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Barcelona Continue To Insist They Did Not Know Neymar Wanted To Leave Until July

Barcelona director Albert Soler has played down suggestions they had months to prepare for Neymar’s departure – saying WhatsApp messages prove there was no interest until the summer.

The club had a nightmarish transfer window, losing Neymar to PSG after they activated his £198million release clause, and failing to sign prime target Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool.

Soler says he first became aware of interest in Neymar in mid-July, before his departure early in August, leaving them with little time to respond.

In an extraordinary and wide-ranging press conference, Soler said:

‘I have a message that tells me PSG wanted Neymar on July 19. Luckily, WhatsApps have dates. The interest was not in January or March, but on July 19.

‘The rumours started at the end of July. Both the President and I didn’t know he’d leave prior to that’

Soler said the main issue surrounding losing Neymar for Barca was not how much PSG had paid – or the fact they had activated his release clause, although this was a source of irritation – but simply because he is a difficult player to replace.

Barca signed Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund after Neymar went, however Soler said it would be wrong to say he could immediately replace the Brazilian.

He said: ‘We immediately got to work once we learnt about Neymar going to PSG, but he’s a very, very, very difficult player to replace.

‘Issue isn’t the £198m, it’s that Neymar is no longer with us. We’d like him to still be here. Whoever says otherwise is lying’

‘Release clauses are an added handicap for Spanish clubs. We should all play with the same rules’

Soler also used the press conference to attack English clubs – he criticised Liverpool over Coutinho, but also Manchester City, managed by former Barcelona captain and coach Pep Guardiola.

City spent big this summer, including spending a record fee for a goalkeeper to get Ederson from Benfica, a transfer alluded to by Soler in the context of financial fair play restrictions.

He said: ‘If Robert [Fernandez, fellow director] and I sat here and announced we signed 2 players for €270m, we’d have crossed the line and we’d have to resign.

‘It’s reached the stage where one club paid 50 million for a goalkeeper. We’re relieved that UEFA are opening investigations. We’re not going to enter into a market which is has gone way out of control.’