As collectives go, the bitey, dribbly, fauxhawked South American triumvirate known as the MSN takes some beating.
Money – and a domineering father determined to get more of it – has now broken up this sublime coterie of scuttling skill-pixies. Qatari cash brought them together and, fittingly, the same bottomless lucre-pit will now serve to tear them apart.
But, tainted as the memories will now become for many, few who saw them in action will forget the era of Messi-Suárez-Neymar. For this trio, truly, was among the wonders of the modern age of football.
It all began when, to much fanfare, Neymar arrived from Santos in 2013 as a Jesus-loving, diamond-studded upstart with a galactic level of ambition. His move to the Nou Camp was the conclusion of several years of internecine wrangling for his signature among Europe’s best clubs.
For Barca, it was a transfer coup to end all transfer coups.
They already had Lionel Messi, the Best Player in the World, in their ranks, and now they’d just managed to sign the Future Best Player in the World.
A year later, the final part of the puzzle clicked into place, with Luis Suárez joining the club from Liverpool. At the time, the Uruguayan was arguably the most dangerous centre-forward on the planet and, all of a sudden, Barcelona found themselves in possession of a quite incredible attacking trident.
One which, even before they stepped onto a pitch together, was already being hailed as the finest collection of forward talent that petrodollars had ever bought.
And the MSN delivered. The goals rained in to the extent that the statistics began to take on an almost comical look: after a while, they’d started to outscore entire clubs. And they did so with such a terrifyingly instinctive choreography that it became difficult to comprehend the intricacy and difficulty of some of their combinations.
For all to see, they were a demonstration of pure skill and fearsome athleticism.
Even when their team failed, they still contrived to be sensational. Oddly enough, the emergence of the MSN coincided with a period of transition at Barcelona, a “loss of religion” that saw a stylistic switch from the automatons of the Pep era to the chaos theory of the Enrique age.
Critics branded the trio a mere collection of individuals, but in truth that was rarely the case. The MSN worked hard together in order to allow each member a chance to exhibit their own brilliance.
In their first year, no team in the world could answer the questions they posed: a treble was soon in the bag. Three more major trophies were won over the following two seasons, but the unbridled success of that maiden campaign was always going to prove difficult to match.
From 2015, it seemed that Barca were weaker than they had been for many years, and the MSN were often expected to win matches by themselves, with the remainder of the team merely serving as their water-carriers. And yet, win matches by themselves is exactly what they did.
No occasion represents this better than the astonishing, Neymar-led comeback defeat of PSG in last year’s Champions League.
Off the pitch, the trio were tight, though not as much as the saccharin Instagram posts and cringe-worthy official photo-releases would have you believe. Suárez and Messi are genuinely close friends, but there’s a sense that Neymar was the outsider of the three: a little younger and flashier than the other two.
Somehow, he always seemed the junior partner, despite a real claim to being the best of the bunch over the past 12-18 months. It may have been age, or something else, but eventually it became clear that the Brazilian was falling out of love with the grand experiment that was the MSN.
He leaves Spain having been a vital element of a footballing phenomenon. He will surely thrive in France, but it seems hard to believe that he will ever again be part of something so significant.