• Prince of Pain

    Neymar

    For a player who once had the world at his feet, irrational behaviour and a changing landscape has left Neymar off the pace, writes WADE PRETORIUS.

    Everything Neymar does attracts attention. You would think the player would then be more circumspect with his decisions on and off the field. Diving hysteria marred his World Cup 2018 campaign, bickering with teammate Edinson Cavani about penalty duties put his club status under a cloud and getting banned for insulting and fighting with a fan put his national captaincy in jeopardy.

    For all Neymar’s brilliance with the ball, his theatrics without it and the shenanigans off the field have left some observers wondering if he’s worth the fuss. His talent is undeniable and his goal record enviable, but the baggage that comes with his name is starting to weigh him down. The rise … and rise of Kylian Mbappe has pushed Neymar down a notch on the world pedestal. He is no longer the heir apparent to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player on the planet.

    His departure from Barcelona was supposed to elevate his status, but that hasn’t happened. PSG’s struggles in the Champions League continue and his French teammate is arguably more in demand, with age on his side. Thoughts about a first Ballon d’Or seem more dreamland than promised land.

    Fifteen goals in 17 league outings and five goals in Europe’s top intercontinental competition doesn’t seem like a bad return, but Mbappe weighed in with 33 goals in 29 starts and four Champions League strikes. Something has got to give in the French capital as the oil-rich club struggle to keep both their superstars content. If PSG are keen to keep up the pretence of chasing European glory, then parting with Mbappe is not an option. The tension between the French ace and the Brazilian maestro is believed to be high: will Neymar jump or will he be pushed? Mbappe has added fuel to the fire by making public statements suggesting he may have to move to ensure he is handed more responsibility.

    Neymar, appearing in a TV commercial, says he likes new opportunities. It all puts PSG coach Thomas Tuchel in a tough spot. ‘Mbappe has big goals and lots of confidence and he decided to make that speech,’ Tuchel said. ‘He’s very intelligent and knows what he’s doing and, on the other hand, he is invited to take more responsibility. Each player is invited to take responsibility; you don’t need to ask for this in a speech. He’s a special player. Special players are like this and we have to accept that. I’m not angry.

    ‘We’re not gullible, clubs want to sign lots of players,’ Tuchel added. ‘But if you ask me as a coach, yes, I want them to be here next season. But if that doesn’t happen, we will find solutions.’

    Neymar’s departure may smooth over the cracks in Paris, but it will rock the foundations wherever he lands up. Real Madrid seem the likely option, but the likes of Sergio Ramos and Marco Asensio have already been quoted as being unhappy at that prospect.

    If football is a circus and the summer transfer market the main act, then Neymar is the lion in the spotlight, but who would want be the tamer? Other potential destinations are limited due to his steep transfer value and astronomical wage demands. There’s always the possibility of him remaining with PSG, which would put Tuchel in a tough spot.

    Few would envy trying to resolve that situation. It’s been nearly two years since Neymar let his masterful feet and wide range of skills do the talking. Since then it’s been a parade of off-field distractions. At 27, he’s got at least two blockbuster moves left in him, but the list of potential suitors seems to shrink with every petulant outburst.

    This season may just be the one that defines him. If he’s truly after recognition as one of the world’s best, then sorting out his future, keeping the tabloids quiet and bursting the net need to his top priority.

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