Lionel Messi said Tuesday that it would be a “terrible” blow to see his former Barcelona teammate Neymar at Real Madrid next season.
Neymar became the most expensive footballer on the planet last August when Paris Saint-Germain paid 222 million euros to prise the Brazilian away from the Camp Nou.
Despite missing almost three months due to a foot injury, the 26-year-old scored 28 goals and provided 16 assists across all competitions this season, helping Les Parisiens to the Ligue 1 title as well as the French and League Cups.
However speculation has mounted that Neymar is not happy in France, with reports that Real Madrid are ready to swoop for the former Santos star.
“It would be terrible for what Ney means for Barcelona, in spite of the way he left …,” Messi told Argentine television channel TyC Sports.
“He won important titles here. It would be a hard blow for everyone. It would be a big blow for the entire Barcelona team. It would make [Real Madrid] much stronger than they already are.”
When asked if he would try to convince his friend not to move to the Spanish capital, the Argentina international replied: “He already knows, I already told him. We still keep in contact.”
Meanwhile, Messi named Brazil as the favorites to win the World Cup in Russia, which begins on June 14. Other contenders are Spain, Germany and France, he said.
“Since Tite became coach they [Brazil] have become tighter in defence and in attack they can liquidate you with their fast players,” the five-time Ballon d’Or winner said.
According to Messi, Argentina aim to at least reach the semifinals “because of the history” of the national team.
Runner-up placings at the 2014 World Cup and the past two Copa America tournaments have made the Albiceleste even more eager for success, he said.
“We have no obligation to anyone. We are the first ones who want to be champions, we want to win,” Messi said. “The fact that we were in three finals and were not champions in any of them is also a weight that we carry.”
Argentina kick off their World Cup campaign against Iceland in Group D on June 14, before facing Croatia and Nigeria in the battle to reach the knockout stages.