The Brazilian’s debut season failed to deliver European success, but his coach believes he is the key to the Paris club’s future
Outgoing Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery believes his successor must accept Neymar’s pre-eminent status at the Parc des Princes.
Neymar joined PSG in a world-record €222million switch from Barcelona last August and the Brazil superstar’s arrival alongside teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe equipped Emery with an enviable array of attacking talent.
Although the capital city club regained Ligue 1 from Mbappe’s former side Monaco at a canter, Real Madrid ended their Champions League hopes in the round of 16 and ex-Sevilla boss Emery did not have his contract extended beyond the end of the campaign.
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In a wide-ranging interview with Spanish online magazine The Tactical Room, Emery reflected on managing a dressing room of star names in Paris and acknowledged Neymar’s status as the most important individual at the club.
“One day, Jorge Valdano [former player, coach and director at Real Madrid] made me the following reflection, ‘At Barcelona the leader is [Lionel] Messi; at Madrid it is [president] Florentino Perez, and the Atletico de Madrid [leader] is [Diego] Simeone,” Emery said in quotes that were translated into French on the Culture PSG website.
“A player, a president and a coach. Each time, a different leader profile. I know when I’m the main person in a group and when I’m not.
“It’s a process that every coach has to live and internalise, it’s something you learn with time and experience.
“In each club you must know what role you play and what role you assign to the rest of the group. My opinion is that at PSG the leader is called Neymar.
“Or more exactly, the leader will be called Neymar, because that is what he is becoming. Neymar came to PSG to be the leader, to live the necessary process to become the world’s number one.
“This is a process that still needs a little bit of time to consolidate. In Manchester City, the chief is Pep [Guardiola]. At PSG, the leader must be Neymar.”
Emery’s relationship with his all-star squad has been a source of regular scrutiny this season, but he maintained there were no issues in terms of a language barrier.
“My mastery of French was enough to explain and make me understood,” he said. “It is obvious that one of the reasons for a coach’s success is communication and connection with the players. I am talking about an emotional connection.
“In addition, I tend to talk a lot in a locker room, although it is obvious that at PSG I reduced the intensity of my speeches to 60 per cent, but I managed to communicate in French thanks to what I studied as a child and what I learned in these two years.
“All my communication with the team was in French, and I think we understood each other well and that language was not a barrier in this process.”
To achieve Champions League success in the future, Emery believes PSG must come through the kind of pressure situation in which they have buckled against Barcelona and Madrid over the past two seasons.
“This year, we experienced this moment when everything could switch. It was the Bernabeu and Madrid were suffering,” he added. “We could see that they were suffering.
“We had talked about it before the match – ‘to lose, Madrid must suffer’. We wanted to bring them the fatal blow when they were the most in trouble.
“We had the opportunity in the second half when it was 1-1. At that moment, I was very quiet, because the victory seemed to be at hand.
“We did not finish when we could and we did not suffer when we had to.”