Champions of France. Check. Champions of Europe? Pending? Ici c’est Paris. Bienvenue a Paris.
First there was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then there was Edinson Cavani but finally could Neymar guide Paris Saint-Germain to the promise land of Champions League glory?
That was the Brazilian’s remit when he joined the French giants in world-record £198million transfer from Barcelona in August 2017.
Neymar is on the brink of history with PSG after guiding them to the Champions League final
He celebrates with Marquinhos after the latter scores during their semi-final win vs RB Leipzig
Neymar joined PSG to win the biggest prizes and he is now one game away from doing so
Neymar arrived to the Parc des Princes with the desire to be the main man, having grown tired of living in Lionel Messi’s shadow at Barcelona despite their success together on the pitch.
In four seasons at the Nou Camp, the forward won seven major honours – including two La Liga titles and a Champions League. Forming a devastating triumvirate with Messi and Luis Suarez, he looked set to be part of a dynasty.
However, then came his shock desire to leave Spain for pastures new. The idea to lead his own club to European supremacy and to make his own case as the best player in the world, ahead of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Eternal rivals Real Madrid were interested in his services, however any notion of Barca selling him to them was unthinkable so Paris became his new destination.
‘Paris Saint-Germain’s ambition attracted me to the club, along with the passion and the energy this brings,’ Neymar said at his club unveiling.
‘I feel ready to take the challenge. From today, I will do everything I can to help my new team-mates.’
He arrived to Paris Saint-Germain in August 2017 for a world-record £198m fee from Barcelona
His debut season would be a microcosm of things to come in the French capital – a plethora of trophies, injuries and off-the-pitch controversy.
The 2017-18 campaign ended with a domestic treble (Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue). However his season was cut short by injury when he fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot against Marseille in February 2018. He yielded a good return with 28 goals in 30 matches in all competitions, though.
The following term saw deja-vu occur. More trophies came in the shape of the Ligue 1 title but the forward suffered another broken metatarsal injury to his right foot in January 2019 – which kept him out of action for 10 weeks.
And then last summer came the controversy. Neymar became a pariah among the club’s ultras as he tried to engineer his way out of the club.
PSG’s off-season plans for the 2019-20 campaign were disrupted by their star man agitating for a move back to Barcelona. It began with him deliberately failing to report on time for their pre-season camp.
He then even offered to contribute £17.7m towards his own transfer costs after PSG stubbornly refused to lower their asking price before reluctantly accepting that he wouldn’t be granted his wish.
His first season at PSG was curtailed with a broken foot suffered against Marseille in 2018
The following campaign was also disrupted by injury but once again finished with silverware
That was the final straw for the ultras who made their views clear to Neymar before his first game of this season at home to Strasbourg in Ligue 1.
‘In a footballing sense, Neymar is one of the greatest players of his generation, but that’s far from the most important thing for us today,’ the lengthy statement read.
‘What we reproach him for is being disrespectful on several occasions towards our club, even to have humiliated it at times.
‘He has put in place a disastrous communication strategy to try and force a move to Barcelona, one of our main European rivals, leaving his entourage to speak in his place… except when it comes to discussing his best memories [Neymar citing Barcelona’s comeback against PSG as his favourite football moment].
‘At a time when he has made no public statement, let alone an apology, he will soon return to the field at the Parc des Princes, and we are legitimately more than sceptical about him playing another season in our jersey.
Paris Saint-Germain ultras unfurled banners demanding Neymar leave their club in August
One banner referenced the €20m Neymar offered to pay to push through his Barcelona return
‘The Virage Auteuil, in which the most loyal supporters of the club are grouped [at Parc des Princes], has the duty to show him that all his actions cannot be without consequence.
‘Therefore, we invite all the Parisian supporters who have felt hurt at one point or another to show him that he no longer has the right to make mistakes and the path of redemption will be long… very long. It’s out of the question that we will penalise the team due to a single player.’
Despite scoring the game’s only goal with a scissor-kick volley, he was jeered and was forced to rein in his celebrations so as not to antagonise the fans who had banners calling for his exit. He followed this up a week later by scoring another winner – this time in a 1-0 victory over rivals Lyon.
However, by the New Year the Brazilian was back on song with supporters having produced the attacking output expected of him in Thomas Tuchel’s side.
A man for the big occasion, Neymar proved his worth by playing an instrumental part in the Champions League last-16 win over Borussia Dortmund – scoring in both legs before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Neymar scored a stunning scissor kick when he returned to the team back in September
The Brazilian scored in both legs of their Champions League last-16 tie vs Borussia Dortmund
And once their season restarted he was once more producing telling contributions in matches – as evidenced by scoring the sole goal in their Coupe de France final victory over Saint-Etienne. That triumph went alongside a third-straight Ligue 1 title and another Coupe de Ligue success.
While PSG continue to conquer France, they know and feel that their benchmark is the Champions League. In the one-off quarter-final against Atalanta last week, Neymar endured a mixed display. Despite wasting golden opportunities for his side in the first half, he was magnificent in the second as he and Kylian Mbappe willed them to a last-gasp win over the Italians – having been 1-0 down going into injury time.
In Tuesday’s semi-final against RB Leipzig, the 28-year-old was instrumental for the Parisians as they swept aside their German counterparts 3-0. A lovely flick set up Angel di Maria for their second goal but perhaps most telling is his teamwork. The Brazilian appears to be more disciplined and focused on the job in hand rather than thinking of his own personal gain. This was evident as he closed down the Leipzig defence by pressing high up the pitch.
Now with a place in Sunday’s final secured, only Bayern Munich stand in their way of glory. Paris Saint-Germain are celebrating their 50th anniversary and what better way to do so than winning the Champions League for the first time in their history to complete an unprecedented quadruple.
The Brazilian was the matchwinner for PSG last month as they won the Coupe de France final
Speaking about his relationship with the fans in January, Neymar underlined his desire to win more silverware for them and the club.
‘I never wanted to hurt anyone, but I always knew in my head that if you’re not happy somewhere, you must leave,’ he told France Football.
‘My goal is to win everything I can with Paris and the Brazilian national team.
‘Reach the Champions League final, win the Copa America again, find new challenges.’
He is now just 90 minutes away from European glory. If he achieves that Sunday night then he will go down in the club’s folklore and all will be forgiven. Or as they say in French: tout sera pardonne.
Victory on Sunday against Bayern Munich will complete an eventful season for the forward