Neymar knew what he was getting himself into when he signed for Barcelona. Lionel Messi was then as he is now; top man. The Argentine forward’s new contract will see him extend his reign as king of the club until 2021.
Neymar’s made all the right noises about Messi that Barcelona like to hear. “Hero”, “idol”, “best in the world” are all terms at one stage or another used by the Brazil captain to describe Messi.
With another four-year deal on the table, there is little chance of anyone let alone Neymar breaking through the glass ceiling and dislodging Messi from his perch as lord of all he surveys.
But Neymar has ambitions. He has ambitions to win trophies – like any top player – and ambitions to win individual honours too. He wants a status that befits his own perceptions of himself; top man in a top team.
He will have to move to get it.
Barcelona could have made the brave decision this summer and faced down the impossible question. Should we sell Messi? They declined. There was a brief opportunity in which they could have taken the funds for Messi and reinvented the entire team using Neymar as a spearhead.
He proved in the game against Paris St-Germain in the Champions League quarter-finals that he was capable of carrying Barca. He has been doing similar for Brazil for a long time now. He thrives on it. But they didn’t and he can now never step out of Messi’s shadow.
He can never win the Ballon d’Or so long as he’s on the same team as Messi. He can’t even play No.10.
PSG’s decision to activate Neymar’s €222m buyout clause is a massive power play. It makes sense for them despite the dizzying fee and it is a perfect opportunity for Neymar too.
The club have been embarrassed in the last two editions of the Champions League; most humbling was their 6-1 trouncing at the hands of Neymar and Co. at Camp Nou in the spring. They have lost their status as French Ligue 1 champions to Monaco. They are in desperate need of a lift.
PSG have got to realign their project and what better way of doing that than hiring a Champions League winner from a rival club for a world record fee? He is a winner and will demand they get up to his standards.
The departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was supposed to herald a new era of sorts in Paris; an era of a team without one unique star lording it above the others. No Galacticos at PSG; Normalacticos instead. It didn’t work and PSG have to think again.
This move will kick them up several levels on the field and off it. It’s one thing trying to shift shirts in the superstore with Ben Arfa on the back; Neymar is another thing altogether. He will be the face of the brand in a way he couldn’t be with Messi in his way at Camp Nou.
He has been successful in Catalonia but has never appeared to be a natural fit for a club like Barca. He is a dribbler, an entertainer, he is much more than a facilitator, a hard worker and a proxy for Messi. To his credit he has been disciplined and humble and has done the job to the best of his ability. But in his own mind he is nobody’s No.2.
That said as successful as his time on the field has been, off of it he has struggled. He is said to be without close friends in the Barca dressing room. In Paris he will find multiple international colleagues with Dani Alves recently added to the ranks.
Persistent tax and corruption issues have stalked him and his family since his controversial move from Santos in 2013.
His father is said to be livid that Barca pulled out of a deal for Neymar’s compatriot Lucas Lima this summer. Not only would it have guaranteed an ally for Neymar Jr in the dressing room it would have netted Senior a significant commission for his part in the transfer.
The big difference between Barcelona and PSG is that the French side are a team without a superstar; in Neymar’s eyes Barca have too many of them.
Barca will have no choice but to be enriched by the transfer fee but weakened on the field. They are paying the price for years of chronic mismanagement with millions being channelled into keeping the MSN show on the road.
Their transfer business this summer betrays their status as one of the world’s richest teams. Haggling with Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao for Paulinho? Really?
These are worrying times for Barca who appear to have put all their faith in five more years of Messi. The collateral damage of that is losing the man who should have been not only his partner but successor.