Lionel Messi feared Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar would join Real Madrid in the summer if Barcelona failed to land his signature.
The Brazil international made it clear that he wanted to depart Parc des Princes but after a period of intense speculation that stretched throughout the transfer window, he ultimately stayed with the Ligue 1 champions.
Barcelona and Real Madrid were heavily linked with the 27-year-old but ultimately neither was willing to match PSG’s asking price for the prolific frontman.
Nevertheless, in the game of transfer poker, Messi feared that Madrid, who spent lavishly to attract the likes of Eden Hazard from Chelsea, Luka Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt and Eder Militao from Porto over the course of the window, would swoop in to sign Neymar.
“I honestly thought that in this market, if he did not come here, he would go to Madrid,” Messi told radio station RAC. “He was really looking forward to leaving and making a change, and he thought that Florentino Perez and Madrid would do something to sign him.”
Barca may not have Neymar in their ranks, but they do still boast Ousmane Dembele. The young Frenchman was dismissed in the 4-0 win against Sevilla immediately before the international break after picking up a second yellow card for dissent towards referee Mateu Lahoz, who claimed the winger told him: “You are very bad.”
Messi, however, has defended the 22-year-old.
“I told the referee that it’s very difficult for Ousmane to say something like that because it’s hard for him to form sentences [in Spanish],” the Argentine said. “The coach supported me at a press conference. We were surprised that the referee understood him so clearly because it’s still difficult for him to speak Spanish.”
On a personal note, Messi has seen his 2019-20 campaign hit by injury problems thus far, restricting the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to five appearances and a couple of goals.
The 32-year-old did, however, win FIFA’s The Best Men’s Player of the Year award at a ceremony in Milan, seeing off competition from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Virgil van Dijk.