Neymar was the story of the summer transfer window. From the first day to the last, news about the Brazilian dominated the rumour mills and there was even talk of swap deals so that he could return. PSG kept insisting on their price, however, and nothing actually happened.
In fact, PSG ended up signing another attacking player in Mauro Icardi on loan from Inter on deadline day and fast forward about three months – Neymar has already helped PSG in getting nine points. He has scored in the club’s 1-0 wins over Strasbourg, Lyon and Bordeaux. He was also crucial in their 4-0 win over Angers in early October.
But the former Santos man is now injured – again. He sustained a hamstring problem in Brazil’s international friendly against Nigeria and is expected to be out for about two more weeks. He missed the Parisiens’ Champions League game against Brugge, meaning that he has now missed half of the club’s games since joining from Barca for a world-record fee of €222 million.
Because of the injuries and suspensions, that huge price-tag has hardly been justified. It probably never will be.
And that takes our attention back to Barcelona, considering they earned that money. The two major players they brought in to replace Neymar’s technical ability and pace have failed. Philippe Coutinho has already been loaned out to Bayern Munich, while Ousmane Dembele is yet to fully blossom.
Neither of those players have failed because of a lack of ability. They failed because of things they probably had little control over. Dembele had disciplinary issues at Borussia Dortmund and Stade Rennes, while Coutinho is already thriving in a more fluid system than Ernesto Valverde’s at Barcelona, seeing how he’s their third-best rated player according to Whoscored.
A similar thing is happening to Neymar. He has seen his career stall at PSG because of things he had no control over. He has missed 56 games through injury and he just can’t help it.
But Barcelona saw him as a possible replacement for Dembele, who himself has missed 46 games through injury since joining in 2017 (via Transfermarkt).
They are world-class performers on their day. There is no doubt about it. But it isn’t just injuries that bring out similarities between the two. Lionel Messi, in an interview with Metro 95.1 (via Goal last week) in Buenos Aires, has revealed that some players don’t really want Neymar back.
“Firstly, because it was difficult to see him leave, secondly because of how he left. There are people from the club and the members who do not want him to return. If it is for sports, Ney is one of the best in the world, but I understand all the other factors.”
The atmosphere about Neymar’s return has evidently become negative, ever since he left in the summer of 2017. Messi’s comments delve into people’s perception about the Brazilian, signaling at how he’s seen as a villain at the club.
The same goes for Dembele, whose attitude issues have hardly given him too much respect in the Barca dressing room. Reports in Spain have always highlighted this issue about the Frenchman, focusing on how his attitude is holding him back.
It is a lot like buying a spoilt loaf of bread in place of a rotten apple for a basket full of fresh and healthy fruits.
But the approach that Barca took in their pursuit of Neymar says a lot about how they’ve changed. They aren’t a club that focuses on pure talent. The manner in which they let go of Malcom without ever really giving him a chance – seeing how he only mustered 24 appearances during his spell with the club – says a lot. The current Zenit St.Petersburg man had no attitude issues and had talent, as evident from his time at Bordeaux when he scored 23 goals and assisted further 16 in 96 games. But he left after a single season.
The emphasis has now shifted to getting superstars in the side. Even when Barca had Malcom, they signed Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid. This galactico approach has made their transfer recruitment unplanned and unstructured. It is almost like playing darts with a blindfold on, hoping it hits the bullseye.
It is with this galactico approach that saw them go head over heels for Neymar. Going back for him will prove everything that is wrong at the Nou Camp today.