The Brazil star finds himself marooned at Paris Saint-Germain, where he will have to win over countless critics if he is to salvage his career
On September 1, Neymar jetted away from Paris Saint-Germain, but his destination was the USA with the Brazil national team rather than Spain, where he had desperately hoped to sign for Barcelona or Real Madrid.
‘Se queda’. He stays. If the breakdown of his move back to Camp Nou was not exactly against the odds, it was certainly against the wishes of the player, the Catalan club’s fans and perhaps even certain members of the Paris Saint-Germain board.
With the Ligue 1 champions seeking to recoup a vast amount of the €222 million cash they paid to make the attacker the world’s most expensive player in 2017, an operation to prise him away from the French capital was always going to be tricky for Barcelona – particularly as they had already spent lavishly this summer on the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann to run up a transfer deficit in the region of €130m.
Neymar, though, had made it perfectly clear that he did not want to remain in France and now faces the next year picking up the pieces of a once-promising career that has flown wildly off course. How he reacts could define his legacy: will he be remembered as an overhyped prima donna or one of the best players of his generation?
At the age of 27, he would have expected to have been reaching the peak of his powers, perhaps even claiming the Ballon d’Or that he has so lusted after. Instead, he finds himself fighting for his credibility.
Wasting another season in a sulk would surely be the first definite sign of a career in decline. Barca, with all their attacking riches, could not justify signing him after another unimpressive campaign. PSG, bankrolled, of course, by the vast wealth of QSI, are under no compulsion to sell at anything other than a lavish price.
If the player is upset at his current situation, he would do well to remember that his long-term future could depend on how he acts now.
He begins his quest to return to the summit of the game amid a hostile atmosphere from the local ultras, who made it clear when Thomas Tuchel’s side played their first match of the season at Parc des Princes exactly what they felt of the 27-year-old’s attitude.
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Banners reading ‘Neymar, f*** off” were brandished in full view for the world to see while fans chanted “son of a bitch” in the Brazilian’s direction. Such fervent supporters, fans who followed the club long before they became a European superpower, will not be readily won over.
If the critics are to be quelled, it is essential that the real Neymar shows up as quickly as possible. Of course, he will not have an influence on the first half of the Champions League group stage – due to a three-game suspension – but it is in Europe’s top competition that he must finally make his mark if he is to salvage what has been the toughest period of his career.
Injury cruelly robbed him of the opportunity to play against Real Madrid as PSG were knocked out in the last 16 in 2017-18, while he similarly missed the Manchester United calamity 12 months on.
If ill fortune contributed heavily to his absence from such highlight fixtures, it is no coincidence that he has otherwise struggled to win favour in France.
A tally of 34 goals in 37 Ligue 1 games only tells half the story. Regular reports of a poor attitude and a lack of professionalism have seen him flounder in the popularity stakes next to local boy Kylian Mbappe and veteran Edinson Cavani. The latter’s workhorse attitude and fierce loyalty to the club has long seen him become a darling of the Parc.
The game’s most branded footballer, Neymar, may be the face of the club worldwide, but on a local level he is well down the pecking order in terms of approval.
Publicly, at least, he retains the support of the dressing room.
“We’re not the same team without Neymar as we are when we’re with him,” Mbappe said recently.
Further backing arrived from Thiago Silva, who commented: “Neymar is an indispensable player for any team, he was at Barca, he is for us. It’s a particular problem for a player with the club, we cannot get involved. But in my head, I hope he stays.
“I honestly hope that the transfer window is over soon because I cannot stand it anymore.”
The window has indeed closed, and Neymar remains a PSG player. His break with the national side, taking him away from the circus in Europe, can only be considered well timed.
Se queda. But only time will tell if that’s to the gain of the player and PSG.