Neymar has come a long way since his Santos days. The thin, almost-gangly teenager who burst onto the scene in the Brazilian league around the turn of the last decade offered explosions of skill and flair. The young Neymar played football in a way that only Brazilians can, his pure insouciant impudence causing teammates, opponents, fans, pundits and Betfair punters alike to stand agape.
Now in 2019, Neymar finds himself at something of a crossroads. The PSG star failed to turn up for pre-season training amidst speculation over his future, with the Brazilian making clear that he wants to leave the club. PSG have since accepted that Neymar can leave if the right offer comes in, with a return to Barcelona seeming the most likely option.
All in all, it has not been a happy time of late for the Brazilian. He is still serving a ban for his comments after PSG were controversially knocked out of the Champions League last season by Manchester United. He was recently stripped of the Brazilian national team captaincy as a result of his many attitudinal misdemeanours and missed Brazil’s ultimately triumphant Copa America campaign due to injury.
Sadly for Neymar, the arrogance and boldness of his football have too often manifested themselves in his personality, with various accusations of diving or simulation turning many neutral football supporters against him. It could be argued that the boy of Santos who once wowed Brazilian football with his trickery has never truly grown up, and has never truly become aware of his responsibilities as one of the world’s best players.
The reported £200m fee paid by PSG to Barcelona in 2017 for Neymar’s services sent ripples through the footballing world, and it was a fee that always seemed unhealthy. Now, as he seeks to leave Paris, Neymar is ultimately paying the price of such an obscene transfer fee, as few clubs are able, let alone willing to match his value. Essentially, Neymar is a player so valuable as to have no real value at all.
Perhaps spending such an amount of money could be justified if Neymar was a model professional, a player with a strong moral code and a professional attitude, ready and willing to work hard and earn his dues. But the Brazilian has always felt like a luxury wherever he has played, a means of selling shirts and gaining attention or publicity, whatever his importance on the pitch. This is certainly true of his time at PSG, a club so desperate to establish themselves as European football’s leading powerhouse that they will do anything, and pay anything, to achieve that.
Indeed, Neymar is himself a personification of all that is wrong with PSG — the pursuit of flair and flash in lieu of real sustainable quality or forward-thinking. Neymar is still an incredible footballer, a player who in pure football terms would be a welcome addition to any side. It is the baggage that comes with him that causes the problems – the diving, the tendency to become wound up, and not least his injury proneness. If Neymar had carried himself throughout his career with a greater degree of professional integrity, he would surely be better off for it now.
So, where does this talented yet flawed footballer go from here? At 27-years-old, Neymar is unlikely to change. Whichever club takes him on next is taking a gamble, but the potential rewards are rich. His talent has never been questioned since he burst onto the scene almost ten years ago. For many, such skill and flair are well worth the imperfections of character.