Paris Saint-Germain may be soaring at the top of Ligue 1 and cruising through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, having easily dispatched Bayern Munich, Anderlecht and Celtic to date, but all is not what it seems at Parc des Princes.
Behind closed doors, there are problems and at the centre of the tempest is the world’s most expensive player.
Neymar, signed from Barcelona when the French giants triggered his €222 million release clause in the summer, is the centrepiece of the capital side’s latest attempt to finally claim the Champions League.
On the field, there have apparently been few issues with his integration into the squad. He has scored 10 times in 11 outings, becoming the superstar leader that PSG hoped he would prove, living up to his billing as the third best player in the world - an accolade given to him at the Best FIFA Awards in last week.
But while his performances have not been affected by the pressure of being the most expensive player of all time, in the dressing room, some of his team-mates have been far less enthused by the Brazilian’s aloof attitude.
Former PSG sporting director Leonardo described the 25-year-old as “charismatic and impertinent” in Le Journal Du Dimanche and sent a warning to both the forward and the club.
“He can never feel bigger than the institution,” he said. “Never, even if he’s the best in the world. PSG must be more important than Neymar, it’s essential. Otherwise, we won’t see the best Neymar.”
The trouble is, Neymar does feel bigger than PSG, having been promised kingly status when he arrived. Only once has this truly manifested itself on the field, yet when it did, the world’s attention was caught.
PSG were scoreless in a Ligue 1 match against Lyon when Dani Alves pinched the ball from Edinson Cavani as he lined up to take a free-kick, instead presenting it to Neymar. When the Uruguayan wrestled a penalty away from his team-mate subsequently, it left Neymar stunned.
Given the hype surrounding Neymar’s arrival in Paris this summer, it was little surprise that images of the incidents went viral, generating a kind of hype that the club did not want.
In an attempt to defuse the situation, Cavani was reportedly offered €1m by the club to allow Neymar to take all the penalties. He flatly refused. Neymar was further incensed.
As a veteran of four years at PSG and a vice-captain of the squad, Cavani is a highly respected figure in the dressing room and the way in which he was treated by Neymar did not go down well, particularly among a string of fringe players whose game time has been cut by the Selecao striker's arrival.
Alves did his best to make amends for the incident by organising a dinner for the entire squad yet, as El Pais reported, the atmosphere was like “a funeral”.
This very public challenge of Neymar’s status as king of the club continues to resonate in the dressing room today.
On the training ground, the player’s attitude has been questionable. Last week, for example, he spent much of one session simply trying to nutmeg his opponents while he also disrupted running drills.
The cause of his discontent may be generated by Neymar believing he deserves more respect from the squad than he has received. Both the fans and club are treating him in the lavish manner he expects, but that is not the case with his team-mates.
He arrived at PSG to be worshipped in the way that Lionel Messi is at Barcelona, but he has discovered that simply being the most expensive player in the world does not earn respect among a tight-knit squad.
“Neymar grew up in Barcelona with Messi as a role model in the last four seasons,” a source close to the dressing room told Le Parisien . “So he thinks it’s normal to have the same rights now he’s in Paris. He’s forgotten the team has a history without him.”
When, for example, Thiago Motta and Thiago Silva tried to talk him down from his pedestal, El Pais reports that he acted with “a distracted air”.
His attitude towards coach Unai Emery is little better. In a report from Le Parisien last week, it was revealed the former Sevilla coach has no control over the Brazilian, who is said to pay little attention to what the boss tells him.
Meanwhile, the club, who need him as their spearhead on the field and in the media, have been forced to indulge him, heightening tensions and simply feeding the monster.
When PSG signed Neymar and were threatened by Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions from UEFA, they were ready for a summer fire-sale. The agents of many members of the squad were contacted and asked if their clients would be willing to consider transfers. Only Blaise Matuidi, who was hurt by the actions of the club, did so, leaving for Juventus.
Now the club had played their hand, they had to backtrack significantly to welcome the likes of Angel Di Maria, Thomas Meunier and Julian Draxler back into the squad.
When some of these players saw Neymar’s behaviour, they were left to question why PSG were so ready to dump them for someone so content to act as a brat. As a result, his relationship with a number of members of the squad has been described by close sources as strained to say the least.
He is, therefore, at a key turning point in his career. Does he change his behaviour to become the best player in the world or is he content to keep behaving as if he is superior to everyone else at the club?
Neymar’s answer will be vital for his own future, but also that of PSG.