Neymar is both problem and solution as PSG enter uncertain times

By Sports Desk August 11, 2019

Luis Enrique was not one for verbosity in his last few months at Barcelona, but this deserved special praise.

The Catalans had just beaten Villarreal 4-1 at Camp Nou, inspired by a brilliant performance from Neymar. He scored Barca's first goal, helped Lionel Messi get the second and forced a late penalty with a piece of skill that left Mario Gaspar's head spinning.

"He interprets football like nobody else, not even Brazilians," Luis Enrique said. "Most of his solo runs are so quick I don't even have time to see what he's done. It's a joy to watch. Any football fan should appreciate what Neymar does. Sometimes it's more like ballet than football."

It's an apt description since, more than two years on, many Paris Saint-Germain fans feel Neymar is leading them a merry dance.

The Brazil star does not want to be there. He has made that clear to sporting director Leonardo, who has admitted the club will consider offers of a suitable standing and suggested this week that progress on his future has been made.

The irony, of course, is that Neymar has almost priced himself out of a move by virtue of the world-record-busting €222million transfer he made to the French capital in 2017. Barca and Real Madrid, his ideal escape routes, simply can't afford him unless they sell (and sell big) or arrange some form of structured deal, or even a loan.

Now, there is a question of whether PSG want him there. The club seem to have modified their stance on their most marketable asset. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi stated publicly in June that "nobody forced [Neymar] to come here" and that "superstar behaviour" would not be indulged at Parc des Princes any more. The return of Leonardo to replace the much-maligned Antero Henrique underlined this commitment towards a stricter control over one of football's most lavishly assembled dressing rooms.

Thomas Tuchel, for his part, has said "every coach wants Neymar in their team, and so do I" but freely accepts it is for the player and club directors to decide his future. In public, at least, he is not rocking this most precarious of boats.

So it is that PSG head into the new season with no real development to the latest Neymar saga. He is still there, he is nearly fully fit, and he could well be ready to play against Nimes on Sunday. He almost certainly won't - but it might be better for everyone concerned if he did.

The Ligue 1 champions head into the start of their title defence in a state of uncertainty. The optimism around Tuchel's appointment last year evaporated in their wretched second half of the season, in which they lost to Guingamp in the Coupe de la Ligue, Rennes in the Coupe de France final and in the Champions League to a Manchester United side so short on first-team players that, at one stage, they had Romelu Lukaku in defence and Under-23s chasing the ball at the opposite end like children on a playground.

When PSG beat Rennes 2-1 in the Trophee des Champions clash in Shenzhen this month, Tuchel spent post-match duties batting away questions about how they struggled so badly to break down their opponents, how only Angel Di Maria's proclivity for brilliant free-kicks completed the comeback. They needed a spark, inventiveness, unpredictability - the kind a player with a combined tally of 54 goals and assists in 37 Ligue 1 appearances can provide. Like it or not, they needed Neymar.

He was there, of course, watching on from the stands, still recovering from the ankle injury that stopped him playing a part in Brazil's Copa America triumph. He joined in the celebrations on the pitch, where Twitter tongues were sent wagging hysterically when Kylian Mbappe pushed him out of a team photo, even though Neymar was laughing and joking with his strike partner and Marco Verratti before and after those couple of seconds of footage.

Maybe that's the key here. Amid the whithertos and whyfors about a move away, maybe PSG just need to get Neymar back where he is happiest: on a pitch, in a team apparently happy to have him, playing the game he can make look so breathtakingly easy.

However long it lasts, this is almost certainly Neymar's last season in Paris. Keep him fit, keep him playing, and it could be their most successful ever. PSG fans would dance for joy at that.

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