The Neymar Saga: A Question of Priorities
Neymar Jr., since his very first day as an FC Barcelona player, has been labelled as the man to lead the Catalan club when it’s time for the greatest player to ever grace the game, Lionel Messi, to hang up his boots. Skill-wise, it’s been crystal clear that Neymar has what it takes to be crowned as the world’s best. The only question has always been when because it’s not up to Neymar as much as it is to Messi. Neymar’s time will come when age catches up with the Argentine, not sooner.
Is that the shadow people claim Neymar wants to escape? Maybe, but there’s one issue with that. Individually, Neymar will never be a better player than Messi was. He can, however, be a more successful player. But to do that you need teammates that allow you to play your best football, and that you can depend on when things aren’t going your way. The easiest proof of that is Messi’s struggles with Argentina, where exceptional individual performances were rendered useless due to simply the gap in quality between Leo and his fellow compatriots. So, if you really want to escape Messi’s shadow, is Paris Saint-Germain the team to join? Obviously no.
Here lies the main issue. If Neymar wanted to leave Barcelona for a team like Bayern Munich or Juventus, it would’ve been an easier decision to swallow for cules. It’s the team choice that’s been most baffling because it makes no sense. Ligue One is, like Gerard Pique said, a definite step down from La Liga, making any achievements there of less significance. So even if Neymar scores 40+ goals in France season after season, and wins all domestic titles there are to be won, it’ll all mean nothing if PSG do not end the season as Europe’s best. And is their team more equipped to achieve that than Barca’s? Neymar should know better.
He should also be aware that being the star player of another team may not necessarily facilitate the great escape that he is pursuing. I mean, for the love of God, just take a look at Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is and always has been Real Madrid’s star player, and yet he never got out of Messi’s shadow. It was only when he was surrounded with players that had what it takes to win Europe’s toughest competition that he got some of the recognition that he was looking for. Yet, it still isn’t enough.
That’s why I am disappointed. I thought Neymar realized that. I thought that he knew he needs players like Messi, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Pique, and Sergio Busquets to win the titles that matter. Fans remember team trophies, not who won the Pichichi 15 years ago. People say that, if it weren’t for Messi, Xavi and Iniesta would’ve each won a Ballon d’Or, and they’re right. But they will be forever remembered as two of the best ever midfielders to play the game because of what they achieved whilst playing for Barcelona, and for the Dream Team that they helped build.
That is why I believe that this isn’t about escaping Messi’s shadow and it never was. This is simply about an attractive offer, and I get that money is a strong incentive, I really do. Plus, a father like Neymar’s certainly makes it a lot more difficult to refuse whatever PSG is offering. So no, I do not blame Neymar for considering what was on the table. Because, at the end of the day, business is business, and football is a job for many, not a hobby. But you’d think that a player with Neymar’s fame, wealth, and ambition would prioritize the establishment of his legacy over a few more euros, and that is why this saga has turned a large number of fans against the 25-year old. Talented Brazilians have a history of screwing up their lives, but many thought that Neymar would be different, smarter than those before him, but he’s proving the skeptical right.
Neymar’s brawl with the new boy, Nelson Semedo, was for many the final nail in the coffin for the negative energy they feel it will infect the rest of the squad, and this is understandable. But, even though I think that his ugly reaction could have been simply due to a reckless challenge from Semedo right before a couple of games against Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana, there is probably more to it. Neymar losing his temper on the pitch is not news; it basically happens week in week out with opposing players and we’ve all gotten used to it. Teammates also fight occasionally and it’s no big deal, but it certainly does feel like his reaction was exaggerated and it just happens that Semedo was the one to push the trigger.
Put yourself in Neymar’s shoes for a second. You’ve got an offer from PSG that will make you rich as hell and your father, the man you owe your life to, is practically begging you to take it. You’ve got the best players in the world by your side telling you to stay put and make the decision that is best for your career. You’ve got a bunch of people you don’t know spamming you with insults and jokes on Twitter, accusing you of being a traitor and wishing Juan Zúñiga had successfully managed to paralyze you a few years back, and you haven’t even uttered a single word yet about your intentions. Now, tell me how would you feel. Confused? Lost? Scared? Take your pick.
This is the biggest decision of his life, and he has to make it at the age of 25. Do you go for the money or do you stay and attempt to make history? The romantics among us would answer “Stay!”, but they’re not the ones who have to decide. Whatever happens, Neymar must be the one to make the final call. Not his father, not Pique, not anyone, or else he may end up regretting his decision for a long, long time.
I still want Neymar to stay because, at the end of the day, he is an amazing player, and I do not feel like any of us can truly understand how it would feel to be in his position in order to judge his actions. If he chooses to stay, let’s put this behind us and move on. If he chooses to leave, I’ll be disappointed – not mad – but life goes on.
Big season ahead.
This is a guest post from former totalBarça writer Youssef Awwad [@yawwad11]