Neymar’s mission to be the best
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
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 summer 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?