Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff has long held power without a position from his adopted home in the Catalan capital's finest hillside suburbs. Potential presidential candidates consult him, coaches too. He's the wise old village elder with the knowledge, intelligence and credibility to back up his often cogent and frank opinions. He was a hero in Barcelona both as a player and a coach.
He also inspired a methodology which continues to deliver sustained success, but his lack of official position means he's got no job to lose for being outspoken or critical - as he usually is. Nor is he a respecter of the moment.
On Tuesday, as Barcelona's players and fans were basking in the glow of Sunday's brilliant 4-3 clasico victory in the Bernabeu, an unexpected triumph in the best match seen in football so far in 2014, Cruyff chose to deflate the mood.
"The problem with Barca is Neymar," said the Dutchman who has lived in Catalonia since 1988. "It's not right that a 21-year-old boy earns more than players who've won everything."
Cruyff hadn't witnessed the clasico as he was on a flight to Kuala Lumpur, though he admitted that the result surprised him. Like many, he expected Madrid to justify their status as favourites. They'd gone on a 31 game unbeaten run sine October's clasico, yet their world came crashing in as Lionel Messi showed why he is still the world's best player.
Messi, who Barca's club president Josep Maria Bartomeu yesterday announced would be offered a contract which made him the world's highest paid player earning more than the £336,000 a week Ronaldo earns in Madrid, is the stand out star. Yet doubts have arisen that he's not even the best paid player at his club. That's Neymar, though the figures surrounding the Brazilian are shrouded in obfuscation.
Messi's "people" are not shy at coming forward in negotiations and know that Barça's new president is under pressure to get Messi to sign yet another contract extension which will take him past his current one which runs until 2018. They rejected the first offer, probably because Barça wanted Messi's image rights and Messi wanted 100%. Ronaldo splits his 50/50 with Madrid.
Given Messi's form and status, he's in a strong negotiating position, especially with Manchester City said to be willing to unload more petro- millions in his direction, but what of his Brazilian strike partner who started Sunday's clasico but continued to underwhelm? Neymar has scored just seven league goals since signing from Santos. The feeling persists that he started because he cost so much. He was replaced by Pedro after 68 minutes, one of the few visiting players not to excel.
He remains a happy, smiley, clichéd Brazilian footballer in the dressing room - as well he might given the deal negotiated on his behalf with former president Sandro Rosell, but Cruyff isn't alone in his criticisms.
Neymar's team mates are publicly defensive of their man who arrived with a vast contract but a smaller ego. He'd need that to fit in with Messi, Barcelona's commander in the shadows who makes key decisions. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa didn't always fit in with Messi, but the young Brazilian is reverential in his tone and claims that he wants to learn from those around him. Fine, it's still his first season and he deserves time. He didn't negotiate his contract either and can't be blamed for signing it, but those around him might object to teaching someone who earns twice as much as them.
"Barcelona already have the best footballer in the world," added Cruyff, "but at 21-years-old nobody is god. With 26 years (Messi), yes, but with 21 years (Neymar) no.
Cruyff warned of the dangers of a ship having two captains when Neymar signed. His word is gospel for many fans who were excited by the prospect of Neymar, but were keen to see that he can play in the Barça system. The jury is still out. Neymar doesn't act like a captain, but he's paid like one.
Andy Mitten will be blogging for us on all matters in La Liga throughout the season. He contributes to FourFourTwo, the Manchester Evening News and GQ magazine amongst other publications.
- Sports & Recreation
- Johan Cruyff
- Lionel Messi