Lionel Messi "would have loved to have Neymar back" at Barcelona and has cast doubt over whether the club pulled out all the stops in its attempts to re-sign him from Paris Saint-Germain this summer.
For most of the recent transfer window, it was reported Neymar wanted to return to the Camp Nou and Barca wanted him back, but no deal could be reached, per Joaquim Piera of Sport.
Messi has now said the Brazilian told him he was "desperate" to go back to Catalonia, and he believes it would have been a good move for Barca despite the acrimonious circumstances of Neymar's departure two years ago, per Sport:
"I would have loved to have Neymar back. I understand those people who are against his return, and it's understandable for what happened with Ney and the way that he left. But thinking about it on a sporting level, I personally think Neymar is one of the best players in the world, and having him in our squad would increase our chances of achieving our objectives. But, in the end, it didn't happen and we have to only think about the squad we have and focus on our goals.
"To be honest, I don't know [if Barca did everything to sign him]. I didn't have much information about how the negotiations were going to say whether or not Barcelona did everything possible. I don't know what happened with the board.
"I know that I spoke with Ney, and he told me how things were going. He was desperate to come back. I don't know if the club really tried or not. What I do know, Neymar was hoping it would happen. I also understand it's very difficult to negotiate with PSG after all their previous back and forth issues with Barcelona. And it's difficult because Neymar is one of the best around. Negotiations are never easy. I can't offer an opinion because I don't know everything. I know what was published and what they said."
It was always going to be difficult to get Neymar back to the Camp Nou as PSG would not have wanted to lose any money on him, meaning Barca needed to at least match the £200 million fee the French cub shelled out to sign him back in 2017.
Given Barca spent £65 million on Frenkie de Jong and £108 million on Antoine Griezmann in the summer, that might not have been feasible.
A number of players-plus-cash offers were reportedly put forward:
But no deal could be agreed. It was a blow for Barcelona for a number of reasons.
In playing terms, Neymar's four seasons at Barca between 2013 and 2017 were remarkably successful, in large part thanks to the superb front line the Brazilian, Messi and Luis Suarez formed:
Barcelona won the treble in 2014-15, the last time Barca lifted the UEFA Champions League or even made a final, and Neymar's return to the club could have given them a boost in 2019-20.
Perhaps even more importantly, though, re-signing Neymar would seemingly have kept Messi happy, a crucial component in Barca's ongoing success.
Ramon Besa of El Pais recently reported that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner has a clause in his contract, which runs until 2021, that says he can opt to depart the Camp Nou at the end of any season (h/t Ben Hayward in the Evening Standard).
In theory, that means Barca are only ever a summer transfer window away from losing arguably their greatest-ever player.
As such, it is important Messi remains happy at the club, and Barca's ongoing pursuit of Neymar could well be linked to the fact that the Argentina captain wants him back:
Per Sport, Messi has said he is still committed to the club with whom he made his reputation, but he did include a caveat that Barca must keep winning:
"What I can say is that I want to be at Barcelona as long as possible. I've said throughout my career that this is my home. But I also don't want to have a long-term contract and only be here because of it. I want to be here because physically I'm fine, to play and be an important member of the squad.
"And as I said before, I need to see there's a winning team because I want to keep winning things at this club. For me, money or a clause don't mean anything. Other things motivate me and the most important thing is having a winning team. Obviously, I want to win and I want to win at this club. This is my home. I don't have any intention of going anywhere, but I want to keep competing and winning."
It is clear that Messi is becoming frustrated by Barca's recent performances in the Champions League, which they have crashed out of in tragicomic fashion in the past two seasons with humiliating second-leg defeats to Roma and Liverpool:
He told Sport it has "been a long time since I last" won Europe's elite competition and added that "as a club, and on a personal level, we must win the Champions League."
It is a tournament that has, in recent times, been dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese has won it five times—one more than Messi—with Manchester United and Real Madrid, and he holds numerous individual records in the competition, including all-time top goalscorer with 126 (Messi is second with 112):
Much of the narrative surrounding Ronaldo's move from Real Madrid to Juventus last term was that he could be the final piece of the puzzle for the Old Lady to break their Champions League duck, stretching back to 1996.
Messi and Ronaldo are often pitted as rivals, and they are unquestionably the two standout players of their generation.
Per Sport, Messi said the pair aren't friends "because we've never shared a dressing room," but he added he would "obviously" accept an invitation to have dinner with Ronaldo, a prospect recently suggested by the Juve star.