Paris Saint-Germain have completed the controversial signing of Neymar from Barcelona, smashing the world record for a transfer fee that Manchester United payed for Pogba. But instead of worldwide praise for the move, the Brazil superstar has had his ambition questioned for moving to the French league; he also certainly hasn’t been praised for finally leaving Lionel Messi’s shadow to lead a team his way. Ligue 1 has been blasted as never before, and although it might not be the same as the EPL, La Liga, Le Championnat is not being given the credit it deserves. Neymar is now the undisputed top dog with another European giant. Make no mistake: He will be tried and tested like every other footballer in a new footballing culture.
Neymar’s confidence that he can lead his new club to UEFA Champions League glory and the French giant’s belief that they are good enough to go beyond their regular quarterfinal slot and thus can justify this sort of transfer — perhaps a bit of both — have provoked cynical reactions from many quarters. But few people are considering what popular opinion deems the unthinkable.
What if Neymar, 25, takes PSG to the next level? What if the former Ligue 1 champions finally become a genuine European contender with him? And what if Neymar’s feats in Paris enable him to challenge former teammate Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or?
One of the main reasons Neymar and PSG are generating such a negative reaction is the idea that his decision to leave Barca is close to being called a taboo. Former teammate Gerard Pique — while admitting that Neymar staying at Camp Nou was nothing but his own hope and “intuition” — rounded up quite emphatically exactly why his exit was considered in the first place.
“Maybe it is to be the star,” Pique said during the now infamous press conference where he was asked to address his “se queda” (“he stays”) tweet. “Because here he has Leo [Messi], the best player in the world.”
The best player in the world. Neymar aspires to be exactly this and, more pointedly, is genuinely capable of usurping Messi and Ronaldo as their powers eventually wane with age. By saying what he said, Pique basically admitted Neymar’s star could get no bigger with Barca and undermined the arguments for Neymar to stay in Catalonia.
PSG are not at the same level as Barca in terms of their history and recent achievements in Europe, of course, but they have still crammed a lot into their 47-year existence and boast plenty of talent in their current squad. Neymar has made that group even more formidable.
It’s true that the Brazil international will have to look forward to Ligue 1 clashes against the likes of Olympique de Marseille in Le Classique, AS Monaco, Olympique Lyonnais and OGC Nice instead of El Clasico against Real, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in La Liga, but these French fixtures are still big matches against good teams in nice stadiums and, most importantly, are often more competitive than they are made out to be.
PSG have shown enough over the past few campaigns, notably against the likes of Barca and Chelsea, to demonstrate to their new star that they are not as far behind the continent’s elite as many make out. What manager Unai Emery’s squad must do now is to play to their full potential more often and avoid the complacency they were guilty of in recent years — particularly in the last two editions of the Champions League against Manchester City and Barca.
There is another reason why the six-time Ligue 1 champions have chosen now, just after they were freed from all financial fair play restrictions, to move heaven and earth for Neymar after years of frustration. ESPN FC’s Herculez Gomez might have raised eyebrows for calling PSG’s potential signing of Neymar “a bargain” recently, but he had a point.
Although they have spent €222 million, and it will cost a lot more for Oryx Qatar Sports Investments to cover his salary for the duration of his contract, Neymar’s brand is so strong that the Ligue 1 behemoth could ultimately benefit in more than just their football. The man from Mogi das Cruzes has established a strong brand on and off the pitch, and the marriage of one of Nike’s star players with PSG’s star power should also prove quite lucrative for all involved … eventually.
PSG not only will boast Neymar on the pitch but also could attract further Neymar-calibre talent to the squad. Top talents, such as Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and AS Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe, will see viable futures in Le Championnat, while other established stars, such as Marco Verratti, will be more willing to believe in PSG’s “Dream Bigger” mantra and Champions League aim. In short, PSG look more attractive and ambitious than ever before and have proved they possess the means to back up their bold statements of intent.
Neymar’s decision to leave Barca for PSG is obviously a risk for him and his entourage. However, with so much at stake, the player and the team should be more determined than ever to succeed. Plus, the potential upside is huge for both parties.
If Neymar can lead PSG closer to Champions League glory than former talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic did, and if the Brazil star can improve further after becoming the figurehead of his own team in Paris, those slamming his decision to step out of Messi’s shadow at Barca will be made to eat their words.