Kylian Mbappe was signed by Paris Saint-Germain to compliment Neymar. He did that pretty well in his first season as the Brazilian finished on the top podium.
This term, however, the 19-year-old is gradually stealing the shine off his senior colleague.
Neymar’s arrival in Paris played a part in Mbappe’s decision to move there. Despite breaking through at Monaco, the teenager must have relished playing alongside the 26-year-old in the attack.
At the Municipality, he had just Rademal Falcao as a tutor. In the capital, however, there was Neymar and Edinson Cavani.
Neymar had the fan base. Tens of thousands scrambled for his #10 jersey. Only Ballon d’Or despots Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi command more. For sheer talent and wizardry on the ball, he is matchless.
With mobility and agility, Neymar accelerates, decelerates and hit the target coming inside from the flank. He does this with flair, precision and some measure of showboating.
He was deprived of the spotlight to flaunt them at Barcelona. You have to bear Messi to get it. The Brazilian played the supporting cast. He simply styled his game to suit the Argentine. So when PSG came to town, he couldn’t resist the temptation of going along. At least there, he’d no longer be under anyone’s shadow.
Neymar took French football by storm. Prior to breaking a foot against Marseille in February, he had blown through Ligue 1 like a whirlwind, scoring 19 goals and supplying 13 assists in only 20 appearances. There were dazzling dribbles and fantastic free-kicks, rabonas and rainbow flicks, and he contributed to a clean sweep of France’s domestic trophies.
This season, however, he finds himself in the midst of an inadvertent arm wrestle to remain PSG main man. Mbappe is gradually catching up with the 26-year-old. With Neymar faltering, he came to the rescue with a brace against Guingamp.
Although Mbappe insists Neymar is PSG’s leader, he is not playing like one. The Brazilian won and scored a penalty thanks to a piece of trademark trickery but — like against Caen — otherwise made little impact.
He even reproached 20-year-old teammate Christopher Nkunku for shooting from the edge of the penalty area rather than pass to him. Yet as an attacking midfielder, this is precisely Nkunku’s remit.
Mbappe, meanwhile, is endearing his way to the hearts of Parisians. Having grown up in Bondy, he encapsulates the dreams of many children in the banlieue.
His calmness, hard work and humility are simply outstanding. Those virtues are Messi’s trademark. “Comme Un Messie” (Like A Messiah), a headline on L’Equipe’s front page on Sunday read with a clear allusion to the Argentine after his double.
The early sign was crystal clear for Neymar. PSG was quick to capitalise on Mbappe’s thrilling World Cup. The Parisians built its publicity campaign around the 19-year-old’s decision to change squad numbers, from 29 to seven. His image was plastered across their social media channels. Neymar was left with nothing but a series of mocking memes.
If that wasn’t enough signal, then the club’s publicity photograph released afterwards gave a bigger indication. In the composite picture, five PSG players wearing the new all-white away kit. Neymar is positioned centrally, but he is just behind Mbappe, the teenager’s left arm hooked over the Brazilian’s right as if the pair were jostling for position at a corner.
Should Mbappe maintain his fine form and still manage to keep his head down, then again Neymar may be forced elsewhere to shine.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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