The Brazilian’s world-record transfer to Ligue 1 last summer was supposed to see him become a big star in his own right, but it has not worked out
It appeared to make some sense at the time. When Neymar moved from Barcelona in August of 2017, his decision to take another step in his career as the main man, away from the shadow of Lionel Messi, was understandable. But almost a year on, it has backfired spectacularly.
Neymar spent four years at Barca and won a host of trophies at the Catalan club, including a treble of Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles in his second season at Camp Nou.
His departure to Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record fee of €222 million shocked the football world and surprised even Barca. After all, Neymar had been bought in 2013 as a long-term heir to Messi. He was not supposed to leave with the Argentine attacker still in his prime.
However, any player with aspirations of winning the Ballon d’Or will know that they will not be able to do so by playing second fiddle to one of their club colleagues and Neymar, like Alexis Sanchez before him, grew frustrated at his supporting role in the Barca attack.
He has gone backwards and not forwards since his transfer last summer, though. Unable to perform against Real Madrid in the Champions League when it mattered most, he was then sidelined by injury and then endured a disappointing World Cup with Brazil.
And amid all the talk that he would be the next new player to win the Ballon d’Or after a decade of dominance by Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, there is now no chance of that after his debut season at PSG and his indifferent displays in Russia this past month.
Cristiano is favourite to claim the individual award again in December, but also among the candidates to win it are his former Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric and young France forward Kylian Mbappe. Neymar is way down the list.
Having been second best to Messi at Barcelona, the former Santos star was outperformed by one of his replacements at the Catalan club, Philippe Coutinho, at the World Cup. And at PSG next season, he is now in danger of being in the shadow of local boy and World Cup winner Mbappe.
Following on from the controversy over his spat with Edinson Cavani over the penalty-taking duties at PSG last season, Neymar will be remembered not for his football at the World Cup, but for spending an estimated 14 minutes on the turf during the tournament, rolling around in apparent agony, in images that inspired multiple memes.
It is fair to say things are not going to plan and a year on from his move to PSG, the 26-year-old needs to take a serious look at himself in order to arrest a decline that could see him fall further from grace over the next few seasons. Almost one year on, the transfer has been described by some as a PR disaster.
“The French league isn’t like the English, Spanish or German leagues, either. For that reason, I think he made a mistake, but financially it was good for him and his family.”
The Brazilian is interesting Real Madrid as a possible replacement for Ronaldo after the Portuguese completed his move to Juventus last week, but even Los Blancos would probably rather sign Mbappe if they were given the choice.
Because the France forward is seven years younger and also better behaved than his PSG team-mate and Madrid may be wary of the Brazilian’s conduct – especially given the huge outlay in question.
When you try to move out of someone’s shadow and it doesn’t quite go to plan… Cartoon by Omar Momani Posted by Goal.com on Wednesday, 18 July 2018
“If you ask me, I would love to play with two centre-forwards and two wingers. So, for me the key player for that would be Neymar, even Mbappe.”
And with divisions in the dressing room between Brazilians and French players, it may be only a matter of time before one of the two moves on.
If anything, Neymar needs Real Madrid right now much more than Real Madrid need Neymar. A move back to one of the world’s traditional powers could help the 26-year-old focus again and become the star he looked certain to develop into at Barcelona.
Alongside Messi at Barca, Neymar was a more mature man and also a better team player. And what has happened since has shown that he probably left too soon. Because he still has a lot to learn and unless he changes his attitude soon, his career could be on a slippery slope.