PARIS: Brazilian superstar Neymar landed back in Barcelona on Tuesday evening, avoiding making any comment on the ongoing speculation about a possible world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.
The 25-year-old Barcelona forward was travelling back from China and had earlier posted a video on social media apparently from Dubai airport, amid suggestions that he could have been bound for Paris.
He has remained silent while rumours swirl that he will join the French club, who are reportedly ready to pay the 222 million-euro ($260 million) buyout clause in his contract at the Camp Nou.
Neymar, who was in Shanghai on Monday fulfilling a sponsor’s engagement, had also posted a photo on Instagram with the caption in Portuguese: “Lunch at half-way”.
In another video posted from an aeroplane, Neymar joked around with an image messaging app that superimposed a Spanish flag and a small plane on his tee-shirt — suggesting he was indeed headed home to Barcelona.
The decor in that video was identifiable as from an Emirates aeroplane.
Earlier reports claimed that he was headed from China to Doha to meet PSG’s Qatari owners and pass a medical before a world-record transfer.
But his being on an Emirates plane ruled out Doha as a possible destination given the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours.
And Neymar finally landed in Barcelona just before 9:00pm local time (1900 GMT), taking a backdoor exit to avoid the dozens of journalists and a few supporters — some wearing PSG shirts — who had been awaiting his arrival.
A video filmed by a passenger and broadcast on Catalan television channel TV3 shows Neymar in an area reserved for flight crew. He is wearing headphones and avoids responding to fans asking if he is staying with Barcelona.
“FCB (Barcelona) and Neymar’s entourage confirm that the player returns to Barcelona today. He will train tomorrow and continue with life as normal until everything is sorted out,” tweeted Marcelo Bechler, the Brazilian journalist who first broke news of an “agreement” between the player and PSG on July 18.
Barcelona, who lost 3-2 to Real Madrid in Miami on Saturday, the last match of a US tour, are due to train at 9:30am on Wednesday.
“Neymar and the rest of the squad are due at training,” a club source told AFP.
Barcelona’s next match is on Monday in the annual Joan Gamper trophy, in which they will host Chapecoense, the Brazilian club whose team was decimated in an air disaster last November.
Ernesto Valverde’s side play their first official match on August 13 against Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Neymar, though, has a nasty surprise awaiting him upon his return as Barcelona have blocked payment of a 26 million-euro bonus he is due, a source at the club said.
“These 26 million euros have been placed with a notary pending to see if the player continues,” the source, who refused to be named, told AFP.
The renewal bonus was agreed on a year ago when Neymar extended his contract with Barcelona until 2021, and was due to be paid to the player after he completed a year.
But the club has decided to put it on hold while waiting to see how his transfer situation evolves.
The contract Neymar signed also increased an early termination clause from 200 to 222 million euros, a sum which PSG are reportedly willing to pay.
Neymar first made his name at Santos, the former club of Brazil legend Pele, with whom he won the Copa Libertadores and Brazilian Cup.
A big-money move to Barca followed in 2013 as 56,000 fans turned up for his official unveiling at the Camp Nou.
In his four years with the Catalans he has won the Champions League in 2015, La Liga twice, the Spanish Cup three times and one FIFA Club World Cup.
Last year he also helped Brazil on home soil win the Olympic title for the first time.