Barcelona's Gerard Pique says he knew "100 percent" that Neymar would leave the club when he posted a now-infamous photo with his then-teammate saying "He stays."
With the Brazilian staying silent about his transfer plans before his record move to Paris Saint-Germain Pique took a photo with him and posted it online on July 23 with the cryptic caption of "Se queda," meaning "He stays."
As he was introduced at PSG, Neymar said he had asked Pique not to post it, but that the two remained friends, and Pique revealed on Saturday that he knew all along that Neymar would leave Barcelona.
"I don't feel tricked by Neymar. The day I said 'he stays' I knew that he was going 100 percent. It was the final shot," Pique told reporters on the eve of Barcelona's Spanish Super Cup first leg against Real Madrid.
"He got angry with me, but we worked it out. I did it to use my social networks to help this club to keep a player who has a unique talent. It was difficult but I tried to help my club."
Neymar played for Barcelona throughout their preseason tour to the United States, a fact that Pique said should be remembered by those who would criticise him.
"He hasn't disappointed me, there are several ways to leave, some go on strike and Ney fought for the shirt to the last second," Pique said.
"We live in a world where people are sad and like to criticise a lot. Social media is the biggest example -- the whole world expresses anger and sadness, the best example is how they criticise Ney, his dad and his friends.
"Here, everyone is judging them but if they have a salary or a commission it's for something. Because they do something and the club accepts it."
Se queda. pic.twitter.com/RtPHUr9iTH— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) July 23, 2017
Barcelona are actively trying to spend the money they earned from Nemyar's deal on reinforcement, though they've hit roadblocks with both Liverpool and Dortmund rejecting bids for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.
Pique said it would be impossible to find a like-for-like replacement for Neymar.
"He's a unique player, with a special talent, one on one he's the best in the world," he said. "It will be difficult to find a replacement, rather than look for someone like him we have to make ourselves stronger, be a stronger and more competitive team. We can't look for Ney's replacement because he's not available on the market."
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde revealed that he didn't know Neymarwould be leaving until he went public, though like Pique he also was prepared for his exit.
"[I found out about it] the day he came to my office to tell me, which was the day it was made public," he said. "There had been a lot of talk and you could sense there was something as some players had commented something to me the week before, but I didn't know for sure. The best way to replace him is to look forward, not back."
Multiple reports in China on Saturday said Barcelona were set to announce Guangzhou Evergrande's Paulino as their newest signing, and while Valverde mentioned him by name, he stayed quiet on potential deals.
"I don't have any proof of anything. Lots of players' names are mentioned for lots of clubs and it will be like that until August 31," the coach said. "For the moment there is nothing, or at least not that I've been informed of. I have a feeling that Paulinho will not be playing tomorrow night [against Madrid].
"I have no knowledge of what players could come or of what goes on at other teams. I don't worry about that as I have enough on my plate. The names that surface are not anyone's stated requests."