The impact of Neymar’s world record €222m transfer to Paris Saint-Germain was seismic.
Barcelona were raided for their second-biggest star and in an instant the PSG ‘project’ became the biggest sporting story in the world.
Neymar – already rich beyond his wildest dreams – was made richer still by the mindboggling contract put in front of him by the club’s Qatari owners.
Reportedly against the wishes of his father and adviser, Neymar was persuaded to strike out alone and step from the shadow of Lionel Messi. His talent is such that he is worthy of becoming the best player in the world someday but that was never going to happen so long as he was servicing Messi.
PSG would give him a platform to become the most famous footballer and – perhaps – most famous sportsman on the planet.
Twenty-four goals in 23 appearances with PSG cruising in Ligue 1 and the Champions League would suggest that the Neymar experiment is so far going well.
There are however a number of factors at play which could mean his Parisian adventure is cut short. And looming in the background is his seemingly inevitable marriage to Real Madrid.
A watershed 8-0 win against Dijon last week might well go down as the most important game in Neymar’s PSG career so far and not simply because he scored four goals and assisted two more.
Having already been involved in a penalty spat with Edinson Cavani earlier in the season, Neymar declined the Uruguayan the chance to break Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal scoring record from the spot.
He preferred to take it himself and the move did not go down well with the club’s supporters. Neymar was whistled and jeered by the crowd as he prepared to shoot with chants of “Cavani! Cavani!” ringing in his ears.
It was later claimed that Neymar had no idea that his strike partner was one goal away from the record and the scale of the backlash is believed to have stung him badly.
Stories of his dissatisfaction with life in the City of Light have been creeping out for a few months now but a report in L’Equipe this week seems to confirm the size of the problem.
Neymar, it is alleged, regrets his move to Ligue 1 and is unhappy with the rough physical treatment he is receiving at the hands of his markers in the French league.
But PSG are working hard to keep their star man happy. Coach Unai Emery – whose video sessions Neymar is believed to detest – spoke this week about the need for fans to show affection to their record signing .
The ultras hung out a banner for the game against Guingamp in the Coupe de France on Wednesday stating that whistling players goes against the club’s values, but Neymar didn’t see it.
He was nowhere to be found on Sunday as PSG slumped to defeat at Lyon – his seventh absence of the season – with a thigh problem aggravated against Dijon keeping him out. Neither was he present in the stands alongside Kylian Mbappe and Marco Verratti on Wednesday.
Neymar has served suspensions and has even been given days to travel to Brazil since arrival at PSG; an indulgence designed with Neymar’s contentment above all else as a factor.
That though might not be enough.
Between reports of his upset at being separated from his Barcelona-based son to whispers of a splintered relationship with Cavani stemming from their on-field September set-to, it might not be long before PSG are forced to consider divorce.
And that day could come sooner than expected if PSG manage to win the Champions League. A gentleman’s agreement with president Nasser al-Khelaifi would see Neymar’s mission complete if he brings the cup to France’s top club .
Ready to swoop will be Real Madrid.
It’s hard to believe how rapidly decline has set in at Santiago Bernabeu. A team that looked unbeatable as recently as August’s UEFA European Super Cup against Manchester United have been totally derailed. They are out of the running for la Liga. They are eliminated from the Copa del Rey. Zinedine Zidane’s only hope of continued employment lies in the Champions League.
Madrid are badly in need of an overhaul. This summer is likely to bring massive changes on the playing side with a Galactico always the preferred kind of signing for president Florentino Perez. Cristiano Ronaldo finally appears to be on the slide with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale also in the firing line.
Neymar has dreamed of Madrid for as long as they have been dreaming about him. And crucially he is the leading candidate in a very, very small group of players who could carry this club on their shoulders.
He first visited the club for 20 days as a 13-year-old and impressed everyone in the trial matches he played. He was however worried what would happen if he couldn’t break into the first team as soon as possible. That and he missed his home. The deal stalled.
In 2013 Madrid had another go but he spurned them upon leaving Santos and took his place at Barcelona instead. But now the time appears right.
Perez talked up the prospect of Neymar arriving in Madrid in December, boldly declaring that if he wanted a Ballon d’Or the best place to get it would be at the Bernabeu.
That is understood to have gone down like a lead balloon with Ronaldo. But his time is coming to an end and Neymar might finally get the superstar billing he believes he deserves.