Since the state of Qatar purchased Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, they have spent over €1 billion on players. Nearly 19 percent of that eye-watering transfer budget went toward one person: Neymar.
In August 2017, his Barcelona buyout clause was met to the tune of €222 million, in a deal that would see the Brazilian receive an astonishing €700,000 per week over five years.
The former Santos youth prodigy might have been motivated by the large sums of money involved. Or perhaps he was enticed by becoming the star player on a side with limitless potential: No longer would he merely be a prong on the fearsome Messi-Suarez-Neymar attacking trident. He would be the superstar who would carry PSG to the next level on his shoulders.
The world-record deal was a shock when it was announced, and it prompted former Barcelona striker Gary Lineker to weigh in with his opinion:
Oh Neymar, there is only one direction to go from @FCBarcelona and that's backwards.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) August 2, 2017
The sentiment of the tweet may not be entirely true – players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez have certainly seen upturns in their respective careers since departing the Camp Nou – but in light of Neymar’s current situation, Lineker’s assessment seems prescient.
After two seasons in Paris, the Brazilian has failed to offer a solid return on his astronomical wages and fees. PSG may have cakewalked through Ligue 1, but their embarrassing record of failing to clear the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League in the post-takeover era remains. In 2018-19, the Parisians failed to secure either French domestic cup for the first time since 2013.
Granted, Neymar’s PSG career has been pockmarked by unfortunate injuries – the Transfermarkt website lists six different injury incidents in 2018-19, including the fractured metatarsal that kept him out of the final run-in – but it is clear that he lacks the dedication and concentration required to be a superstar.
While Lionel Messi shuns the limelight and the monastically disciplined Cristiano Ronaldo takes 3 a.m. ice baths to eek every last joule of energy out of his physical form, Neymar jets to Brazil for relatives’ birthdays on a whim, and seems far more concerned with his game on Instagram than his game on grass.
Unfortunately, Neymar has generated plenty of column inches for his behavior off the field. If he is still in Paris next season, he will miss the first three Ligue 1 games after punching a fan at the Coupe de France final.
The Brazilian was also slapped with a ban from European competition after ranting at officials on Instagram following PSG’s meek Champions League exit to Manchester United.
And, more significantly, he also has a rape accusation hanging over him, which escalated when the player published photos and videos of the woman posing the allegations.
His troubles have clearly had a knock-on effect. Neymar has enjoyed the status of a deity in his home nation – the reaction when he was injured at the 2014 World Cup was tantamount to a tragic period of mourning – but he was stripped of the Brazilian captaincy prior to the 2019 Copa America (which he is missing due to another injury).
At 27 years old, Neymar should be at the very height of his powers. And as the talisman of one of the most powerful clubs in the world, he has all the tools required to succeed.
But it simply hasn’t worked out that way for a player who was dismissed as a YouTube show pony before his move to Europe. Ego and celebrity have proven to be the folly of an individual player who does not seem capable of working as part of a team.
In a bid to reinvigorate the focus and professionalism of Neymar and his superstar mercenary teammates, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has said he no longer wants “celebrity behavior” at the club.
“I want players willing to give everything for the shirt, club and project,” Al-Khelaifi told France Football. “Of course, there are contracts to be respected, but the priority now is total commitment to the project.”
“Nobody forced Neymar to sign for us. He came for the project.”
In the last few days, rumors have spread that Neymar’s time in France is about to reach its conclusion. On Monday, French soccer daily L’Equipe ran with a poetic headline that translates to “Neymar: Song of Departure.”
— L'ÉQUIPE (@lequipe) June 16, 2019
At this stage, a fresh challenge may be necessary to reinvigorate Neymar’s career. And it appears that PSG would be willing to cut their losses if an adequate offer came along.
There’s just one problem: An adequate offer is going to be very hard to come by.
A club who are willing to take a very expensive gamble on a superstar who has failed to show his commitment to the game may not exist.
To illustrate the point, here’s a breakdown of the clubs who could potentially afford him, and why they should probably use their funds more wisely ...
The Premier League champions have long been linked with Neymar, but he is simply not a Guardiola player. The Catalan has spent a lot of money in Manchester, but has purposely avoided megastar purchases, who may upset the carefully calibrated equilibrium of his team. Pep’s experience with Zlatan show she does not work well with strong personalities who threaten to overshadow the team.
Like PSG, City have been financially doped by an Emirate seeking influence in the game. But their approaches to reaching the zenith of European soccer have been completely different: City have built around a philosophy, while PSG have gone the Galactico route. City’s model is far more sustainable and will bear much more fruit.
Los Blancos are partial to dropping exorbitant amounts on star players, and based on last season, they could certainly use a shakeup. Neymar would surely welcome a return to Spain, and a swap deal involving Gareth Bale sounds mutually beneficial on paper.
However, Madrid have already spent $340 million on players this summer, including a significant outlay on another Brazilian forward from Santos: Rodrygo.
It is unlikely they would have the resources (or the space) to add Neymar into the mix.
A front line of Neymar, Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala sounds incredibly appetizing, but the Serie A giants almost certainly do not have the capital to make the deal happen. Thank you, next.
Neymar has long been touted with a move to Stamford Bridge, but the Blues are currently unable to register players due to their pesky transfer ban.
If their appeal is successful, they may wish to look back at previous instances of paying big money for superstar forwards who might have passed their peak. Memories of Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres should be enough to keep them from rolling the dice on the Brazilian.
A more likely Premier League destination would be Old Trafford. In the post-Ferguson era, the United top brass have consistently shown their willingness to throw large piles of money at their problems. Their expensive re-purchase of Paul Pogba also demonstrates a desire to bring in talent who can perform on the commercial stage, rather than the sporting one. Pogba’s apparent desire to leave may also free up some capital.
However, in a troubled dressing room, a personality like Neymar is unlikely to be an asset. And would the Brazilian want to go to a club who aren’t competing in the Champions League – and who have no guarantee of doing so anytime soon?
A Chinese Super League club
China remains the last refuge of the mercenary player, and a CSL team could surely match his ungodly wages.
However, at 27, it is likely that Neymar will want to continue to challenge himself in Europe. If he is frustrated by the level of competition in Ligue 1, he would probably be bored to tears in the developing league.
Of all the options, a return to the Camp Nou might be the most likely. The Blaugrana faithful were devastated when Neymar broke up the band, but would likely forgive him for his Yoko Ono-esque behavior if they could see him link up with Messi and Saurez once again. Some sort of deal involving Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembele might be palatable.
However, Barca already appear to have their sights set on Antoine Griezmann this summer. And their wage bill is already staggering without someone used to pocketing €700,000 per week.
The acrimonious manner in which Neymar left Catalonia might also be problematic: He took the club to court and sued for unpaid loyalty bonuses. Without a hint of irony.
Neymar may wish to leave Paris and his employers may be happy to wash their hands of a player who has failed to live up to his potential and his remuneration package. But, given the constraints of those who may be in the market, it looks like the world’s most expensive player may be stuck in the French capital for the remainder of his five-year contract.
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