Back in the summer of 2017, Neymar changed the transfer market forever. His €222 million move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain established a new order at the top of the European game, setting a new precedent in the same way Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo did with their world record moves.
In a footballing sense, though, Neymar’s switch to PSG hasn’t changed much. The French outfit are still Champions League pretenders, not contenders, only ever making it as far as the round of 16 with the Brazilian leading the line. They have gone through two managers with Thomas Tuchel on thin ice after a feeble end to last season.
Now, it seems Neymar, who is paid an eye-watering €700,000 a week, might not even be there to see through ‘Project PSG’ with the 27-year-old reportedly keen to leave the Parc des Princes this summer. What’s more, the French champions are willing to let him leave for the right price, backed up by comments made by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi this week.
“Players will have to be more responsible than before,” said Al-Khelaifi in an interview, surely aiming a thinly veiled dig at Neymar, whose behaviour has been questionable of late. “It must be completely different. They will have to do more and work harder. They are not there for their own amusement. If they do not agree, the doors are open – Ciao! I do not want superstar behaviour anymore.”
Indeed, Neymar has been accused of superstar behaviour in his two seasons at PSG. There was a reported fall out with Edinson Cavani, an incident in which Neymar appeared to punch a fan as well as questions over his commitment to training and frequent trips back to Brazil. It has even been suggested that there exists a clause in Neymar’s contract that essentially sees him paid for good behaviour – a behaviour bonus worth a reported €375,000 a year.
Taking all this into account, Neymar might find that the market for him this summer isn’t as bountiful as it was two years ago. The Brazilian may have made the decision to leave PSG, but where could he possibly go? The options in front of him appear rather limited.
There are only four clubs in the European game who could feasibly afford Neymar.
Real Madrid are one, but having just splurged around £300 million on Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo, Eder Militao and Ferland Mendy, they are not in a position to spend something around £200 million on Neymar.
The two Manchester clubs could afford Neymar, but would Pep Guardiola really risk disrupting what he has built at Man City by adding the notoriously difficult Brazilian to his well-balanced squad? United would presumably walk to Paris in order to sign Neymar, but is Old Trafford, something of a torture chamber for big-name signings, really where the forward wants to be at this stage of his career?
Neymar has been a very different player, and character, for PSG than he was for Barcelona. At Camp Nou, the Brazilian was the perfect wingman for Lionel Messi, a willing support act to the headliner. On and off the pitch, Neymar was a model professional. Now, however, he is vilified, seen by many as the epitome of all that is wrong with the modern game.
Not so long ago, Neymar was seen as the heir apparent to Messi as the world’s best player. It was his destiny. That status has been compromised in recent times, but not because of the club he finds himself at. If Neymar believes it is PSG preventing him from becoming the player so many thought he would become then he doesn’t have a grasp of his own situation.