Controversy and uncertainty have lingered in the background of Neymar’s career for so long that they have often overshadowed his immense football talent.
His transfer from Santos to Barcelona in 2013 was marinaded in mystery with Barcelona misreporting the sum paid for the striker to his father, who acts as the player’s agent, and to the Brazilian club, who launched a lengthy legal battle regarding unpaid fees.
His protracted move to Paris last summer was once more dogged by controversy, with questions over the player’s motive and how the Ligue 1 club could afford the fee in light of Financial Fair Play rules.
At first, La Liga made an attempt at posturing, with outspoken president Javier Tebas refusing to accept the player’s £200 million release clause had been triggered.
In the end, though, as they say, 'money spoke'. Neymar ended up at the Parc des Princes and that was that.
Dreams of the Ballon d'Or
Such a move appears to have been centred on the forward’s ambitions for winning the Ballon d’Or award and stepping out of Lionel Messi’s shadow at the Camp Nou.
PSG’s path towards the Ligue 1 was a procession to the point where domestic victories hold little sway, meaning the club’s season is defined by their showings in Europe.
Their first leg 3-1 defeat at Real Madrid brought up fresh questions regarding their mentality and experience, with the return leg being the make or break of their season.
Everything goes wrong
In many ways, next week’s clash in Paris should be Neymar’s moment to step up and lead his side to a glorious achievement.
Yet he looks almost certain to miss the match at the Parc des Princes with an ankle injury sustained in a 3-0 victory over Marseille.
It mirrors his situation at the World Cup in his home country, where he was ruled out of the 7-1 humiliation against Germany with an injury sustained against Colombia.
It is unlikely the French club’s players will be holding up shirts with the Brazilian’s face emblazoned upon it or approach the match as if Neymar had passed away.
Yet his move to PSG is looking increasingly likely to prove nothing short of a disaster. Widespread reports suggest he has fallen out with numerous teammates, including strike partners Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.
Dressing room unrest
At PSG, there seems to be a fissure in the dressing room between the Brazilian contingent and the rest of the squad, with many players upset at Neymar’s perceived arrogance and laid-back approach to training.
A recent article in El Pais detailed how much the former Barca forward was loving life in Paris due to the luxuries he was afforded by the club, including regularly skipping training sessions.
In the first leg at the Bernabeu, Neymar’s performance was underwhelming at best and alarming at worst. He failed to make any significant impact in a match which was relatively end-to-end, where he was afforded room to showcase his skill and assert his authority.
Ultimately, the biggest criticism of PSG this season is how unbalanced their side is with none of the front three offering anything defensively.
A silver lining?
Whilst Unai Emery may have no direct replacement for the Brazilian, there is hardly a shortage of attacking talent in the club’s ranks.
Angel di Maria, Javier Pastore, Julian Draxler and Giovani Lo Celso are all vying for spots advanced of the holding midfielders Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot. All have points to prove and, with Cavani and Mbappe still available, there is no shortage of firepower.
PSG’s main issue against Madrid will be defensive solidity and Neymar’s absence should theoretically benefit them in this regard.
The Parisians, then, will be hopeful they avoid the fate suffered by Brazil when Neymar missed their clash with Germany four years ago.
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