Neymar’s move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain shook the world when it happened in 2017. Everything about it left a mark. The Catalans’ arrogance was their downfall, as PSG proved they were able to pay the €220million release clause in his contract to set up a record-smashing deal, seemingly signalling their ambition to dominate Europe.
Neymar himself, despite being close friends with Lionel Messi, felt he needed to get out of the Argentine’s shadow as he looked to gain his own individual recognition. Neither of the parties who gambled so much have benefited from the transfer, while Barcelona haven’t gained a great deal either. There is an argument to suggest the biggest transfer in football history is also the worst.
Nobody can deny Neymar’s quality: the Brazilian was a ready-made heir for Messi at Barcelona, and his departure led to a sense of panic about the future. Ousmane Dembele, his replacement, has failed to grow into a player capable of shouldering the responsibility, and other big-money signings like Philippe Coutinho, currently on loan at Bayern Munich, haven’t worked out. Antoine Griezmann is the biggest hope at present, but it is no coincidence that the Spanish champions spent much of the summer attempting to re-sign Neymar, with Gerard Pique recently admitting the squad offered to reshape their contracts to help afford him. It is telling, too, that PSG were open to negotiations.
If anything, Neymar is further away from achieving his dream of winning the Ballon d’Or than he was before. He has actually been injured for more games than he has played in Paris. PSG haven’t been past the quarter-final stage in the Champions League since he signed. And Thomas Tuchel has sought to take the focus away from him at every stage possible.
In his first season, Neymar believed himself to be untouchable, a very public disagreement over a penalty with regular taker Edinson Cavani the clearest indication. But the development of Kylian Mbappe, who arrived at the same time, coupled with Neymar’s inconsistent form and fitness, has seen the young Frenchman replace him as the team’s talisman. Mauro Icardi’s loan move has lessened the impact of Neymar’s absence further; Wednesday night’s unconvincing 1-0 victory over Club Brugge included the 12th consecutive PSG goal scored by either Mbappe or Icardi.
At the age of 27, Neymar is approaching his peak and, considering the number of injuries he’s suffered, there are no guarantees over how long that will last. His desire to return to Barcelona, or potentially join Real Madrid, has strained his relationship with PSG supporters and he is doing little to mend fences. There is a genuine danger that this generation will pass him by. Not too long ago, he was viewed as the world’s third best player behind Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
It seemed inconceivable that he wouldn’t be the man to eventually end their decade-long duopoly, and while it is difficult to prove that he would have done by now had he stayed at Camp Nou, his chances have drifted in the last two years – perhaps irreversibly.
When he has played at PSG, he has impressed. His goal record is nothing short of phenomenal in Ligue Un: 38 in just 42 games. But brought in as the prospective new poster boy of French football, it hasn’t worked out that way. While his performances have been good, he hasn’t made many definitive contributions. But for 2016/17, when Monaco were victorious, and Montpellier’s stunning campaign in 2011/12, PSG have won the league title every year since their Qatari owners took charge in 2011; spending over £200m on a single player meant they were looking to find another level that remains beyond them.
The saving grace for him is that he can still turn things around. While his actions in the summer may have put him on the back foot with the fans, he has been welcomed back into the squad by close friends Mbappe and Marco Verratti. There has been no obvious step forward in the team that is down to Neymar himself. Considering the staggering transfer fee and the manner of his departure from Barcelona, he has not only fallen well short of expectations, but become a genuine contender for the biggest of all big-money flops.
Mbappe is the future of PSG. He is the man with the biggest reputation and as long as they are able to keep him, with Real sniffing around, they may be able to achieve their long-term goals. Neymar is much older and struggling in every sense. He is being left behind, and his career is in danger of drifting.
This is a transfer that everybody regrets. Neymar would suit playing with Messi more than he has with anyone at PSG, while the French champions haven’t moved forward enough as a result of his signing. So much hard work went into the deal, and no transfer has come close to rivalling the cost. There were a number of checkpoints for Neymar and PSG to tick off for their relationship to be worth it. The club is no closer to conquering Europe and the player is no closer to ruling the world; this has to be one of the worst deals ever in terms of value.
Harry De Cosemo is on Twitter
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