"Now it’s official: PSG’s Project Neymar has failed," one major football outlet trumpeted on Tuesday.
"Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG," the Independent say, are asking "‘is he worth the hassle?’"
Its become clear this week that Paris Saint-Germain are looking – for the first time – to actively find a buyer for the worlds most expensive footballer. Its been almost two years since the French giants paid €222m to bring the then 25-year-old to the Parc des Princes; 684 days, to be precise.
When (not if) Neymar goes for €222m, itll be the first time in 85 years that the world transfer record has more than doubled in one go
— Chris Deeley FORGOTTEN NATIONS OUT NOW (@ThatChris1209) August 3, 2017
PSG have played 111 competitive matches in that time, and Neymar has featured in 58 of them. Or to put that in a more salient way, Neymar hasnt been on the pitch for even a second in 53 – almost half – of Paris Saint-Germains games since they shattered the world record transfer fee to bring him to the French capital.
Hes currently in his ninth – NINTH – spell out injured since arriving. Some of those have been little single-game absences for knocks, two of them have been separate periods of three months out apiece with metatarsal injuries.
Hes currently sidelined with a ruptured ankle ligament while Brazil play in the Copa America. He also, although it was covered up at the time, tore an ankle ligament towards the end of last season, before the World Cup.
Players who pick up injuries at this rate often struggle to find consistency and rhythm. They can destroy a career, put somebody light years from their best in the prime years of their career. Neymar, on the other hand, has scored 51 goals and assisted 29 more in his 58 games. Thats a far better record per game, by the way, than either Kylian Mbappe or Edinson Cavani over those two seasons – and hes streets ahead in the Champions League.
Hes a freak. He excels beyond all reason in just about every attacking metric by which you can measure him. Hes a statistical marvel. There isnt a player on earth who can beat opponents like him, and only Lionel Messi can match (and probably surpass) his natural talent.
There are a lot of reasons that Neymar might not move this summer. In fact, he probably wont. the two clubs most likely to sign him, Real Madrid and Barcelona, both have a lot of money tied up in other transfers and are struggling to balance their books already. Manchester United might be able to afford him, but is the man who wants Champions League and Ballon dOr glory going to move to a crisis-ridden Europa League side?
Manchester City? Dont need the distraction in their well-oiled collective. Liverpool? Ditto. Spurs? Funny one. Abroad? Juventus have Cristiano Ronaldo (and no money), and Neymars already moved away from one Ballon dOr rival for his own spotlight. Bayern? Not for that money they wont. Its also worth remembering that a concerning rape allegation is going to hound him for some time, not an insignificant consideration.
So he probably stays in Paris. Good. Because Project Neymar hasnt been a failure, not really. It hasnt brought a Champions League to France, but thats because referees – and Ligue 1 referees in particular – allow him to get the bejeezus kicked out of him on a weekly basis without recourse.
Neymar has been failed by the institution of football more than he has failed Paris Saint-Germain. Defenders dont know how to defend against somebody so staggeringly good, so they kick him. Referees dont know how to deal with the sheer volume of fouls, so they let a lot of them go under-punished. Then Neymar gets another bone broken, another ligament snapped, and we wonder why he cant stay on the pitch.
His absence at the business ends of the last two seasons has led to some fans – not all, but a substantial number – forgetting how astonishing a footballer he is.
Not worth the circus that comes with him. Hell never be the player he couldve been. He isnt a leader.
Neymar will go back to being the second best footballer on the planet when he recovers from his latest injury for the start of next season. He is utterly unique. Hes worth – unless, in extremis, you have Lionel Messi – absolutely any circus that follows him to a big club. The player he could have been doesnt matter, because the player he is is astonishing.
Leadership might not be his best quality, but he led his country, as a captain at just 24, to one more trophy than Messis won for Argentina. Because when youre that good, you can just go on the pitch and be that good, and whether or not you shout at people enough is completely beside the point.
It doesnt matter where he plays, Neymar is beyond staggering. Sometimes its worth taking a minute to look back and remember that.