One of the ways from our world to Narnia, C.S. Lewis laid out, was through a wardrobe in a spare room belonging to an elderly professor–although crucially only if they were not looking for the portal. And perhaps in that there is hope for Paris Saint-Germain and Neymar, that the magic happens when it is not expected.
Neymar will stay in Paris for, he says, another year after Barcelona’s interest cooled over the weekend, but nobody expects any magic anymore. And so what has become an uncomfortable marriage of inconvenience will go on for a third year. Strange things can happen, and it may be that with the pressure off and the cards on the table there is a golden finale, but the more likely outcome is a draining year for all concerned. PSG, anticipating just that, has already asked its ultras not to be too hard on Neymar.
Yet when the Brazilian arrived in Paris two years ago it was hailed as a great coup. The new money had stolen a march on one of the establishment giants, able to raise an unprecedented and extraordinary €222 million fee. PSG, its shirts provided by Nike that also conveniently tied up with Brazil, adopted a yellow away kit in homage to Brazil. This was the signing, it seemed, that would take PSG that final step, would make it not merely a giant fish in the relatively small pond of Ligue 1, but a bona fide Champions League power.
It never happened.
Neymar helped PSG to two more league titles, but those come almost as of right anyway. In the Champions League, it was a familiar tale of failure. Neymar was at least there as PSG was beaten by Real Madrid in the last 16 in 2017-18, although his performance was unconvincing, numerous bright moments undermined by the fact that he seemed to unbalance the side. It's something he so often does for Brazil, making it very one dimensional and rarely executing his defensive responsibilities.
The following year, as PSG went out on the same stage to Manchester United, Neymar was on the touchline, ruled out of the game with a foot injury. That has been an all-too-familiar story. So far, Neymar has missed 52 games through injury across just over two seasons in Paris. His rage at the penalty that gave Man United an unexpected away-goals victory means he will be suspended for three Champions League games, while he picked up a three-game ban in France after an altercation with a fan following the final of last season’s Coupe de France.
But the issues have not just been a lack of on-pitch success. Neymar has also been a disruptive off-pitch presence, training seemingly only when he felt like it, maintaining a frosty relationship with Edinson Cavani and indulging a celebrity lifestyle, which included a notorious three-day birthday party at which former manager Unai Emery was summoned to cut the cake.
Quite why Barcelona wanted back a player who had essentially betrayed the club is ostensibly mystifying, although it appears Neymar is still on good terms with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, and the duo wanted to resurrect their M-S-N partnership–all this despite the signing this summer of Antoine Griezmann.
But Barcelona’s resources are limited. PSG reportedly wanted €150 million to save at least some face, a figure that Barcelona could not raise in cash. It offered Ivan Rakitic in part exchange, something which the Croatian, who has been widely criticized by Barcelona fans, was open to doing. But an attempt to make up the bulk of the remaining fee with Ousmane Dembele faltered when the French winger insisted he wanted to stay at Camp Nou.
Real Madrid had offered a potential outlet earlier in the summer, but hamstrung by its inability to move on various players, most notably Gareth Bale, that option disappeared, leaving Neymar trapped in his golden cage, a lack of suitors who could afford him meaning he has no option but to stay in Paris.
It all seems like such a terrible waste. Neymar is 27 and, at least theoretically, at his peak, yet he has spent the last two years stagnating self-indulgently, doing nothing to help either himself or PSG. Leaving Barcelona was pitched as a way to emerge from Messi’s shadow so he could win the Ballon d’Or, but in football terms it has been a dreadful decision. His father, who works as his agent, has made a lot of money, but it’s hard to see how anybody else has benefited at all.