by Tim Stannard
Less fouls and more football: No more excuses for Neymar at PSG
PSG would not be lining up with arguably the greatest forward line in soccer history, while Barca contemplate how to replace the irreplaceable. It was Neymar's earth-shattering quarter-of-a-billion dollar move to PSG in 2017 that set Barcelona off in a blind panic by spending upwards of half-a-billion dollars to replace him.
Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, and Antoine Griezmann all failed to fill Neymar's cleats. "It is an exercise in despair," lamented current Barcelona president, Joan Laporta, in describing the financial recklessness of his predecessor.
Four years after that move, soccer's GOAT and Barcelona's living legend joined PSG for free.
Reunited and it feels so good
Neymar's presence at PSG was key to an emotional Messi choosing the Parisian club as his new home after two decades in Spain. Scenes from the training ground and the two players seated together in the stands for PSG's match against Strasbourg indicate a happy Neymar. And that's not easy.
Despite being 29, Neymar has been akin to an eight-year-old making career choices in terms of knowing what he wants - doctor, teacher, astronaut, unicorn trainer. In 2017, the Brazilian wanted out of Barcelona to escape of Messi's 'shadow' and forge his own path. In the subsequent years, rumors suggested that Neymar wanted to return to Barcelona, back into Messi's shade which was a protection from the sizzling heat of pressure.
That move never happened, in part because of the financial chaos at the Camp Nou that he created in the first place and Neymar settled into a future at PSG. In May, Neymar signed a new deal to see the player at the Parc des Princes until 2025. "The first factor is happiness," on the announcement of a contract extension, "the joy of being part of this squad, of the team, of Paris Saint-Germain, the club."
If Neymar was happy in May, the soccer player was ecstatic in August. The Neymar Effect took over and the Brazilian will be reunited with Messi after all. But in the French capital rather than the Camp Nou.
With Messi alongside him on the pitch, it's time for Neymar to finally deliver for PSG in the second half of his career at the Ligue 1 club. Until now, the footballer has been half the player he could be - literally.
In the forward's first four seasons at PSG, Neymar has made just 70 Ligue 1 appearances out of a possible 141. A combination of injuries - some unfortunate, some from opposition players - and suspensions have seen Neymar only giving glimpses of what he is truly capable of - 56 Ligue 1 goals in those 70 games is for starters.
The final two seasons at Barcelona stand in stark contrast to Neymar's first four at PSG. The footballer made 64 LaLiga appearances from a possible 76, just six fewer league matches than his PSG record in half the time.
3 Ways Messi can boost Neymar
Lionel Messi can bring Neymar back to peak performance. Peer pressure is a powerful tool. With the Argentinean sharing the pitch, Neymar may be less prone to the tricks and showboating which draw damaging fouls from irate opponents. Messi never needs those in his armory. It's a reminder that Neymar doesn't need them either.
Neymar's second self-inflicted weakness is his discipline or lack of it. Suspensions for retaliation, clumsy fouls, berating officials, and even fights with fans have all been a common theme of his first four years at PSG. That red mist should be lifted with the calming presence of Messi on the pitch.
In the Champions League especially, Neymar has wanted to be the player to carry PSG on his back, despite colleagues of the caliber of Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria alongside him. But so often, mazy runs are mere blind alleys. Messi is now around to restore discipline and teamwork to Neymar's game. With Mbappe in the mix, the unity of purpose of the famous MSN of Barcelona can be recreated.
After playing at half-speed for the first four years at PSG, Neymar no longer has any excuses not to be at full throttle for the next four with Lionel Messi at his side once again.