Is Neymar being given too much freedom at PSG?
Paris Saint-Germain have learned over the course of the last three months that the more they are prepared to spend on a player, the more that player can draw away from the club’s power.
It is now three months since they broke the world transfer record to secure the services of Neymar from Barcelona for a fee of €222 million, and while the Brazil ace has done well and driven a significant media upturn in terms of interest in the club, there can be little doubt that this has been offset, to some extent, by his behaviour away from the park.
Reports suggest various indiscretions, from falling out with team-mates to lacking respect for head coach Unai Emery and fooling around during training, though the player has denied everything that's been said.
“In his body language he’s very clear,” a source close to the club told L’Equipe this week. “Sometimes, it’s the movement of a hand or a death stare, but he makes the coach know that he doesn’t want to listen to him and that he should be left alone.”
Of course, these accusations are nothing particularly new when it comes to the 25-year-old.
Atletico Goianiense coach Rene Simoes, who has coached 40 teams in an incredible career, complained about the player in 2010 after a match between his club and Santos. The young Neymar had missed a penalty during the Copa do Brasil final earlier that season, so when another player was appointed to take a spot kick during that clash he reacted angrily towards coach Dorival Junior and captain Edu Dracena. It took the assistant referee to calm him down.
While the coach wanted Neymar suspended for two weeks, the board bowed to player pressure and did not punish him after he offered a dubious public apology.
“We’re creating a monster,” Simoes said at the time. “I’ve never seen a boy as badly educated on a sporting level as Neymar.”
Towards the end of his time at Barcelona, he was criticised for spending too much time in Brazil, notably missing a match through suspension on the weekend of his sister’s birthday, a consistent pattern in his career. Around the same time, fans at Camp Nou started to openly criticise him as his performance levels faltered and a contract talks stalled.
“He decided to leave because of the circumstances or his feelings,” former Barcelona team-mate Jordi Alba told Sport, showing little hint of sadness at the South American’s departure. “Without Neymar, I have more space to work with and for me, honestly, it’s much better.”
Had the player not pushed for a move, there is no question that Barca would have sold him. His value on the field was perceived to be worth this trouble, and that was certainly the feeling in Paris, where he has scored 11 times and provide nine assists in only 12 matches since arriving in early August.
Neymar, though, is a young man used to getting his own way and appears to wish to be treated as the game’s most lavish asset.
PSG’s trouble, however, is that head coach Emery is not used to dealing with such an ego. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s time at the club ended before the Spaniard arrived, and while the giant Swede was renowned for having a strong personality, there was rarely any accusations levelled at him that he was not completely focused on attaining the club’s goals.
The Brazilian, meanwhile, might not have been overtly accused of such a crime, but there is certainly an underlying feeling that he is not as committed as he should be on the training ground.
There is a danger that with this attitude he could do himself a disservice as well as the team. For years now, he has been touted as a future Ballon d’Or winner, and while there is little doubt that he is indeed one of the game’s elite figures, there is not yet evidence enough to suggest that he is at the level of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
Unless he can show the ethic in training that the game’s elite duo muster on a regular basis, he may never fulfil his promise.
Perhaps, with a pay packet of a reported €600,000 per week after tax, that does not concern him, yet his legacy and skills could be lost upon future generations unless his motivation level increases.
PSG’s ability to control the player is limited, too. He is under a five-year contract and is central to their efforts of becoming a Champions League winner in the near future, although they displayed before the international break that they do not necessarily need Neymar to excel. Indeed, as they picked apart Angers on their way to a 5-0 away victory, they played arguably their best football of the season.
Neymar, for his part, denies there is a problem. Speaking after Brazil’s 3-1 win over South Korea in Lille, in which he both scored and missed a penalty, he protested: “I didn’t come to cause trouble. I can to help, to contribute, I came to help my coach.
“It’s something that’s been bothering me, yes. I don’t like rumours or stories.”
On a marketing level, meanwhile, Neymar is the Parisians’ central attraction. He does not just hold an influence in France but over the entire world.
Ahead of his Ligue 1 debut on August, 13, for example, Guingamp boss Antoine Kombouare said: ““If our stadium had 200,000 seats, we could have sold them all. People will come from all over the planet – and I mean it.”
Nevertheless, if the club and the player are to reach their true potential during their time together, the ‘Neymar monster’ must be tamed, yet it will likely take an effort from both parties if this is to happen.
After years of indulgence, though, it will take a dramatic change from the player first and foremost.