Neymar’s time at PSG looks over after dream became a nightmare
Since world record move the Brazilian has suffered with numerous injuries
Neymar looks likely to depart Paris Saint-Germain just a few years after his world record signing. Photo: Aurelien Meunier - PSG/PSG via Getty Images
This wasn’t how the scenario was supposed to play out. Neither for Paris Saint-Germain, nor for Neymar. When the French club brought the Brazilian superstar to Ligue 1 for a world record transfer fee two years ago, each of the actors had their own storyline in mind.
For PSG, grabbing Neymar from rivals Barcelona showed intent. Here was a powerful statement. Not only were PSG not a selling club – they had previously resisted overtures from Barcelona for the Italian midfielder Marco Verratti – now here they were signing one of the most exciting talents on the planet and, moreover, tempting him away from one of European football’s powerhouses. Neymar would be the final piece in an expensively assembled jigsaw (the 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé would join PSG shortly after), built to win the Champions League – the holy grail for Qatari owners only partially sated by the team’s domestic dominance.
Neymar, then 25, had won Spain’s Liga twice and the Champions League with Barcelona, forming a formidable strike trio with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. But therein lay the problem for the Brazilian forward. However skilful, however decisive – think back to his performance against PSG in that amazing 6-1 Champions League comeback victory – Neymar at Barcelona would always be in Messi’s shadow. And therefore unlikely to garner the individual prizes such as the Ballon d’Or that he craves. The switch to PSG would see Neymar become the main man. The team would play for him and if he could lead PSG to their first Champions League triumph, surely then the awards would follow. It was a great plot and entirely feasible, on paper.
Today, though, this football love affair seems to be heading towards a bitter end. PSG failed to reach even the quarter-finals of Europe’s most-prized cup competition over the past two seasons and Neymar, after a bright start and despite scoring a bucketful of goals, always seemed to be absent when the big games came around (for example, he was injured and missed both matches against Manchester United last season). And although Neymar was initially adored by PSG fans, he has been overtaken in the popularity stakes by Mbappé, still only 20, still on the rise and a native of the Paris suburbs. In other words, he’s one of theirs.
Mbappé, top scorer at PSG last season with 33 Ligue 1 goals from 29 matches, is surely, right now, a better bet as a future Ballon d’Or winner than Neymar. And if forced to choose between the two, PSG would clearly back the Frenchman. Which all leaves the Brazilian in a quandary. What to do?
The noises from Neymar’s entourage suggest a desire to return to Barcelona who, along with Real Madrid, Manchester United and perhaps Juventus, are one of the rare clubs that could afford him. And Barcelona have engaged in some very public mischief-making in recent days, telling the world that Neymar – missing out on Brazil’s triumphant Copa América run through injury - was unhappy in Paris.
Actually, of course, Neymar is not physically in Paris right now. Wherein lies the problem. PSG expected him to show for the start of pre-season training with the rest of the squad yesterday. Neymar, though, remains in Brazil. His father told Fox News that the club were aware Neymar had a charity event organised for his foundation and that his son would be back in the French capital on July 15th.
For PSG, being aware of something and giving permission are seen as two starkly different things. The club issued a terse statement, saying they “deplore the situation and will take appropriate measures”. Which normally translates as a hefty fine. The conflict is, then, open. And very public. Up to now, PSG had always swatted away transfer speculation around Neymar and Mbappé. Today, for the first time, PSG made it clear the Brazilian can go.
“Neymar can leave PSG if there is an offer that suits everybody,” PSG’s sporting director, Leonardo, told the French daily Le Parisien. He said it was “clear for everyone” that the player wants to leave.
Leonardo, who recently returned to the club where he played and where he helped the Qatari owners put together in 2012 the first team of superstars by attracting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Carlo Ancelotti to Paris during his first stint as director of football, said the club had not received any offers for Neymar, who has three years remaining on his contract.
Right now, it’s very difficult to see how this story doesn’t end with Neymar packing his bags and leaving Paris. On the social networks and radio phone-ins the reaction of the vast majority of PSG supporters can be summed up as: good riddance. Let him go, they say. We have Mbappé. And no player can think he’s bigger than the club – a message Leonardo underlined in his interview. Indeed, the writing has been on the wall for Neymar, perhaps, since last month when PSG’s chairman, Nasser al-Khelaifi, spoke to France Football magazine about his star signing.
“Nobody obliged him to sign here, nobody pushed him into it. I want players who are ready to give their all to defend the honour of our shirt … for those who don’t get it or don’t want to, we can meet and we can talk.”
Now, it seems, the time for talking is over. At least between the club and the player. PSG will let Neymar leave if they get a decent transfer fee. Barcelona are apparently interested but now know that PSG would be glad to see the back of their want-away player. The negotiations promise to be juicy. French and Spanish media suggest Barcelona would struggle to muster the funds for Neymar and would likely try to come up with some form of player-plus-cash proposition. PSG are looking for a central defender and might be interested in Clement Lenglet or Samuel Umtiti. Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé are also often mentioned in dispatches. It’s set to be the saga of the summer. This one could run and run. – Guardian