Speaking in an exclusive interview with Le Parisien, PSG Sporting Director Leonardo discussed the future of Neymar, his new reign & much more. In full.
What is the problem between PSG and Neymar?
Today, he did not turn up at the start of pre-season. He was supposed to turn up and didn’t. But he knew that he was supposed to be here. We are going to look at the measures that we can take, like we would have done for all employees in this position and like we will do.
Did you receive an explanation?
He took on commitments in terms of his institute and his sponsor. But these were not the dates that were agreed with the club. He played his last match on 6th June. Holidays were until 8th July. And then, he did not come.
At what date will Neymar come back to training with PSG?
I don’t know. The only thing I know is that he was not present on the day he was supposed to be, the 8th July.
Has Neymar told you that he wants to leave?
It is clear for everyone. But in football, you can say one thing today and another thing the next… It is incredible but it is like that.
Since your arrival at PSG, on the 14th June, have you spoken with Neymar?
Yes. I am not going to retell all the details of our conversation. We spoke with his entourage too. Everyone knows everything. The position was made clear by all the participants. But the only thing that is concrete today is the following: he has another 3 years of contract with us. And as we have not received an offer, we cannot discuss anything.
At its heart, why does he want to leave?
I have already responded to you. When a player wants to leave the club, and I am not talking about Neymar in particular, that is normal life in football. Why does that have to be viewed as dishonourable? As if the club has not convinced the player to stay. Like it is always the club’s fault. And in the case of Neymar who turned up late to the start of pre-season, is that still the responsibility of the club who has failed to deal with the problem? No. If the player arrives late, that is his fault. Aside from that, there will be internal procedures and we will see how things go. Players not turning up at pre-season, that does not merely happen at PSG.
Where is PSG at with Neymar?
We have not received a single offer. But we have had, it is true, very superficial contacts.
Do you understand the strategy taken by the Barcelona representatives?
They have said that they wanted to buy him but that we did not want to sell.
It was the Barcelona President, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who said that…
Yes he said that… But we, we have not seen that Barcelona are really in a position to buy him.
On what conditions will you accept a sale?
We will have to speak and negotiate, that is all. No more questions about Neymar, please.
One last one. Have you fixed a date by which this Neymar situation has to be over?
It is an important question indeed. Whether or not the transfer happens, it changes a lot of things. Next, a potential deal of this size is not merely a question of feelings. It is a question of finances.
Finally, is it really impossible for Neymar to leave this summer?
Neymar could leave PSG, if an offer is made that works for everyone. But as of today, we don’t know if anyone wants to buy him, nor for what price. All of that won’t be happening in a single day, that’s for sure.
So PSG do not want to keep Neymar at any cost?
PSG wants to count on players who want to stay and build something great. We don’t need players who feel like they are doing the club a favour by staying.
PSG must be bigger than Neymar, that’s it is it?
I don’t know a club that has won consistently with a player that was bigger than them. For a club to advance, it must control everything. Including its most important players.
How are you dealing with the uncertainty surrounding Neymar to work on this summer window?
There is no plan “with Neymar” and “without Neymar”. The reality, is that he has a contract with PSG. Today, there is no offer.
With or without Neymar, what are the requirements for PSG in this window?
We need a defensive midfielder and maybe a player to complete the central defence. In attack, we already have lots of options. It will be important too this season to see young players grow into the 1st team. But there is another important element, that we cannot hide from: FFP. We have to respect the rules and criteria in place.
No desire to strengthen in the goalkeeping position?
No it is not a priority, we have Trapp, Areola, Bulka and a fourth goalkeeper Garissone Innocent. That is the reality today.
Will Areola be the #1 goalkeeper?
We will see what the on-pitch choices will be for the season to come but it is too early to discuss it.
In central defence, is it still possible that De Ligt will join PSG?
No. De Ligt will not be coming to PSG. The possibility existed. He is a fantastic player but it was not the right moment to make this type of big investment. We need to calm down a bit. We don’t have a €200m budget to spend just like this.
Does Koulibaly (Napoli) really interest PSG?
He is a very expensive player… There is no specific target at the moment. But I do not want to talk about individual cases.
Will Thiago Silva still be PSG captain next season?
Thiago still has another year’s worth of contract with the club. He has been here for 7 years. He is a very important player for the team.
Did you try to convince Adrien Rabiot to sign a contract extension or to stay?
No. I made contact with his mother just to say hi but things were already very advanced for them. We didn’t offer him anything.
The arrival of Rabiot at Juventus could push Blaise Matuidi to the exit door. In these conditions, would his return to PSG be possible, desirable?
I love Matuidi. I have a lot of respect and esteem for him. He has always been fundamental for PSG. But PSG today, there are already players and we are going to continue to play with 11 players on the pitch…
Explain to us how things shaped up for your return?
Contacts never stopped with PSG. There was always a certain proximity following my departure. I was not able to refuse when the club called me. I have a special relationship with PSG. Because I was a player here in 1996, I was also here in 2011. Even though I didn’t stay long on both occasions, something strong was formed. And I am happy to come back. That is the basis of everything.
What aims have the club owners fixed for you?
Just to do what a football club at the top level needs to do. To continue to build, stabilise. The most difficult thing is to arrive at this level, to stay there and to grow… We are in a moment where everyone must think. We speak a lot about the arrival of Qatar, but that is only the start of the story. The club is soon 50 years old. Like me! It is important, it is not merely a birthday. What PSG have achieved in the last years is incredible. But incredible! PSG must be proud of itself.
Is your #1 aim to build a team capable of winning the Champions’ League?
This team is already capable of winning the Champions’ League. So in terms of rebuilding, I am not sure. To say that we are starting the season with the desire to win the Champions’ League, that would just be words. We are part of a small group of teams capable of winning the Champions’ League. Aside from that, you lose, you have problems, the ball goes in, the ball doesn’t… That’s normal. We must not have this fixation on winning the Champions’ League, just to build something durable, being concrete.
If you have that in each area, at the end you can win the Champions’ League. This year, we have a different vision. It is time to stop a bit, to reset, to stay calm. This club needs calm. It has taken a lot of risks, made very big investments… Who have done what PSG have done? Very few clubs.
Is it time to change the era?
It is the moment to create something more solid, stronger. To maybe take a step back to then take 10 steps forward.
Have you taken lessons from the big failures in recent seasons in the Champions’ League?
The first lesson, the first change to make, is to not fear failure. We need to overcome this fear inside our heads. Failures, we will experience again. But this is a certainty: PSG are part of the group of teams who could win the Champions’ League.
What are your priorities?
I think about work everyday. I don’t have the key that is going to open the door to the Champions’ League. Who has it? Not me. I just want to be clear about our aim: the club is the great institution at the heart of the entire project.
How did the transition work with Antero Henrique?
Very calmly. We had a good discussion. There were negotiations underway. We dealt with them, Sarabia, Bakker, Herrera, Bulka. That work was well done.
How do you imagine your relationship between you, your President Nasser Al Khelaifi and the Qatari owners will be?
A club, is a club, an entity. There is not someone on the left, someone on the right or in the middle. My relationship with Nasser did not begin today, it is very strong. We know each other by heart. We are closer than ever. But even in the difficult moments, we have never had a big problem between us that has seen our relationship deteriorate. Each person has their role, yes, that is obvious. But if you have a relationship that is more direct and close, then that is better for the club.
Do you have a final message that you want to pass on?
We must not be scared. The club must make the choice of destiny: not to give in to anything, all of the time. We need to remove the idea that people are doing the club a favour by merely being there. That is not an aggressive message: that is normality in a club like PSG. The rest, is work. There are geniuses but they are rare. I believe in work, everyday. We speak of discipline, that is nothing extraordinary, it is just normal.
Will new rules be put in place following your arrival?
I repeat what I have just said. I am not a policeman. I’ve read in places that now, nights out are finished, people will have to respect this or that rule… but it does not work like that. Each person is responsible for what they do, for who they are. If you want to go to a nightclub, that’s your problem. Each person chooses how to manage their career. Us, the club, we fix a general standard, an organisation. It is not punishment that must decide what we do or do not do, it is each person’s conscience that must dictate their acts. One just has to be professional. We want to build a group around those values. But it is easier to say that now than to do it everyday.