A summer of speculation two seasons ago at Paris Saint-Germain with the will he/won’t he transfer of Neymar to Barcelona ended with the Brazilian international remaining at the Parc des Princes. Meanwhile, having dominated Ligue 1, PSG are desperate to win the Champions League. Will Neymar’s head stay on his current club long enough for the Parisians to realise their dream?
Neymar to Rescue Paris Saint-Germain?
The History of Neymar at PSG
PSG will try once again for the crown they really crave. Will Neymar be the difference maker come the business end of the season?
How times have changed. In the summer of 2019, there was upheaval at PSG, mainly due to the saga surrounding Neymar and his soap opera style transfer negotiation to Barcelona.
Football’s version of tug of war was ultimately won by the Parisians, who dug deep to hold onto their poster boy. This was much to the disappointment of the Brazilian. He did everything (even offering to pay part of his own transfer) to get the deal over the line. In the end, PSG moved that line enough times that Barcelona couldn’t agree on terms. Therefore, Neymar remained in the French capital.
The player’s current club have been upwardly mobile this decade. It has been ten years since the Qatari Sports Investments (QSI) revolutionized the football world – and principally one of Europe’s biggest capital cities – when they bought Paris Saint-Germain. A takeover which totally revamped the Parisian outfit to the tune of over £1 billion. This was through football transfers, stadium renovations and training ground upgrades.
The club, overseen by Qatari businessman Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi, has thrown the proverbial kitchen sink in their quest to be fashionable, successful and trophy-laden. In have come stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimović, Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar himself. Over those eight seasons, PSG have dominated domestically. They have a record of 23 national titles, including six Ligue 1 titles in the past eight seasons. They previously won just two domestic titles in their entire 50-year history.
The Promised Champions League Land
However, there is one title this club craves and obsesses about – the crowning glory and their very own cherry on the cake: the Champions League.
For this boutique club where being trendy is key, the Champions League represents the height of fashion. It also represents the holy grail and the pinnacle of the project. It was the owner’s firm aim when they bought PSG to take it to the very top echelons, to dine at football’s top table.
Despite spending eye-watering sums of money targeting their principal goal, only once have they come close to glory. It was their 2020 Champions League final loss to Bayern Münich. In recent history, the club recorded four consecutive quarter-final places. But in the past three seasons, they only made it to the last 16 stage.
Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain – The Final Piece in the Puzzle?
Some may say these statistics are simply not good enough, that the Paris project is floundering. The club injected illusion four seasons ago with the world record capture of Neymar. Seen as the final piece in the puzzle to bring the trophy home to the French capital, PSG sent out a clear message to its rivals: we mean business.
Overall, Neymar has mostly lived up to the hype and expectation of his superstar billing, with goals aplenty to progress the club domestically and, to an extent, on the European stage – scoring in 20 Champions League ties over the past four seasons.
However, he has been only able to take the club into the tournament finale once. Therefore, some questions appeared over his motivation and hunger to succeed in Paris in light of his 2019 summer desire to join Barcelona. His head firmly turned to return to play with close friends Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. It was a return to revel at the fabled Camp Nou.
He faced a fight to win over the supporters. He clearly received a notable backlash from fans quick to criticize him with barrages of boos during matches. However, a spectacular scissor kick in his return to Ligue 1 and a fantastic late strike at Lyon that season opener helped his cause.
PSG a More Unified Team
There was hope for the Brazilian magician. If Neymar could control his temperament and focus on matters on the field, PSG could be primed to yet lift the Champions League. The signs are there: a Hollywood star squad and notably, they have added to the ranks with astute signings in all areas of the field in recent times – namely goalkeeper Keylor Navas from Real Madrid, defender Abdou Diallo from Borussia Dortmund, midfielder Ander Herrera from Manchester United and striker Mauro Icardi from Inter Milan.
This makes for a stronger and more balanced squad for the new man in charge, Mauricio Pochettino, to choose from. PSG, suddenly, are a team not reliant on individuality, which gives renewed optimism towards their European title aspirations.
On evaluating their Champions credentials, they certainly have the ammunition in all departments to trouble any side in the tournament and possess all the pieces of the puzzle possible. The task of their Argentine manager, a finalist himself with Tottenham Hotspur, will be to identify and develop a plan to enable those key components to click together (keeping all the stars happy being no easy feat). It is a characteristic which has been their Achilles heel in recent seasons with their spectacular collapses against La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Neymar’s Vital Statistics
Yet, the x-factor of a dazzling and on-form Neymar could be the difference-maker to yield the title they yearn. He has 53 goals in 63 games in the club’s colours, and you get the sense he must be fully happy and loved to bring out his best form. In other words, presenting him the free role he desires – being the creative conductor and giving PSG their very own perfect symphony.
On current form, Neymar seems to be the rough diamond which has been firmly polished with 13 goals in 18 appearances. This includes six goals in five Champions League matches. What we are seeing is a man finally settled at the club and a player at ease with his own game and the company he keeps.
Home Sweet Home for Neymar
Neymar is set to extend his contract by another four years. He turned 29 earlier this month and clearly sees his future in the capital. It would represent a huge coup that PSG not only can attract top, talented players, but also to keep them and maintain their happiness, hunger and motivation. The gifted attacker seems mentally in a good place. He would have been ready to ignite for the business end of the season.
That is until he injured his adductor muscle in the French Cup win at Caen. It, unfortunately, means a month out on the sidelines. Now, the Brazilian faces a race against time to be fit for the Champions League last-16 second leg. And with that, a familiar foe in Barcelona.
Neymar’s former team stand in the way of him and a step closer to European glory. These two teams have previous – squaring up nine times in eight years.
PSG will be sick of the sight of their more illustrious footballing rival as they have only got the better of them twice of those matches. This included their famous tie from 2017 at the same stage as this year. They will still have nightmares of convincingly beating Barca 4-0 in that first home leg. However, their seemingly unassailable advantage eradicated in historic fashion with a crushing 6-1 reverse at Camp Nou.
The Final Countdown
If it is to be their time come the night of the final in Istanbul in May, they will have to use all their resources to the maximum to get there. This includes possessing that all-important bit of luck. There are formidable foes lying in wait, such as in-form Manchester City, current holders Bayern Munich and European heavyweights such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus.
It may come down to small details, and the small details may point to PSG’s maverick kingpin Neymar; injury pending, ready to take on the mantle and guide the Parisians to their landmark Champions League crown.