Ney­mar wastes golden op­por­tu­nity to fi­nally step out of Messi’s shadow

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Total Football - By Ja­son Burt

The tears came. David Alaba folded him in his arms at the fi­nal whis­tle in con­so­la­tion and later he sat in the dugout on his own, rub­bing his face in dis­be­lief and run­ning his hand through his Mo­hawk hair­cut.

This was not Ney­mar’s night and, as ever with the Brazil­ian su­per­star, the crit­i­cism will be un­for­giv­ing. They will say he choked. He blew it. They will de­light in a high-pro­file fail­ure by this preen­ing football dilet­tante. They will say it proved, again, that the out­ra­geous money spent on him and the out­ra­geous amounts he earns con­tinue to out­weigh his out­ra­geous ta­lent.

Given Paris St-Ger­main lost so nar­rowly to a won­der­ful Bayern Mu­nich team, were de­nied by some su­perb goal­keep­ing from Manuel Neuer, maybe should have had a penalty for a foul on Kylian Mbappe and spurned a host of chances, then maybe that crit­i­cism is harsh. But it will come.

What is un­de­ni­able – with the fine mar­gins that ex­ist at this level – is that Ney­mar did not take this op­por­tu­nity to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow. He did not claim the crown that he craves. He did not grasp what was there for him.

With vic­tory, Ney­mar would have jus­ti­fied, in one act, his world

record move away from Barcelona when he felt he would al­ways be lit­tle more than a sup­port act for Messi even if he has craved a re­turn since, with the Ar­gen­tine lead­ing the de­mands to bring him back.

It came to a head last sum­mer when Ney­mar stood ac­cused by an ex­as­per­ated PSG of sim­ply not try­ing hard enough, of be­ing warned by pres­i­dent Nasser Al-Khe­laifi that no one forced him to sign for the club, and who was told in no un­cer­tain terms by the fans that he was no longer wanted – only to re­spond by scor­ing an over­head kick win­ner in his first game back.

But scor­ing against Stras­bourg is a bit dif­fer­ent than try­ing to breach a Bayern de­fence in the big­gest club game in world football. And yet he had chances. Two of them and, just maybe, in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, Messi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo would have taken one and that would have made all the dif­fer­ence.

In the first half Ney­mar ran on to Mbappe’s pass, did every­thing right, and shot across Neuer only for the goal­keeper to deny him with an out­stretched leg be­fore re­act­ing sharply to block his fol­low-up as the striker tried to pick out Mbappe. Then, deep into sec­ond-half in­jury time with the des­per­a­tion ris­ing, he was again found by Mbappe, only to turn and shoot across goal and beyond the far post when, with a lit­tle more com­po­sure, he might have hit the back of the net.

And that was it. Those fleet­ing mo­ments. The ef­fort was there as he will­ingly did the so-called “dog­gies” (shut­tle runs try­ing to close down de­fend­ers) sprint­ing be­tween Alphonso Davies, Nik­las Sule and Neuer. That con­firmed he was part of the team. But PSG needed more.

At 28, it felt like this was Ney­mar’s time. He had shone in the quar­ter-fi­nal, in­stru­men­tal in the come­back against Ata­lanta and he had been bright in the semi-fi­nal when he flicked the ball to An­gel di Maria for the sec­ond goal against RB Leipzig. But this was what it was all lead­ing up to. There was an im­age of Ney­mar ar­riv­ing at the Es­ta­dio da Luz with a huge speaker and there is no doubt he has been call­ing the tune on and off the pitch for PSG this sea­son. When a player is such a dom­i­nant char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity it can be dam­ag­ing, but Ney­mar has fi­nally em­braced PSG, or­gan­is­ing din­ners at his house, be­com­ing a leader but, above all, work­ing for the team. It was not enough.

Some­times it is about seiz­ing the mo­ment, but it was dif­fi­cult against such a dis­ci­plined op­po­nent who dou­ble-marked him un­til his frus­tra­tion boiled over af­ter Bayern took the lead and he ap­peared to lose fo­cus.

Ney­mar had the chance to run at Bayern, but was dis­pos­sessed by the for­mi­da­ble Thi­ago Al­can­tara, then tried a trick that sur­ren­dered pos­ses­sion again. It was a sign he was try­ing too hard, which in­evitably meant he was drop­ping deeper and was less of a danger. Bad habits were now re­turn­ing.

It ended. Ney­mar al­lowed him­self a touch of the Euro­pean Cup, a painful re­minder of how close it was and then stared, moist-eyed into the dis­tance as Bayern play­ers col­lected their medals. The chance had gone. The big one. His face said it all. Will that chance come again?

Frus­trated: Ney­mar’s dream of the glit­ter­ing prize was dashed

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