Who Should Replace Neymar? Barcelona Influencers Take Their Picks

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2017

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13:  Ousmane Dembele #11 of France celebrates with team-mate Kylian Mbappe #12 after scoring their 3rd goal during the International Friendly match between France and England at Stade de France on June 13, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)
Xavier Laine/Getty Images

The unthinkable happened: Neymar departed, and Barcelona's MSN attack was broken up.

Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi remain at the club, but the third part of that trident was valuable in so many ways: a goalscorer, a creator, a commercial behemoth and an appeal for fans, team-mates and coaches alike.

Now it's time to make an important decision: Who should replace the Brazilian?

The Catalan outfit have around £200 million swelling the kitty, and every club knows it, so replacements aren't going to be cheap—it'll be a case of pick which player they want and pay up, whatever the cost.

Plenty of names are already circulating in the media, plying their trade everywhere from the Premier League to La Liga. But what do the club's fans and social media influencers think? We've spoken to supporters and journalists alike, individuals and fan accounts who have insight into what the paying masses want, to find out who would be the most popular fit for the newly vacant No. 11 shirt.

                   

Media Prospects

While the focus will largely be on what the social media influencers want, it's worth noting Barca have already been active in trying to bring in a new face.

MUNICH, GERMANY - AUGUST 01:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool FC controls the ball during the Audi Cup 2017 match between Bayern Muenchen and Liverpool FC at Allianz Arena on August 1, 2017 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
Boris Streubel/Getty Images

A second bid for Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool was rejected out of hand on Wednesday, as reported by BBC Sport, with the £90 million offer not enough to sway the club who sold Suarez to Barca for less.

Coutinho has long been seen as a Barcelona target, but that is partly due to his longstanding friendship with Neymar and because he is seen as the heir to Andres Iniesta in midfield rather than his compatriot in the front three, so the timing seems odd.

Still, there's nothing to stop Barcelona returning with a third bid, and every club has a point at which they will sell.

           

Hurting Rivals

Barcelona aren't the only club considering a move for a left-sided forward this summer, and given the nature of the other notable club doing so—Real Madrid—it's perhaps no surprise they might go head-to-head for a target or two.

Both sides will be in the hunt for trophies, but it's hard to argue Barca aren't playing catch-up, an unfamiliar position for them to be in over the last decade or so.

Twitter account @totalBarca is clear about the route to take, not just to improve Barca's own XI but also to stop domestic and European rivals doing so to their own.

Monaco's French forward Kylian Mbappe Lottin runs during the French L1 football match Monaco (ASM) vs Toulouse (TFC) on August 4, 2017 at the 'Louis II Stadium' in Monaco.   / AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE        (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Gett
VALERY HACHE/Getty Images

"Kylian Mbappe would effortlessly slot into the left side of the Barcelona attack, unlike some other prospects," Dave S. from the site said. "His pace, power and eye for goal would combine beautifully with Messi and Suarez.

"Signing Mbappe would also thwart both Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain in a single manoeuvre. It would put Barcelona back on the map as a force in the game."

It's inarguable that capturing Mbappe would rock their domestic rivals; Marca has continuously reported Los Blancos head the chase for the French forward during the offseason. It was he, not Neymar, who was expected to fetch a world-record fee this summer. The 18-year-old forward exploded on to the scene last season, and his exploits in Europe show he's ready for the big stage already, as Dave was at pains to point out.

"Mbappe is a signing for the present and the future," he said. "The player is ready for our starting XI right now, with room to grow into a bigger role in the future.

"He's motivated to leave AS Monaco, with the team selling all its stars. In addition, MSM has a certain satisfying ring to it. Mbappe is the youth prospect in the European game. He has our vote."

Emphatic, but the favourite to be Ney's replacement? Not so.

     

Clear Favourite

Mbappe was an outlier in that every other influencer we spoke to was looking in a different direction: Borussia Dortmund's Ousmane Dembele.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 18:  #7 Ousmane Dembele of Dortmund in action during the 2017 International Champions Cup football match between AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 18, 2017 in Guangzhou, China.  (Photo
Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Jeff K. from @Youngcules was in no doubt Barca must go knocking firmly on BVB's door and that the move would be a success.

"Dembele is the most obvious answer, and it is the right call," Jeff said. "His skill set would suit Barca a lot, and I don't think we need to have the replacement be this amazing goalscoring threat since we still have Suarez and Messi for that.

"Other than this, it would promote a healthy rivalry with Gerard Deulofeu. Dembele's starting XI spot wouldn't be as set in stone as Neymar's, so Deulofeu and Dembele would have to fight for that left-winger spot, which would be nice."

It's a fair point; three names have been guaranteed to be on the teamsheet in attack over the past few years, leaving the likes of Paco Alcacer and Arda Turan to try to find form and rhythm 20 minutes at a time off the bench.

On the other hand, Neymar was an eight-out-of-10 performer more often than not, and sometimes higher.

TOPSHOT - Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar looks on during his presentation to the fans at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on August 5, 2017.
Brazil superstar Neymar will watch from the stands as Paris Saint-Germain open their season o
ALAIN JOCARD/Getty Images

Editor and club writer Xoel Cardenas makes the same choice but acknowledges there's a tactical reason as much as a technical one to make eyes at the 20-year-old.

"For me, Dembele is the natural fit to replace Neymar," Cardenas said. "He has shown he has the tactical skills and on-the-pitch awareness to fit into the system and that he has the vision to facilitate his team-mates with assists, as we saw in the German Super Cup.

"Ernesto Valverde will demand his players to press more than Luis Enrique did, as that's Valverde's style, so having a young, quick player like Dembele will help the new manager's system.

"Neymar is known for being able to stretch the opposing team's defence; Dembele can do the same—perhaps not to the same level as Neymar just yet—for Barca. The team needs speed, and Dembele can give them that and a lot more."

Freelance journalist Alex Truica goes further and suggests there are similarities that make the BVB man as close to a like-for-like as Barca are likely to find.

And when the front three have led Barcelona to so much success, why change it?

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13: Ousmane Dembele of France  celebrates with Kylian Mbappe of France after he scores his team's third goal during the international Friendly match between France and England at Stade de France, on June 13, 2017 in Paris, France. (Ph
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

"Dembele is the right choice as Neymar's replacement," Truica said. "He's eye-catching, skilful and quick, and when he does his copyrighted move—the shot fake—Dembele even reminds me a little bit of Neymar.

"He's the next big thing in world football, and he even publicly expressed that he wants to play for Barca one day. He'd be perfect for the Catalans, even if he is raw and they have to overpay to get him."

The last point, as suggested earlier, is important to note. Whoever Barca go for, be it Dembele, Mbappe or anyone else, the price will automatically be 10 per cent or more higher than usual because teams know the money is there and that Barca need a replacement.

Without someone to replicate the speed, unpredictability and individuality Neymar gave the team, the title chase is already as good as run. Real Madrid aren't weakened in the slightest, and Barca fell short last term.

Dembele is the influencers' clear favourite—now to see whether Barca can snare him and if he can match up to expectations if they do.

It's a lot of pressure to fall on such a young player, but he has already shown the ability is there. With consistency and further development, even an inflated fee for him this summer might look like a bargain in years to come.

       

All quotes obtained firsthand unless stated.

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