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Well, it’s happened. Finally.
After years of rumours as toothless as hearing your mate’s getting friendly with your mum Neymar is actually going to leave Barcelona and he’s leaving for Paris Saint Germain for the princely sum of £198 million.
The deal is of course eye wateringly monstrous even in today’s inflated market. On top of the world record obliterating transfer fee (more than doubling the current £89 million record), Neymar will pocket around £650,000 per week after tax.
Yet the money offered, silly money by all accounts, is not so interesting as the fact that it going to be accepted. It is no secret that football transfer fees have been on anabolic steroids for years, driven by TV revenue and super rich owners.
We all knew that it was only a matter of time before we saw a £100 million player, the fact that we have practically jumped straight to the first £200 million player is largely inconsequential, the market is the market and next week an 18 year old might go for £160 million. What a time to be alive.
Proviso: that is not to say that the fee is not controversial. PSG are likely to face investigation by the Financial Fair Play board with La Liga President Javier Tebas claiming he will personally attempt to block the move. The fee they are paying is equivalent to 1/3 of the clubs entire value which raises serious questions about the nature of the deal.
With Neymar’s move to Barcelona still subject to legal wrangling and with the President who signed him, Sandro Rosell removed and jailed, Neymar looks like he can expect another controversial transfer.
However, with the Brazilian contracted until 2021, having extended his deal only last year, and with Barca in no desperate need to raise funds the question on everyone’s lips has been, why would he leave?
It is clear Barcelona didn’t want Neymar to depart, only last month current President Josep Bartomeu promised fans that Neymar wouldn’t be leaving the Camp Nou, while Gerard Pique also publicly suggested Neymar would be staying. What’s more, there was no indication of a rift in the dressing room (besides the very recent scuffle with new boy Nelson Semedo).
In fact, Neymar was apparently well liked and highly regarded. Both Messi and Suarez apparently attempted to persuade him to stay while Messi has recently issued a very warm farewell message to his soon to be former strike partner.
That almost makes things more confusing because it shows that the desire to make this move happen has been come solely from Neymar’s camp. This of course has sent football fans, writers and probably Barcelona’s entire club staff too, into trying to work out exactly why he wanted to leave.
For a player who is already one of the best in the world, likely to reign supreme once the Messi-Ronaldo era is over, and who has a very legitimate chance of becoming one of if not the greatest Brazilian striker all time, the decision has to be based on Neymar’s assessment of how best he can establish himself as the player he wants to be, making history and cementing his legacy.
It would therefore appear that the reason Neymar wanted to leave Spain is to escape Messi’s undeniably formidable shadow. If this is to be taken as Neymar’s prime motivation, then looking back to Barcelona’s historic Champions League comeback against PSG would seem to carry extra significance.
Neymar’s moment taken away by Messi
After a terrible first leg in Paris Barcelona trailed 4-0. In the first leg the team was devoid of inspiration all over the pitch and from the bench. Even prodigal son Lionel Messi went missing and it looked a lot like Barcelona’s footballing chokehold, a decade long, might finally be loosening.
Then came the second leg and Neymar took over. In truth, he had started the season poorly despite a very successful campaign previously and although a bonafide superstar ever since he had arrived he was still very much part of a supporting cast to Lionel Messi.
The Brazilian therefore had something to prove and during the second half of the season he began to prove it. Neymar grew in stature, increasing his impact on the team and beginning to look like a player capable of putting the team on his back and carrying them over the line.
No game epitomises that growth more than the PSG return leg. Neymar scored twice, in the 88th and 91st minutes, and also supplied the cross for Sergi Roberto’s 95th minute winner. Clutch. Messi scored too, but it was Neymar who carried his team over the line.
Following his performance Neymar must have quite legitimately felt that he had proven himself and that he had earned himself a new kind of respect at Barcelona and within football as whole. Messi would always own the spotlight, but Neymar had shown that he deserved to share it. Side by side.
The need to step away from Messi’s shadow
Especially with Messi growing older it appeared to all intents and purposes as if Barcelona’s future was perfectly taken care of; Messi would drop deeper into midfield while Neymar would continue to supply the otherworldly brilliance up front that fans have become accustomed to from Barcelona. Together the two would be titans for years to come.
However, following Neymar’s historics in what many have called the best Champions League comeback of all time, the defining photograph was this.
The image is magical, itself one of the great footballing photos of all time. It captures the special relationship between Messi and Barcelona, a relationship built over 10 years in which Messi has delivered again and again and again earning the fans’ eternal admiration.
But the simply fact is, this wasn’t Messi’s game. It was Neymar’s and seeing the photo, which was also displayed by the Barcelona at the club shop, must have proved to Neymar the futility of even trying. This was Messi’s team and it always would be.
Over in America Kyrie Irving, an All-Star Point Guard, wants to leave his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite reaching three straight Finals and winning a Championship he wants out.
The reason? Playing in the same team as LeBron James, arguably the best player ever, is doing his head in. Everything that happens in Cleveland comes down to, and through James and no matter what Irving does, it always will.
As such Irving is willing to take a risk by moving to a team who aren’t guaranteed to reach a Finals in order to give himself the space he needs to become the player he feels he can be. He wants his own franchise, just like Neymar. Maybe the two should go out for dinner.
Playing alongside superstars is stifling, but playing alongside the best ever is suffocating. Neymar can become the best player in the world and one of the best Brazilian strikers of all time.
But, clearly he has reached a point where he feels unable to do that while he stays at Barcelona. Neymar needs a team of his own, a franchise of his own, where even in games where it is others who carry the team, it is his face emblazoned on the club shop.
There is no denying that his decision is a risk.
PSG have never made it past the Champions League Quarter final, while winning the French League will never be enough to win the Ballon D’or because Ligue 1 is simply not as good as La Liga.
But for all the talk of money, in truth this move is about someone having the courage and self belief to step into the unknown in the pursuit of greatness.
Gotta respect him for trying
Seeing the end of MSN, the best attack in a generation if not of all time, will bring a tear to many eye. But, as one thing dies another is born and so equally, seeing what Neymar is able to achieve in Paris will be have the footballing world enthralled for years to come.
Should he deliver a Champions League to the Parc des Princes, Neymar will prove his doubters wrong. Should he deliver two, or three he might just secure the legacy he is looking for.
It is a monumental ask, but you have to respect him for trying.
Written by Scott Pope
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