Lawyers for Brazilian footballer Neymar and Spanish champions Barcelona went head-to-head in court on Friday after failing to avert a multi-million-dollar battle over a tangled contract dispute.
The hearing opened in the early afternoon at a court in the Barcelona suburbs, but the star striker was not present.
He had arrived in the city on Thursday but returned to Paris a day later where he was seen training with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) during the afternoon.
Lawyers for the two sides had tried to reach an agreement during closed-door reconciliation talks in the morning, but without success.
“It is going to court,” Barcelona lawyer Josep Vives told journalists outside the court.
After several hours of wrangling in court, the two sides were told to present their conclusions in writing on October 21 after which the judge will issue his ruling at a date which has yet to be set.
The case revolves around a decision by Neymar, the world’s most expensive footballer, to quit Barcelona in 2017 and join PSG in a stunning coup for the French club.
The move angered the Spanish giants who filed a complaint for breach of contract against the 27-year-old superstar.
Neymar’s shock transfer to PSG for a world record 222 million euros ($250 million at the time) came less than a year after he signed a contract that would have kept him at the Spanish club until 2021.
As well as filing a lawsuit, Barcelona refused to pay him the remainder of his contract renewal bonus, which he was to have received in instalments.
The young Brazilian quickly hit back with a lawsuit demanding payment of the bonus in full.
– ‘The taxman watching’ –
Until now, the full value of the bonus has never been made public, but according to figures cited during the hearing, the gross sum was 64.4 million euros, of which Neymar received a first tranche of 20.75 million.
After his transfer, Barcelona refused to pay him the remaining 43.65 million, which after tax amounted to a sum of 26 million euros.
The Spanish club demanded he return the part of the bonus already received as well as 8.5 million euros plus interest in compensation for breach of contract.
Neymar promptly countersued, demanding payment of the 26 million euros with interest.
Addressing the court, Barca lawyer Carles McCragh said the money was “a loyalty bonus” linked to the length of the contract but the club had made an early payment at the request of Neymar’s family “who were having financial problems in Brazil”.
Neymar’s legal team challenged that narrative, with German Martinez saying the initial payment was linked to “the signing of the contract” and completely unrelated to “remuneration for services rendered” on the pitch.
According to El Mundo daily, the case is being closely watched by the Spanish authorities who are keen to know whether Neymar, who was a tax resident in 2017, paid his taxes on both the bonus and his transfer to PSG.
The striker has been beset by legal problems since his arrival at Barcelona in 2013 from Brazil’s Santos.
Barca valued the transfer at 57.1 million euros but Spanish prosecutors believe the amount paid was at least 83.3 million euros, trigging a string of legal cases in both countries, some of which remain unresolved.
Since transferring to PSG, things have not been any easier.
In the last few months, the superstar who has a huge social media following, found himself facing a rape allegation, which was dropped in August, and an assault charge for hitting a fan after PSG’s shock defeat in April’s French Cup final.