Young Rishav Das, an ardent football and Barcelona fan, pens about Neymar.

“You were the Chosen One! It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them!” Neymar destroyed the Sith indeed, as he unlocked the PSG defence in injury time and dragged Barca over the finish line. Who could have thought that a quarter of a year later he would join the very thing he destroyed?

May 2013 – Neymar signed for FC Barcelona from Santos, a big money move. Barca have not had the best of experiences with big money transfers – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for one. Cules, however, had high hopes from this Brazilian, for it is rare that a Brazilian fails at the Nou Camp. The then 21 year old had a penchant for simulation, but his skill was never in doubt. He embodied the spirit of jogo bonito, of playing for fun, with his tricks, flicks and general showboating. Lionel Messi took the young Brazilian under his wing, and from then on developed a partnership that would soon strike fear into defences’ hearts, be the envy of everyone. The first season saw Neymar grow a lot as a footballer, so much so that he was considered Brazil’s saviour and biggest star at their home World Cup. Neymar, the star, shone brightly. But then came the knee of Juan Zuniga, and Neymar’s dreams were shattered. Brazil, as a collective, mourned the loss of their guiding light, and Germany humbled them at Belo Horizonte.

In the 2014/15 season, Barca bought Luis Suarez. The former Liverpool man did have a longer rap sheet than the whole of the Barca squad – indeed, it is worth noting that he has missed more games through suspension than through injury. Suarez, however, mended his ways. Along with Messi and Neymar, the MSN was born. A treble in the first season, followed by a double in the next. Messi, Suarez and Neymar had a telepathic understanding on the pitch; off it, they were as close as any set of brothers could get. Neymar was being hailed as the player who could soon challenge Messi and Ronaldo’s Balon d’Or duopoly. He was Messi’s apprentice, his heir, and destined for success. The Brazilian had grown at Barca. He would always want the ball, the way Messi did, the way Ronaldinho used to. Neymar would never give up his showboating, that was his signature, and the Nou Camp crowd loved it. Confidence started to grow, Neymar became wiser off the ball, and could find space for himself and his team to exploit. His passing developed and so did his understanding of the game. Messi mentored him the way he had been mentored by Ronaldinho.

The 16/17 season was a tough one for Barca. After Neymar’s individual brilliance dragged them past Paris (6-1 win at home, after a 4-0 loss away at the Parc du Prince), Messi dragged them past Real at the Bernabeu. Yet, they failed to get past Juve, and dropped crucial points in La Liga. The season was a failure.

That summer, the unthinkable happened. PSG matched Neymar’s buyout fee of 198 million pounds, an unprecedented event. He moved to Paris for “a new challenge”, taking the no. 10 shirt and becoming the biggest jewel in a PSG team with (too?) many expensive signings. The Brazilian had, in many people’s opinions, moved to get out of Messi’s shadow. This view may not have been admitted to by Neymar, but it is the most probable reason, and almost certainly the actual reason. Neymar had played well at Barca; guidance from bona fide legends such as Iniesta, Xavi and Messi can never be wrong, and they aided him on the journey towards the top of the football echelon. He could, however, never step out of the diminutive Argentine’s shadow, a frustrating experience for many.

One cannot,then, completely blame Neymar for moving – had Neymar not done enough to be on the same level as Messi? The honest answer to that would be a resounding no. While Neymar had often performed, equally often, he would mess up, lose the ball cheaply, make glaringly wrong decisions and frustrate his teammates. Consistency was a major issue for the Brazilian, and it still is.

It is worth noting that Messi never betrayed his teacher Ronaldinho. He continued to perform to his  best, eventually outshining the Gaucho. Neymar lacked this patience. He wanted the quick road to glory, like Anakin Skywalker, the “Chosen One” (NOT Harry Potter). PSG are the dark side on the football world. Their Qatari funding, along with Manchester City’s Arab funding, give these two clubs more money than is good for them. City and Paris are more of businesses than football clubs; they can buy anyone they want to and no buy-out clause is too high for them. UEFA’s FFP does catch the two clubs, but they have an unfair advantage over many – two clubs with no history, no pedigree, but with enough cash to tempt anyone. The Sith and Palpatine could not tempt Anakin better.

Neymar had starred in quite a few Ligue 1 matches in 17/18. In the Champions League, PSG’s target, however, he failed when called upon, against Real in the Round of 16.

Ligue 1 is certainly not the most competitive leagues in world football, much less competitive than the Spanish league. This showed in Neymar’s World Cup showings this year. His tricks could beat defenders in France, but they failed in Europe and in Russia too. Neymar was forced to simulate, diving in every match. Knocked out by a deserving Belgian side, Neymar returned home humiliated and ashamed. He was no longer as great as he was in Spain. A story as sad as that of Darth Vader, who joined the Dark side but ended up losing his wife. He could not bring Luke or Leia over to his side, neither could he make the Sith the supreme rulers. A story of failed potential, so similar to Neymar’s. While Neymar still has time left to prove his worth, at 26, he is now in the teenage Kylian Mbappe’s shadow, the Frenchman having captured football’s biggest prize in Russia. He is no more the confident, skillful Brazilian that wowed the world at Barca, and quite often he seems to lack the same desire. Regret? Possibly.

Neymar still has time to redeem himself, to prove his 198 million pound fee was not money wasted, to win the Champions League. Does he, however, have the desire to do so? Darth Vader ended up redeeming himself, killing Palpatine and saving Luke and the Jedi. Will Neymar be able to do that, staying at PSG and beating the odds stacked heavily against him and the naysayers around him? Or will he join a bigger club, maybe return to Barca (a remote possibility, as remote as PSG winning the UCL :3) ?

Only time will tell if jogo bonito makes a return, if Neymar uses his ball skills more than his histrionics.


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