So it seems that after two seasons in Paris, Neymar could be about to leave PSG.
The Brazilian has excelled when fit, but a big issue is that he has sustained season-ending injuries in the early Spring in both of his seasons that have scuppered PSG’s attempts to win the Champions League. Moreover, without the stability and leadership of the Barcelona locker room, his personal life has spiralled out of control.
PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi this week said the club is eager to stamp out the “superstar” behaviour of its players, comments many feel were directed at Neymar. There is also the fact a Brazilian woman accused Neymar of raping her in a Paris hotel, something Neymar denies, which must be mentioned.
Given Kylian Mbappé’s apparent frustration at the direction PSG are taking, the French club now appears happy to move Neymar on. According to ESPN, there are only three clubs who both want and can afford him: Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
This tracks, from a financial perspective. The three clubs mentioned are, after all, the three richest clubs on the planet. But there are more questions and factors at play. In each case, obvious pros and cons exist, as well as uncertainty as to where Neymar fits in as far as team make-up is concerned.
And there is perhaps no super-club riddled with more uncertainty right now than…
1. Manchester United
Pros: The obvious pro here is that he would be the superstar of the team, undisputedly so. In fact, he’d still be the biggest star in his league, only now his league would be the Premier League and all the PR goodness that comes with. The marketing potential for brands as big as Manchester United, Neymar and the Premier League joining forces is through the roof.
And then on the field, Neymar would be given pride of place at the heart of United’s attack with no defensive responsibilities. He’d be the highest-paid player in the squad, essentially replacing Alexis Sánchez but without being as mopey and useless. Well, without being as useless anyway. He would terrorise the Premier League as the division has long found speedy dribblers impossible to handle, and playing in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United means playing fast and hard in transition which suits Neymar’s skill-set superbly.
Cons: He’d get tackled. A lot. The Premier League doesn’t necessarily have better defenders but it does have big, relentlessly physical defenders. On pretty much every team. The pace of play is such that Neymar’s patented attempts to slow the game down before speeding it up again would be met by very firm whacks to the shin or simply being shoved over. And unlike La Liga, the Champions League or even Ligue 1, there is very little superstar protection in England. So he’d get kicked to bits every game.
Also, his histrionics, the dark arts, would find very little support in England. Macho football culture still regards diving as effeminate and thus “the worst thing” one can do in football. So Neymar flopping around like a carp would lead to him being booed at every away ground most likely. Oh and the weather is terrible compared to where he’s used to living. The food can be hit and miss although there is a recent history of Lusophonic players settling and doing well in Manchester so he’d be alright, maybe.
Finally, on the pitch, there’s also the downside that for all the money and pampering he’d receive, United are… a mess. They need so many more starting positions filled if they are to be a truly competitive side. Signing Neymar would prevent most of that, leaving them top heavy and nonsensical. Also, Neymar would have to play in the Europa League for a least a season, and he’d probably consider that beneath him.
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Pros: He knows the club, he knows the players, he knows the tactics and the system. This would be like pulling on that hoodie you haven’t worn for a couple of years only to remember how comfortable it is and be flooded by memories of happier times. Off the pitch, he’d be a Nike man on Nike’s biggest team so marketing-wise it’s a nice fit. On the pitch, he would reunite with the best player in the world, Leo Messi, with whom he has played the best football of his career (by some distance) and slot once again into that left-wing role where he shone so supremely. It’s a hand-in-glove fit as far as the football is concerned.
Cons: The humiliation of having to admit that he was wrong to ever leave for PSG would be enormous. Barcelona fans would never let him forget the two years he wasted in Paris going backwards as a footballer; in fact, some may never forgive him. He would be constantly reminded of how he had to come crawling back to Barcelona and curl up in a ball, safely back under Messi’s shadow. That’s a big blow to the ego. Also, if he joined, the fee would probably limit whatever funds Barcelona have to sign another striker, meaning he and Messi would have to carry Luis Suárez throughout the season. M-S-N’s reunion tour may not be as dynamic as their first go-around.
3. Real Madrid
Pros: Joining Real Madrid as the latest Galactico fits perfectly with Neymar’s career trajectory in terms of following in Ronaldo’s footsteps. The great Brazilian played his best stuff for Barcelona, faffed around wearing a half-blue kit for a few years getting severely injured in the process before returning to Spain with Real Madrid.
Neymar could do the same and it would fit nicely. Off the pitch, Madrid is a superb place to live and he’d get to play with compatriots Marcelo and Casemiro.
On the pitch, Zinedine Zidane would stick him in attack and just let him do his thing, the Frenchman was never big on tactics and a license to free-wheel it while paying minimal attention to structure would suit Neymar perfectly.
Cons: Neymar has shown that he needs strong leaders above him to keep him in line or his worst instincts take over. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Madrid locker room are the perpetually immature Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. Magnificent footballers, sure, but not the kind of stable veterans you want leading Neymar along and keeping him in check (they’re just as immature as he is). Ramos, remember, is the kind of captain that lashes out at a youngster for an accidental collision in training. Remind you of someone?
Moreover, while he would surely be friends with the laissez-faire Eden Hazard, who shares his penchant for relentless dribbling, the Belgian has previously voiced his laid-back attitude towards success. And while that works fine for Hazard because he lives a relatively quiet life – if that attitude in any way rubs off on Neymar then the Brazilian is doomed because his competitive professionalism is all that’s keeping him above water right now.
Meanwhile, on the pitch, it’s not exactly clear how it would work. Neymar and Hazard play the same position in basically the same way. Sure you could put them both out on the field but they both demand the ball at their feet and love to slow play down. It’s hard to see them being complimentary, and can you imagine the fights over who takes penalties? (Only for Ramos to big boy them both).
There’s also the fact that Madrid have already spent €300m this window and need to sell several top-tier members of their squad to offset that. Acquiring Neymar would likely cost another €300m all on its own which means Los Blancos may have to completely gut their squad depth to afford him, meaning they wouldn’t be in great shape to handle the rigours of a 60+ game season.