How Neymar Became PSG's Quiet Man In The Wake Of Messi Move And Mbappe Mess

For once, nobody is talking about the 31-year-old
13:00, 27 Jul 2023

Paris Saint-Germain finally had everything in place. When Lionel Messi signed for the club in 2021 from Barcelona, the final piece in the glittering puzzle had been placed. Alongside Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, the Argentine was intended to be the spark that would ignite PSG’s Champions League dreams. After all, how could a team featuring three of the defining attackers of the era not lift the highest of club honours?

In the cold light of 2023, we all know how that worked out. This supergroup never managed to land the Billboard hit of a European Cup. The band has broken up with all the acrimony of a vintage VH1 Behind The Music special. Messi was chided for an unsanctioned trip to Saudi Arabia and has now embarked on a solo career at Inter Miami. Mbappe is looking to break out too, with Real Madrid and Al-Hilal among his options.


Curiously, nobody is talking about Neymar. The Brazilian’s €222 million move from Barcelona to PSG remains the world’s most expensive transfer, at least until Mbappe picks his destination. The 31-year-old has become less of a presence on the field for his club, having made just 20 league appearances last season. It must be said, Neymar’s output hasn’t dropped. The forward notched 13 goals in those limited appearances. But it is clear PSG cannot rely on him to play every week, with injuries and wear beginning to take their toll.

Neymar remains a prize asset though. It was the Brazilian who was moved front-and-centre of PSG’s Japanese tour promotion when Mbappe was withdrawn from the squad. But that box office appeal feels incongruous considering the current PSG brand message.

The club is openly looking to move away from its star-led era. The Ligue 1 side’s modern take on the Galacticos has ultimately seen them fall short of their ultimate goal. While a bevy of football’s biggest modern stars have walked through the doors of Parc des Princes, still the European Cup eludes PSG. It feels like there was an acceptance that, if they couldn’t win the Champions League with the Messi-Neymar-Mbappe triumvirate, a change of approach was needed.

Now the club is looking to the future. Former charge Xavi Simons has been signed again, with the 20-year-old loaned to RB Leipzig for extra seasoning. Highly-regarded 22-year-old midfielder Manuel Ugarte has joined from Sporting CP. Even older signings like World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez, a relatively-pensionable 27, have been made for functionality rather than shirt sales. The defender is an excellent player but not the sort Kim Kardashian would make a return visit to Paris specifically to watch.


This less lofty, more focused PSG seems ill-fitting for a player like Neymar. While he is capable of sprinkling his stardust, he does so intermittently. Ideally, a club favouring function over fashion would want a player on his wage to play more games and help the club deliver continental trophies. It is that wage, a reported €700,000 a week, that has actually kept Neymar at the club while the very nature of its essence shifts around him.

There are very few clubs capable of meeting those weighty demands. Manchester City are too sensible to do so, with Pep Guardiola more likely to move on an over-30s player than buy another one. Manchester United might be able to make it work but Neymar hardly epitomises the high-pressing game manager Erik ten Hag wants. Chelsea have more money than sense and might be keen, but in Christopher Nkunku and Nicolas Jackson they have addressed their attacking concerns for now. 

Newcastle United were long-touted as Neymar’s next move. The 31-year-old would function in much the same way as his countryman Robinho did for Manchester City. A statement signing to signify their arrival as a “big club”. But, having qualified for the Champions League and attracted a raft of hungry, talented players already, do Newcastle even still need to make such a statement? Eddie Howe’s men seem set to be a factor next season without introducing a superstar of Neymar’s calibre.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Neymar’s anonymity is the lack of a tangible move from a Saudi Pro League club. The upstart division has made it their business to hoover up players who fit Neymar’s exact profile. Big names who might have their best years behind them but still have something to offer. Karim Benzema, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson, N’golo Kante and of course, the biggest of them all, Cristiano Ronaldo.


Neymar’s name would fit that list like a glove in terms of profile. But there has been precious little in the way of concrete offers for the former Barcelona man. In fact, there has been very little talk surrounding him at all. For a man who commanded the greatest transfer fee ever paid, it is surely a symbol of decline. However, this uncommon anonymity could work in his favour.

It feels remote considering Neymar has never made 30 league appearances in a season for PSG, but what if he were to be a key part of a successful new era? What if being the sole superstar in the side suits him better than being but one star in a galaxy? Surrounded by a team more thoughtfully composed than any in recent PSG history, perhaps Neymar’s more mercurial talents can shine? Perhaps, unlike for Messi and Mbappe, Neymar’s salvation comes from staying rather than going?

A player as illustrious and galactically-famous as Neymar doesn’t stay off the radar for long. Good or bad, happy or sad, we’ll have a reason to talk about him soon. Whether that be his acceptance of a mammoth move away or as the last man standing from PSG’s Hollywood era. Even at 31 and with his best days behind him, Neymar still has an impact to make.

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