Neymar & PSG: It’s over
The immensely talented winger has picked up yet another injury and it’s hard to see him staying at the Parc des Princes beyond the summer…
Everyone remembers that Neymar goal. The 17-year-old Brazilian evades two tackles, plays a one-two with a teammate, rolls the ball between his legs, touches it with the inside of his foot around two further defenders, and pokes his shot past an oncoming goalkeeper.
It was the goal that announced Neymar to the world. 12 years later, it seems a lifetime away.
That same player is now sidelined with a fourth ankle injury in four years and is set to miss PSG’s biggest game of the season. That same player now has to move on, find a new club, and try to rediscover the 17-year-old that shocked the world.
Neymar seems to spark debate wherever he goes. To some, he is the spirit of samba, the heir to Ronaldinho and Pele. To others, he represents unfulfilled potential – a character who grabs the spotlight and tarnishes the game with histrionics and a laissez-faire attitude towards hard work.
But therein lies the appeal of Neymar. He is one of the best in the world because football comes so easily to him. It would almost be disappointing if he tried because that would ruin the very essence of what the player is about. His ability to translate his talent to teamwide success is, in many ways, irrelevant. Neymar is best enjoyed in isolation.
The problem is, football doesn’t work like that. The best in the world are supposed to raise the level of those around them. They are supposed to win trophies. GOAT debates are not settled on elasticos alone.
And that is perhaps why Neymar moved to PSG in the first place.
By his own high standards, he’d endured a middling season at Barcelona in 2017.
The Blaugrana finished second in La Liga and were bounced by Juventus in the Champions League quarter-final. Neymar, though a crucial part of the team, had not matched his electric form from the year before. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were grabbing the headlines, and despite Neymar’s match-winning performance in the best Champions League comeback of all time, he rarely received the plaudits he felt he deserved.
A PSG switch, then, made sense. Neymar could have his moment and bask in the Parisian spotlight. He had his own team, his own league, his chance to show that he could drag the players around him to success.
And for a season, he did. In his first campaign in France, Neymar came to life. He tallied 32 goal involvements in 20 Ligue 1 starts and scored six in seven in the Champions League. PSG did the domestic treble and won Ligue 1 by 13 points.
But the season crumbled when Neymar picked up an injury. PSG lost, 3-1, to Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League last 16. The Brazilian was sidelined for the second due to an ankle injury. PSG lost 2-1.
And Neymar has never quite been the same since. He rushed back from that knock in time for the 2018 World Cup, and could not prevent Brazil crashing out of the competition in the quarter-final despite making it into the team of the tournament. He was also maligned during the competition for spending a total of 14 minutes on the ground following fouls and asserted after the tournament that he might never play for Brazil again.
It was widely assumed after the competition that Neymar would have another stab at the spotlight, a chance to lead the team again. Instead, PSG made permanent the deal of a teenage French winger called Kylian Mbappe.
And that’s when the real issues started. Neymar was peppered with questions about his relationship with his new teammate, the local media curating a narrative that he was jealous of Mbappe’s World Cup success.
Mbappe, at first, defended his teammate, lauding Neymar as the best in the world, and suggesting that he could learn from the Brazilian.
But there were signs that they never really got along. The two publicly feuded on the pitch and reportedly disagreed off it. Neymar had struggled with injuries throughout the summer and was visibly unfit to start the year. Mbappe, for his own part, started his second PSG campaign on fire and finished the year with 40 goal contributions.
Meanwhile, the injuries started to rack up.
And that is perhaps the root of Neymar’s crumbling relationship with PSG; Neymar’s total inability to stay fit.
He’s fractured his metatarsal twice, ruptured ankle ligaments three times, and struggled with a series of muscle injuries.
The player has never been able to find the rhythm or continuity required to lead a team. Neymar, quite simply, cannot be the star man if he is not on the pitch.
Everything else is just an offshoot of that. Neymar’s off-field issues have been analysed to death – and there are a lot of them. From feuding with teammates to making a midnight McDonald’s trip after an embarrassing loss, Neymar hasn’t helped his reputation.
But if he had been on the pitch, and performing to his ability, then those wrongdoings might not have been a massive issue.
Instead, now everything is about Neymar the persona.
A number of acclaimed managers: Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, and now Christophe Galtier, have found the player near-impossible to manage. There have been second, third, and fourth chances, but no one has managed to control the narrative.