Neymar Jr.: Slithering into shadows
The Thursday of August the 3rd 2017 sent the footballing world into a tizzy. The transfer of Neymar Jr. from Barcelona to PSG saw all kinds of records being shattered. The world’s most expensive buy, the arrival of Neymar in Paris left the transfer market in a state of tatters, one it still has failed to recover from. Yet another PSG purchase (Kylian Mbappe-initially on loan) for an estimated £166m caused the market to spiral even further.
The transfer saw the Paris-based club fork out a mouth-watering €222 million to consolidate the arrival of a global superstar to the ‘City of lights’. The prospect of being overcome by the shadow of a certain Argentine was said to have been a major force in driving the transfer towards completion. Expected to bring Champions League glory to PSG, the flamboyant forward’s arrival was celebrated by Parisians all around the globe. Adjudged to be the final piece in the jigsaw in Neymar’s pursuit for the Ballon d’Or, the switch to France’s capital saw the ex-Santos man become one of the highest-paid players on the planet.
Fast forward two years to the 8th of July 2019 and news has emerged from the PSG camp reporting Neymar’s failure in recording his presence at a pre-season camp. His absence set fuel to pre-existent rumours about him seeking a move back to Catalunya. A player formerly deemed untouchable, held in high regard by fans all over and one branded the face of the PSG team has now been put up on the transfer market. Club owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi has had to go to the extent of issuing a stern warning to Neymar with a motive of putting an end to his antics.
From trying to escape Messi’s shadow to being encapsulated by Mbappe’s, Neymar’s PSG stint has not gone according to plan. The Brazilian had repeatedly opted out of participation against the smaller teams but was available for selection against stronger opposition in the league. The darling of the PSG fans, Kylian Mbappe had taken up the mantle in Neymar's absence to become the main man of the Paris based club. So much so that both the club and the fans are open to Neymar's exit compared to that of the teenage Frenchman's.
The initial love affair is expected to end with a sour split with tensions between the two factions at an all-time high. How did things manage to go so far south between the club and the player?
The wrong exit
Having led Barcelona in ‘La Remontada’ against his future club in what would turn out to be an absolute cracker of a match, Neymar's career peaked. Despite mesmerizing performances from the wing week in week out, a majority of media praise was reserved for Barca's talisman Lionel Messi. He felt undervalued at the club and therefore when PSG came calling, he did not think twice.
In spite of honing his talents under the vision of an all-time great, the Brazilian’s role was restricted at Barcelona. With Messi granted utter freedom to impose himself on the pitch, a bulk of the Brazilian’s career in Barcelona had him trying to conjure his magic while sticking to his position on the left touchline. Messi’s injury-enforced absence for a majority of the 2015/16 season ensured the operation of the Brazilian in a role that afforded him the liberty to exploit the full pitch to the best of his abilities. The numbers speak for themselves- 34 league games yielded 24 goals and 16 assists.
Any human might end up feeling frustrated if not bestowed the praise he is so worthy of. Being constantly overlooked did not do well with the winner in Neymar. He was heralded as Messi’s successor; the next Messi rather than the first Neymar. From his point of view, angling for a move someplace else seemed the right thing to do. He did what he had to do- took a vehicle and hopped back onto the highway. It’s where he took an exit has left his future in limbo.
'Farming' for the Ballon d'Or
A move to PSG seemed like a no-brainer at the time with the club offering him an opportunity to link up with fellow Brazil internationals in Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves. Being the poster boy of the club came with its own benefits. Vacations in Brazil, late-night parties and a princely salary, he had it all. The club tended to his every whim and fancy as was illustrated when he was awarded the benefit of the doubt in a dispute over a penalty with Edinson Cavani. Awarded the number 10 jersey, he was granted the freedom he so desperately craved.
However, participation in the French Ligue 1, colloquially known as the ‘farmers league’ would make winning the Champions League an absolute necessity for the ex-Barca man. That, however, has not panned out so well. Two consecutive RO16 exits have driven Neymar’s name to the periphery of the awards list. Now two years on, it is safe to presume that the move hasn’t worked out for both parties.
The move to France was a huge mistake on Neymar’s part. Winning domestic trophies is hardly difficult in a league where the competition are miles behind owing to the non-possession of cash-laden coffers compared to PSG. It was UCL or bust and Neymar knew what he was in for. Also, with PSG entertaining his every impulse, his ego grew. He began to regard himself as someone greater than the manager himself. He got into silly fights and his Brazilian mates supported him instead of making him see reason. All of this did nothing but inflate his self-esteem. He also ended up on the treatment table when PSG needed him the most against Real Madrid and Manchester United in the Champions League.
The transfer began to rub off on his performances for Brazil as well. The 2018 World Cup held in Russia was nothing but a highlight reel of Neymar playacting and rolling around, with respect to the nation of Brazil. A team that was toothless in attack without the winger evolved into one that plays better in his absence as illustrated by the recent Copa America victory. He has hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past year.
Neymar now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He has the choice to swallow his pride and return to Paris. That or going back to Barca to be under the constant guidance of Messi seem his only valid options.