Neymar says he is sad that some Barcelona fans are angry with him for moving to Paris Saint-Germain, but defended his decision to leave by telling ESPN that “no one is forced to stay in a place.”
The transfer saga dominated headlines over the past two weeks before finally concluding on Thursday with Neymar signing a five-year deal after buying out his Barcelona contract’s release clause for a record €222 million.
Soon after the first reports emerged of Neymar’s interest in PSG emerged, 87 percent of respondents to an online poll in Spanish newspaper Sport thought he was being disrespectful to Barcelona, even while he continued to stay silent on his future while playing in the club’s U.S. preseason tour.
And when his decision to leave did become official, a number of fans posted videos of themselves burning Neymar’s Barcelona shirt.
But on the day he was officially unveiled by PSG, Neymar told ESPN in an exclusive interview that he would not have spoken up to announce his plans any earlier.
“No, because I didn’t have to do anything,” Neymar said. “It wasn’t something that was 100 percent decided. From the moment everybody started talking about it, all the transactions, conversations, I had nothing decided yet.
“The moment I decided, I communicated. People wanted me to stay if I was coming or going but at that moment I was still thinking about it. And I didn’t have to say that I was staying at Barcelona if I was already there.
“It’s something very crazy, but I understand the perspective of the fan. It is a passion beyond anything else, but I never disrespected the club, I never wanted anything of that.
“At the end, yes I am sad, but for everything that was said, everything they did, and them thinking I left them in the wrong way. I didn’t want that. Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone.
“And each player has his motivations. No one is forced to stay in a place, and at that moment I didn’t want to. I wanted a new challenge for me.
“I am respectful, thankful for all the love from all the fans at Barcelona. I thank the team personnel for everything that they have done for me over the years and mainly the players, who have supported me in a spectacular fashion.”
In his farewell video posted online a day earlier, Neymar said that his father did not initially want him to leave Barcelona, surprising many who believed he was the driving force behind the move.
Asked why his father at first questioned his desire to leave the club, Neymar said: “Because they are Barcelona. It has been difficult to leave Barcelona. I was very well adjusted there. After spending four years at the club, I was happy there. I had the best player in the world [Lionel Messi] by my side. I had great players.
“So my dad asked me: ‘Why would you leave Barcelona at this moment?’ I think that was what he was thinking. But now he is very happy.
“He is very happy with this new challenge and he is already pushing me to train harder. But I am very, very happy.”
Initial reports on the transfer claimed that Neymar was leaving to escape the shadow of Messi, and at the same time give himself a better chance of winning the Ballon d’Or. But Neymar said being named the world’s top player was not his primary concern.
“Of course, every player in football dreams of someday winning the Ballon d’Or,” he said. “I can’t say that I don’t dream about it. Of course of I want it. But it’s not something in the front of my mind.
“I didn’t come here to be No. 1. Just the opposite, I came because I want a new challenge. And because of what Paris Saint-Germain stands for.
“Today it is becoming one of the best clubs in the world and I expect to make a lot of history here and make the fans very happy.”
And while Neymar said that his first year at PSG would be “the most important season” in his career, he also insisted that his game will go on like it always has.
“It doesn’t change anything,” he said of his move. “I changed the club, the city, but my football is the same. I didn’t die. I’ll continue to play football, just in another location.”