Neymar is desperate to win another Champions League crown but his time at PSG has been a tale of tears and tantrums… With just one year left on his contract and stories of a Barcelona return never far away, now is the time for the Brazilian to deliver
- Paris Saint-Germain take on Man City in the Champions League semi-finals
- French club aspire to win the trophy but are perennially left disappointed
- They spent a world record £198m on Brazilian star Neymar to realise the dream
- But it’s been a tale of bitter disappointment in Neymar’s three seasons at PSG
- Twice he was injured as they crashed out the competition at the last-16 stage
- And he was left in tears after they lost last season’s final to Bayern Munich
When Neymar was paraded as a Paris Saint-Germain player for the first time after that world record £198million move from Barcelona, it looked like a glorious fusion of ambitions.
After trying the No 10 shirt for size and performing a few keepie-uppies at the Parc des Princes, Neymar sat down before the world’s media and declared: ‘I want to write history here. There are new challenges and our biggest challenge is the Champions League.’
It came precisely three minutes after PSG’s president Nasser Al-Khelaifi had spoken about his own ‘dream’ to win Europe’s elite competition.
PSG manager Thomas Tuchel tries to console a distraught Neymar after Paris Saint-Germain lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League final
One of the enduring images of the match was Neymar sat in tears after PSG’s slender defeat
Both Neymar and PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke of their ambitions to win the Champions League when the Brazilian signed for a world record £198m back in 2017
But the Brazilian seems determined this will be PSG’s year as they prepare to play Man City
Neither of them expected that, four years on, PSG would still be waiting to accomplish that aim. For all their lavish resources, for all their domestic dominance, PSG have not yet realised their dream.
There have been tears and tantrums from the Brazilian star along the way, the heartache of injury and the ignominy of snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
As they prepare to take on Manchester City in the Champions League semi-final, Neymar and his team find themselves within touching distance of the holy grail again.
But the words of City manager Pep Guardiola in the lead-up to Wednesday night’s first leg in Paris would have resonated with Neymar if he heard them.
‘I’m pretty sure if he had stayed at Barcelona, they would’ve won two or three more Champions Leagues.’
Neymar (right) parades the trophy with Luis Suarez (left) and Lionel Messi (centre) after Barcelona beat Juventus to win the 2015 Champions League
The Brazilian scored Barcelona’s third goal that night but glory in the competition has eluded him ever since that moment
Given that barely a day goes by without some story or another linking Neymar with a return to Barcelona, the club he did win the competition with in 2015, there is a lingering sense of what might have been.
We’ll never know of Guardiola is correct but you can’t escape the fact that this tie with City is a defining moment in the 29-year-old’s career.
It was interesting to hear Neymar, who gave his first pre-match press conference in three years on Tuesday, state he has ‘never been happier’ at PSG.
He spoke of the Parisians being increasingly respected both on and off the pitch – and even more so since they rejected the European Super League project last week.
He spoke of improvement, as shown by their run to last season’s final, which they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich, following three consecutive last-16 exits.
Two of those defeats, 6-1 to a Barcelona side that featured Neymar in his final season with the club and then the late collapse to Manchester United in 2019, were especially scarring.
But for all his words of commitment, the fact remains that Neymar is almost 30, his contract expires next year and PSG will need to sell him this summer to recoup anything near their unprecedented outlay on him.
City manager Pep Guardiola suggested that Neymar could have won the Champions League again and again had he remained at Barcelona
The good news for PSG is that Neymar is fit and firing as we enter the season’s business end
In short, it’s time to deliver the trophy. This time they need to get it right.
Guardiola also joked that thinking about how to stop Neymar will give him a sleepless night on Tuesday and there’s no question the Brazilian is showing some of the finest form of his PSG career.
Even Neymar’s detractors, who believe him to be a pitch rolling prima donna, couldn’t deny he was excellent in both legs of the quarter-final against Bayern Munich.
PSG were white hot in the Bavarian blizzard of the first leg, with Neymar setting up goals for Kylian Mbappe and Marquinhos while also coming within a whisker of scoring himself on more than one occasion.
In the return leg, in which Bayern tried grimly to hold on to their trophy but ultimately in vain, it was Neymar’s willingness to put in the hard yards and act as the team’s first line of defence that impressed.
But this more selfless version of Neymar is still delivering the goods – 14 goals and nine assists in 24 outings during what has been another injury-disrupted campaign.
Neymar will always have detractors who see him as a prima donna but the perception is improving as he powers PSG forward
He demonstrated an impressive work rate as PSG beat Bayern Munich in the last round
He has been sidelined for big chunks of the campaign, missing the last-16 victory over Barcelona in its entirety, but crucially and unlike in some previous years he is fit and in form at the business end.
Remember the 2017-18 season when he fractured his metatarsal in a league game with Marseille, ruling him out of the second leg of PSG’s last-16 tie against Real Madrid and wrecking hopes of overturning a 3-1 first leg deficit?
Then there was Neymar’s incredible meltdown after PSG contrived to toss away a 2-0 first leg lead against Man United at the same stage 12 months later.
After Marcus Rashford’s 94th-minute penalty sent United through on away goals, Neymar, watching helplessly from the stands with another metatarsal fracture, was seen ranting at the officials on the sidelines.
He then took to Instagram to slam the decision of referee Damir Skomina to award the decisive penalty with the aid of VAR replays after Diogo Dalot’s shot struck Presnel Kimpembe on the arm.
Neymar was left in a rage after PSG crashed out to Manchester United in the 2019 round of 16
The forward, watching from the stands, felt United’s late penalty shouldn’t have been given
Handball was given against Presnel Kimpembe after Diogo Dalot’s effort struck his arm
Neymar hit out at the decision of the officials in his Instagram story message
Neymar wrote: ‘This is shameful! And they still let 4 guys that do not understand football look at the slow motion video, this doesn’t happen!
‘How is he going to take his hand out when he’s on his back! Oh go f*** yourself.’
UEFA rapped him with a three-match ban from European matches as punishment but, if nothing else, it demonstrated just how important winning another Champions League medal was to the Brazilian.
It also did little for his reputation as a spoilt child but the last couple of seasons have gone a long way to banishing that reputation.
Neymar was influential in PSG’s run to the final last season, scoring in both legs of their last-16 tie with Borussia Dortmund and setting up goals in the single-legged ties with Atalanta and RB Leipzig.
But when it came to the final against Bayern, Neymar couldn’t deliver. Stifled by the German side’s defence and denied by keeper Manuel Neuer when he did break through, it proved a night of bitter disappointment.
There were tears as Neymar was forced to walk past the trophy having collected his runners-up medal and the enduring image of him alone with his thoughts and visible upset in the dug-out as the failure sunk in.
With just one year remaining on his PSG contract, Neymar certainly won’t want the abiding image of his time with the club to be his tears after the Champions League final
For a player who has scored an impressive 41 goals in 67 Champions League games, to have lifted the giant jug-eared trophy just the once feels a little underwhelming.
The opportunity to put that right now presents itself. The meeting of PSG and City represents the assembly of some of the world’s most expensive stars, none more so than Neymar.
Go all the way this season and you can see Neymar committing to PSG in the hope of creating a dynasty of European success.
If they fail again, you can expect him to wonder whether the grass may be greener elsewhere.
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