Can Neymar get back to his best this season?
Neymar left FC Barcelona in summer 2017 in search of individual success elsewhere. Since then, the Brazilian has continuously failed to make the shortlist for major personal honours while enduring a tumultuous first season with Paris Saint-Germain.
The ex-Barca man's first year in France was struck by injury, disciplinary bans and a rather unsettling legal case brought against him. This season, however, the forward has been directly involved in 14 goals in 11 Ligue 1 appearances and has scored in each of his last seven games for the French champions in all competitions. Is Neymar finally realising his Parisian dream?
Last summer almost saw a return to Catalonia. Barcelona came back in for the world’s most expensive player ever and Neymar was reportedly keen on becoming Ernesto Valverde’s prodigal son. Gerard Pique revealed to Spanish radio outlet, Cadena SER (via AS), that several Barça players were willing to tweak their contracts to accommodate Neymar’s move back to Camp Nou. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules complicated the move - and it fell through. Although the public saga further worsened the 27-year-old's relationship with the PSG fans, he has managed to recover his best form since coming back into the team this season.
Although there has been January speculation that Barcelona will come back in for Neymar, he seems to be content playing where he is for now. Neymar is still recognised as one of the world’s most talented players, there is a long road ahead to being even recognised again in individual honours. France Football, the publication that represents the Ballon D’Or, published a list of reasons why Neymar was snubbed on the 30-man shortlist for the award. These include injuries to his metatarsal and ankle, discipline issues including his ban for abusing a match official following PSG’s Champions League defeat and then pushing a supporter following his side’s Coupe de France final defeat to Rennes. Not to mention the disruption caused by his ill-fated Barça return. As long as Neymar can stay fit, he has proven he is able to provide the goods.
The public outbursts mentioned by the French outlet are part of Neymar’s big personality, but he must learn to keep his head in such situations if he is to be in with a chance to win these honours.
The message seemingly being put out to Neymar by his public Ballon D’Or snub last year is to settle down. The winger is renowned for his desire to be the centre of attention, but he is clearly being told to keep his mouth shut and let his football do the talking. So far this season he has managed to do that, leading to his success. We’ve seen big personalities ruin football careers before, take George Best as an example. Football and the sciences around it are even stronger now, leaving no room for such antics.
The Ballon D’Or is presented by France Football, which is based in Paris. Whether this was one of Neymar’s reasons in moving to PSG in search of the honour is unknown, but the outlet clearly wants Neymar to succeed at the club he is currently at. Regardless of the award, though, having committed to the move, Neymar must focus on his career there rather than having his head turned by Barcelona - as that has clearly been affecting his chances of success in France.
Many fans have put Neymar’s superfluous behaviour down to immaturity over the years. Now aged 27, the player must focus on getting in the headlines for the right reasons and individual success will come with that. The young man once touted to be the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne at the top of the game must first focus on being recognised as the best player at his club before making a claim for world status. Kylian Mbappé has just one more league goal than Neymar this season after finishing 18 ahead of him in last season's Ligue 1 campaign, so it looks like the Brazilian is well on his way to doing so. Six years senior to the Frenchman, though, Neymar's next step is to begin to assert his dominance...