do everything in their power to find the money for a new deal. But an extended stay is far from a certainty at this point.
Meanwhile, Bilbao star Laporte has responded to reports he told French TV show Telefoot he wouldn't leave his current club for Barcelona, claiming his words were misinterpreted.
Speaking to AS (h/t Goal's Stefan Coerts), he said:
At no time did I make the statements that have been published by a number of media outlets. All I said was that in order to make a decision about an offer from Barcelona, there would actually have to be an offer first before considering it. And what's even more important is that any offer would have to go through the club first.
Sport previously claimed the centre-back told Telefoot he would reject an offer from the Catalans should it come while committing his future to the Basque club.
The 21-year-old is widely regarded as one of the top defensive prospects in La Liga, and given his familiarity with the Spanish game and language, he profiles as a prime transfer target for Barcelona, who are expected to add to their defence in the near future.
While Gerard Pique is still in his prime, Mascherano will soon reach the age where he starts to decline, and the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu aren't seen as proper replacements.
Laporte might be. Despite his young age, he already has plenty of experience at the highest level, and his talent is evident, as you can see in this video:
The France international stands out for his power and physicality, but he's also comfortable on the ball and loves to play long passes. He's left-footed, which only adds to his value in the passing game, as he could slide right next to Pique.
The fact he's so eager to clarify his comments and keep the door to Barcelona open is good news for the club, who could be tempted to trigger his buyout clause as early as next summer.
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