Paris Saint-Germain’s investment in Neymar is unprecedented in the history of the sport – some €222 million paid in a transfer fee to Barcelona plus a reported €700,000 per week contract. And while PSG won the French Ligue 1 title yet again, the season overall cannot be said to have been a success for the club or for the world's most expensive player ever.
In their other domestic competitions PSG saw their Coupe de la Ligue campaign end at the quarter-final stage by Guingamp while Rennes beat them on penalties to win the Coupe de France in April. That match ended in disgrace for Neymar, who punched a fan on the walk for his silver medal, and in the process earned a three-match domestic ban.
Neymar also earned a three-match European ban for his reaction to PSG’s elimination from the Champions League by Manchester United. He was by that stage injured, having suffered a kick to his foot in a Coupe de France game against Strasbourg back in January.
That was the injury which more or less ended his season and for the second time in a row demonstrated the folly of building a project around one superstar signing.
He suffered a foot injury around the same time the year previous when PSG were gearing up for their Champions League last-16 second leg against Real Madrid. He missed the game – and more besides – and PSG had no answer to Madrid’s second-leg blitz.
Things might have been different this year had Neymar been able to play against United but as things stood, he was unable to have an influence.
The massive outlay by Qatar Sports Investments – not only on Neymar but on Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and the rest – has the Champions League as its ultimate ambition. They have thus far been able to get past the quarter-final stage. The signing of Neymar has brought them no closer to the goal.
The injuries and suspensions with which he’s been absent from key matches demonstrate that building a quality team around the talents of one man is impossible, even if that man is Neymar.
The French league is a far better league than given credit for and Neymar is comfortably the best player in it when he’s on form. He played only 28 times in all competitions last season but that was enough to return 23 goals – the second-highest in the squad after Mbappe – and 13 assists.
There has however been the perception also that Neymar has opted out of certain games – for example after his 26th birthday party last year – and it’s no secret that he’s enjoyed indulgences beyond the privileges of other team-mates. He was said to enjoy a direct line to the president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and made it known that he did not enjoy the video analysis sessions of previous coach Unai Emery and would rather not have to suffer through them.
His entourage in Paris has grown legendary in number and his recent appearance at a Brazil training session descending in a personalised helicopter showed how far into a surreal, rich man’s world this player has travelled. He is a superstar beyond doubt but when it comes to being a squad member he might now have to become accustomed to no longer being beyond reproach.
PSG president Al-Khelaifi had an interview with France Football published this week and it brought shockwaves with it. He reiterated that Kylian Mbappe was certain to remain in Paris next season, but the status of fellow superstar Neymar was left a little unclear.
“I do not want to have any celebrity behaviour anymore,” the president said. “Players will have to assume their responsibilities even more than before.
“It must be completely different. They will have to do more, work more. They are not here to please themselves. If they do not agree, the doors are open. Ciao!”
That coincided with a weekend of big change around the club, with Leonardo being installed as sporting director to replace Antero Henrique, who had been in the post since the summer Neymar signed.
A story in L’Equipe , meanwhile, suggested that PSG were prepared to cut their losses on Neymar and entertain selling him this summer. That story appears to tally with Al-Khelaifi’s statements to France Football . If a buyer can be found then Neymar could be sold.
It is known that Real Madrid might not yet be through with their Galactico replenishment process this summer and if space in the budget can be found for Neymar they would do it. Barcelona are also in the frame, with Neymar enjoying close relationships with plenty of the 2015 treble-winning squad. However, the Catalans are compromised by their financial predicament and could not furnish his return unless some players are offloaded. In any case, Matthijs de Ligt and Antoine Griezmann are not yet done deals and to go in for Neymar right now might be beyond their capabilities.
Whatever the outcome, this week a line has been drawn. Al-Khelaifi has now stated on the record that the days of superstar privilege – and superstar behaviour – are at an end.
“I want players willing to give everything to defend the honour of the jersey and to join the club project,” he said of Neymar.
“Those who do not want that, or do not understand, we will meet and we will talk to each other.
“There are of course contracts to be respected, but the priority now is total membership of our project.
“Nobody forced him to sign here. Nobody pushed him. He came knowingly to join a project.”
And without a Champions League to show for the project, and with the club no more successful now than they were in the summer of 2017, the era of Neymar has not worked out as planned.