In the last ten minutes of Paris Saint-Germain’s 6-2 victory over Toulouse last night, Neymar came into his own. With a rainbow flick here and a mesmerising individual goal there, the Parisien side’s show pony was entertaining the 48,000 spectators. As his low drive nestled into the bottom right corner of the Toulouse net, Nasser Al-Khelaifi got to his feet and applauded wildly as if celebrating a winner at the Grand National.
It was a moment of relief, as weeks, months and, probably, years of travelling, cheque-writing and boardroom negotiations culminated in a moment of fun and jubilation. The £200m move, which had the whole world spewing bitter digs at PSG, was finally about what happened on the pitch. The suits, agents and numerical figures had disintegrated into a scene of confused Toulouse defenders and a gleeful Brazilian playing the game he loves.
The French club endured a shock last season, as they were kicked out of Ligue 1’s penthouse suite by the swaggering, attacking AS Monaco side that had come almost out of nowhere. The principality’s Conor McGregor had knocked the capital’s Floyd Mayweather off their perch, leaving them in a state of dazed embarrassment.
Yet Neymar’s arrival has been the rejuvenation that Unai Emery’s men were yearning for. The opening two games have produced nine goals, an endless stream of attacking play and two 10/10 performances from their headline act. Admittedly, the opposition have been modest – Guingamp and Toulouse – yet the former came 10th last year and the latter earned a 0-0 at the Parc de Princes in their last visit.
In his two opening matches, Neymar has scored three times and made three assists, as the number 10 has integrated seamlessly into the PSG side. Against Toulouse, he completed 14 dribbles – Lionel Messi completed 5 against Real Betis – and made 7 key passes. You would expect a player of his calibre to run wild in Ligue 1, yet to perform to such a level off the back of such a high-profile move is something only the most special of players can do.
|Neymar||Goals + Assists||Completed Dribbles||Key Passes||Shots||Touches|
|vs. Guingamp||1 G / 1 A||11||7||6||129|
|vs. Toulouse||2 G / 2 A||14||7||6||118|
|Messi vs. Real Betis||0||5||1||10||92|
The beauty of the Brazilian is his ability to make the game entertaining. Whenever he squares up to a full-back, the crowd inhales with anticipation as they know that anything can happen. Whether he ignites an F1-speed attacking move, nutmeg the defender or simply flick it over his head, magic is almost always guaranteed. It’s the reason that fans pay so much money to see the best perform in a live environment, and it’s as close to old-school circus entertainment as the modern game can offer.
Of course, the true challenges are still to come for Neymar and PSG. His purchase was carried out with the Champions League in mind – there’s no secret about that – and the true judgement on his value and worth will be assessed by what he can do against Europe’s top teams. For now, however, all he can do is face what’s put in front of him, and the fact that his performances are the talking point – and not his price-tag – is all we can ask for.
Next week he comes up against Saint-Étienne, who will also enter the game with a 100% record. Óscar García’s side have won all three matches without conceding a goal so far this season, and will be a much sterner test for Neymar and co. when they travel to the capital next Friday night.
Whether Emery’s team can continue their Harlem Globetrotter-like performance against a more difficult opposition remains to be seen but, whatever happens, you know that it will be led by a 5’9 Brazilian, in bright blue boots, who’s dazzling in the spotlight.
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