BARCELONA: After a summer of courtship, with Barcelona wooing Neymar to come back, the Brazilian star and his former club have finally agreed a date — but in court rather than on the pitch.
Both sides will meet at a court in the Barcelona suburbs on Friday for a multimillion-euro legal battle over a contract dispute.
Although a court spokesman said the 27-year-old superstar was obliged to show up in person, it was not immediately clear whether he would actually attend.
Barca initially sued Neymar for breach of contract after his shock transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, less than a year after signing a new five-year deal with the Catalan giants.
Worth €222 million ($250 million at the time), the transfer remains the highest sum ever paid for a player.
Barcelona are demanding €8.5 million in damages plus interest, and have refused to pay Neymar the €26 million which was part of his contract renewal bonus signed in 2016.
The Brazilian responded by filing suit against the club over the unpaid bonus, with the two sides set to face off at a labor court on Friday morning.
But his return to the city will be far from the triumphant homecoming the Catalan club had hoped after a summer locked in futile talks with PSG to allow the world’s most expensive player to return.
“Neymar did everything possible (to sign for Barcelona) because it was what he wanted,” Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu said earlier this month.
“The deal didn’t go through because the club could not meet PSG’s demands.”
“It’s a closed chapter,” the striker said after making his first appearance with PSG 10 days ago after four months out as he tried to secure a return to Barca. The Paris home crowd booed and jeered him during the 1-0 win against Strasbourg in which he scored the only goal.
With the long-running transfer saga over for now, the legal dispute takes center stage, focusing on the contract renewal bonus that was signed between the player and the club in 2016.
Although the full sum of the bonus has never been clear, Neymar received an initial payout and was to have received the rest in stages over the course of his new contract.
But when he moved to PSG barely a year later, Barcelona refused to pay.
The Spanish club are demanding that he return the part of the bonus he already received as well as €8.5 million plus interest in compensation for breach of contract.
Neymar promptly filed a countersuit demanding payment of the €26 million with interest, and also filed a complaint with world footballing body FIFA, which was not taken up.
On Friday morning, the two parties will attend a private half-hour session with the judge in a bid to resolve the dispute before the hearing opens at 10:00 a.m. in a session which is open to the public.
According to El Mundo daily, the case is being closely watched by the Spanish tax authorities who are keen to know whether the superstar, who was a tax resident in 2017, paid his dues on both the bonus and his transfer to PSG.
Neymar’s public relations agency, NR Sports, admitted in March that the tax authorities had requested documents and information relating to the ongoing lawsuit, but insisted that the player was not the subject of a new tax investigation in Spain.
The young striker has been beset by legal problems since his arrival in Europe in 2013 following his move to the Catalan giants from Brazil’s Santos.
Barca valued the transfer at €57.1 million but the Spanish judicial authorities estimated it actually amounted to at least €83.3 million, triggering a string of legal cases in both countries, some of which remain unresolved.
And when he transferred to PSG following an obsessive need to emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi and win the Ballon d’Or, things have not become any easier. In the last few months, the superstar who has a huge social media following, found himself facing a rape allegation, which was dropped in August, and an assault charge for hitting a fan after PSG’s shock defeat by Rennes in April’s Coupe de France final.