The Brazil­ian clearly felt he’d hit the glass ceil­ing at Barcelona, so he left Messi and Suarez be­hind to lead the PSG project – though it’s not all been plain sail­ing

Australian Four Four Two - - NEWS -

ney­mar had saved Barcelona when they needed him most. With 88 min­utes gone in the sec­ond leg of their Cham­pi­ons League last 16 tie against Paris Saint-Ger­main, Barça re­quired three goals to over­turn a 4-0 first-leg loss. Ney­mar be­lieved when no one else did. First, he scored a sub­lime free-kick, then a nerve­less penalty. Fi­nally, in the fifth minute of added time, his de­li­cious dinked as­sist for Sergi Roberto se­cured la re­mon­tada im­posi­ble, the im­pos­si­ble come­back. “Messi is the fa­ther, Ney­mar the son, one day it will hap­pen that the son over­takes the fa­ther,” Span­ish TV com­men­ta­tor Al­fredo Martinez – whose re­ac­tion to the tie went vi­ral – told FFT soon af­ter­wards. “In the next two years, you’ll grad­u­ally see Ney­mar as this team’s pro­tag­o­nist, while Messi slowly moves to the side.” Yet for all the col­umn inches ded­i­cated to “Ney­mar’s con­se­cra­tion” at the Camp Nou in the game of 2017, the im­age most widely shared on so­cial me­dia was of an­other: Lionel Messi, stood on the ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ings with arms aloft among an ador­ing pub­lic. Not even af­ter his best game in a Barça shirt could Ney­mar emerge from the Ar­gen­tine’s shadow. De­pend­ing on who you be­lieve, this was the mo­ment the 25-year-old de­cided if he were ever to win the Bal­lon d’Or, he would have to do it away from Cat­alo­nia. Ney­mar’s sum­mer move to the team he had evis­cer­ated that balmy March night changed foot­ball’s land­scape be­yond recog­ni­tion. Awash with €222 mil­lion, an al­ready bloated trans­fer mar­ket mush­roomed. Car­los Ed­uardo Mansur, a colum­nist with the Brazil­ian daily O Globo, sug­gested the switch was “a risky move” but not an un­am­bi­tious one. “Ney­mar’s de­ci­sion to move to Paris shows he has new am­bi­tions in his ca­reer: to lead a project, to be the sym­bol of a club that in­tends to step up a level, to fight to be the best player in the world,” he wrote. “For idols like Ney­mar – a player big­ger than PSG – the of­fer is more than just money. They are at­tracted by the op­por­tu­nity of au­thor­ship, of the for­ma­tion of a team in their im­age, with each move­ment geared to their spec­i­fi­ca­tions.” The ru­mour mill claims PSG will at­tempt to sell Ju­lian Draxler, Lu­cas Moura, An­gel Di Maria and Edin­son Ca­vani to en­sure they re­main within UEFA’s Fi­nan­cial Fair Play pa­ram­e­ters. The Uruguayan for­ward’s pres­ence in that list is in­struc­tive. The PSG hen­house now has a cock too many, with Ca­vani and Ney­mar pub­licly ar­gu­ing over who would take a penalty in Septem­ber’s 2-0 win against Lyon. “Who do you think you are?” Ca­vani is al­leged to have said be­fore tak­ing, and miss­ing, the spot-kick. “Ney­mar is not the boss of PSG,” said the for­mer Birm­ing­ham City and France for­ward Christophe Du­garry. “Soon he will be tak­ing train­ing and pick­ing the team. Where are we go­ing?” Dis­con­tent has reigned ever since, not just be­tween the pair of South Amer­i­can for­wards but also with coach Unai Emery, who re­fused to get in­volved in the spat. The French press points to a “to­tal rup­ture” in their re­la­tion­ship, “an abyss” be­tween coach and star player. In the build-up to Brazil’s Novem­ber draw with Eng­land at Wem­b­ley, Ney­mar had to tear­fully deny spec­u­la­tion that he was un­happy at PSG. He’s be­come a tar­get for op­po­si­tion de­fences, who see him as a prize to be stuffed and mounted above the fire­place. His Oc­to­ber red card in the Clas­sique against Mar­seille came af­ter re­act­ing to Lu­cas Ocam­pos’ close at­ten­tions, the Ar­gen­tine mid­fielder throw­ing him­self to the floor to en­sure Ney­mar’s dis­missal. At Barcelona, in a side full of world-class stars, the petu­lance that had crept into his game dur­ing his fi­nal few months at San­tos had not been al­lowed to de­velop. In­cred­i­bly, Real Madrid are cir­cling, with one colum­nist even claim­ing that Ney­mar could be­come “Figo Part II”. It didn’t take Blan­cos cap­tain Ser­gio Ramos long to flut­ter his eye­lashes, ei­ther. “I like to have the best and it’s clear Ney­mar is one of them,” re­vealed Real’s skip­per. “Maybe it was eas­ier for him to go to Paris Saint-Ger­main in­stead of di­rectly to Real Madrid. “They are per­sonal de­ci­sions and you never know what could hap­pen, be­cause foot­ball goes around a lot. I al­ready have the door open for him if he wants to come. I also have a good re­la­tion­ship with him.” Ney­mar has, how­ever, lit up Ligue 1. He scored 11 goals in his first 12 PSG games and has brought a re­newed glitz and glamour to the French cap­i­tal, ab­sent since Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic swapped the Seine for Sal­ford. On his home de­but in Au­gust against Toulouse, the Brazil­ian scored two and cre­ated an­other two in a 6-2 win, and he hit the back of net in each of his first four Cham­pi­ons League ap­pear­ances. Next year comes the World Cup fi­nals, where Ney­mar will lead an in­creas­ingly balanced Brazil to Rus­sia. Main­tain his num­bers through­out, lift the Sele­cao’s sixth world crown and that cov­eted Bal­lon d’Or might just be his. Wouldn’t that make all of 2017’s carry-on worth it?

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