Barca face Messi-style Olympic choice for Neymar
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona will consider what is best for Neymar when they decide whether to release their Brazilian star for the Olympic soccer tournament at the Rio Games - just as they did for Lionel Messi in 2008, coach Luis Enrique said on Friday.
Neymar, part of the Barca team on course for a second successive treble this season, has said he wants to be one of Brazil’s three permitted over-age players at the Olympic Games from Aug. 5-21 in his home country.
The 24-year-old was in the team that lost the final of the 2012 London Games to Mexico, failing to end Brazil’s wait for their only missing major football trophy.
“The Olympic Games in your own country is something special for any sportsperson, no matter what the sport,” said Luis Enrique, an Olympic soccer gold medal winner with Spain at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
“’Ney’ already has a prior commitment,” he said of the Centennial Copa America in the United States in June where Neymar will captain Brazil.
“We’ll have to see how we manage the situation so the demands on him are not excessive, always putting (the wellbeing of) the player first,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.
The Olympics are very close to the start of the football season in Spain - the current season began on Aug. 22 - and should Neymar go to the Games he would miss a good part of Barcelona’s pre-season.
Luis Enrique said the case was the same for Rafinha, a 23-year-old midfield reserve at Barcelona.
World governing body FIFA confirmed in September that clubs were not obliged to release players for the Olympic tournament.
Barcelona faced the same choice eight years ago when Messi wanted to play for Argentina at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Then coach Pep Guardiola allowed the then 20-year-old Messi to go to China and he helped his country win a second successive soccer gold medal.
Barcelona are six points clear at the top of La Liga with 14 matches to go, in the final of the King’s Cup and the last 16 of the Champions League in which they face Arsenal with the first leg in London on Tuesday.
(Writing by Rex Gowar)