It’s finally over (for the most part). Neymar Jr. was officially presented as a Paris Saint-Germain player as the summer’s most discussed transfer saga finally came to a close. The last two and a half weeks have seen a multitude of newspaper headlines, tweets and articles being written in discussion of his transfer: Would he do it? Surely he wouldn’t give up everything he had to go to a ‘smaller’ club? Was it all about the money? We’ve now had a little bit of time to absorb all the happenings and make up our own mind about the answers to these questions and a lot of the others doing the rounds on social media. The predicament this writer is in right now, however, is that being a fan of both the player and the club, it’s not those questions that are bothering him.
The fact of the matter is that as FC Barcelona fans we have been spoiled by some truly great players. Not just great in terms of skill, mind you, but in terms of loyalty and commitment. Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Ronaldinho, Dani Alves, Eric Abidal, Lionel Messi and many many more. These are players who not only would walk into any football team in the world, but also had a respect and understanding for the shirt which meant that there was almost never any question of them disrespecting the club or their teammates in any way. It’s a different story that some of their departures weren’t handled in the best way possible, but in spite of this you knew that they had an appreciation for the red and blue of the Blaugrana that ensured their commitment.
In this writer’s humble opinion (prior to the events of the past few weeks) Neymar Jr. was a part of that list. His arrival at Barca was full of controversy, his transfer fee was substantial (for the time) and no one was quite certain as to exactly how he would adjust to his new surroundings. Adjust he did though, and every time he was on the pitch you could see he was enjoying himself, which is so important for a player like him. He was getting along with his teammates, he waving a good time on the pitch and was forming a special understanding with his mentor and the greatest player of his generation, Lionel Messi. When Luis Suarez was added to the mix Neymar hit cloud nine, benefitting immensely from the near telepathic connection the triumvirate had as he enjoyed his best season ever, culminating in a goal in the Champions League final that sealed the treble. He was on top of the world, playing like a dream and winning while doing it, as part of arguably the best front line in history.
FC Barcelona hasn’t exactly reached those same heights since that magical season, but it doesn’t mean that we haven’t been treated to some wonderful football recently, of which Neymar has been a huge part. From his brilliant goal against Villareal to his man-of-the-match performance against PSG, single-handedly orchestrating the greatest comeback in the history of the Champions League, he’s been improving and becoming more important to the team day-by-day.
This brings us to the massive 222 million Euro elephant in the room. Neymar, seemingly out of the blue, felt uncomfortable in Barcelona and after a few weeks of intense scrutiny and discussion he announced he was leaving and was recently presented in Paris. There are so many questions people have been struggling to answer: Why PSG? Why now? What made him decide to leave? Why hadn’t he listened to his teammates, who were practically begging him to stay?
All those questions are interesting enough in themselves, but what I want to focus on is how he left. In the eyes of thousands of Blaugrana fans who have been avid fans of Neymar Jr., he was a Barca legend in the making and the only choice to lead the team forward as Messi started to slow down. Not only did he prove us all wrong, however, he dented his reputation irreparably in a lot of our eyes.
We defended his petulance and immaturity, overlooked his father’s greedy tendencies and supported him through thick and thin, but not only did he let us down, he let his teammates down. He stayed quiet about his situation throughout the U.S. tour, allowed his teammates to face a barrage of questions that disrupted the team’s whole pre-season, listened as his senior teammates, legends in their own rights, begged him to stay and after apparently being convinced decided to leave anyways, attempting to ‘say goodbye’ in the midst of a training session. To add insult to injury, his father is now threatening to sue over the club refusing to pay him a loyalty bonus, for completing one season out of the five he signed on for in his renewal. Not only does this show his lack of respect for his club and his teammates; it also maybe confirms how his heart maybe never really was in the same place as the legends we have been spoiled by. Add to that the fact that Dani Alves very recently stated that Neymar convinced him to join PSG a month ago and you wonder how much of what Ney has said is of any truth anyways.
He has served the club well and was a great, great player for us, but his actions and complete lack of respect when dealing with this transfer mean that he will never be considered a legend. Being remembered as a club legend is about more than just being a great player. Neymar has the potential to be among the all-time great football players, but not at FC Barcelona. There’s a lot of debate surrounding this historic transfer but when the dust has settled what matters is not that he’s gone; it’s how he left.