Is Neymar the world’s most expensive player?

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Barcelona have stated that they paid €57m ($77m) to sign Neymar from Brazilian side Santos last summer, but, if reports are correct, the club actually spent €95m ($129m) to sign the forward – making him the most expensive player in the world.

According to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, who allegedly got a look at leaked court documents, Barca paid €38m more than previously stated for the 21 year old wonderkid, with payments listed as going “to scout young talent at Santos” and “to help children in the favelas of Sao Paulo” in fact being made directly to Neymar’s father. By reporting these payments as going to sources other than the Neymar family, Barcelona are saving on their taxes, avoiding paying more on the transfer fee and wages.

The case is currently in trial, with the club asserting its innocence. And it may ultimately be that the allegations remain unproven, as it would be difficult to demonstrate where, exactly, the payments have gone. But should they be true, Neymar could very well be top in the world – in terms of cost, anyway. Cristiano Ronaldo cost Real Madrid €94m, more than the cost of Gareth Bale, widely reported as being €100m, but in actuality falling closer to €91m.

Of possibly greater interest, however, is the fact that, should some of these payments be found to be packaged as part of Neymar’s wages, the youngster may be earning more than teammate Lionel Messi. The Argentine makes €11m ($14.8m) per year, plus bonuses. But if some of the payments allegedly going elsewhere are interpreted by the court as being used to disguise extra wages for Neymar, that could mean the Brazilian is earning around €15m ($20.5m) annually.

It’s highly unlikely that this case will prove irregularities in Barcelona’s accounting. Still, it’s intriguing to think of the young Brazilian being the most valued player in the world – and of him earning more than megastar Messi.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.