Listen out, wherever the sounds and images from Real Madrid against Paris Saint-Germain reach you, for the noise that greets the most expensive footballer in the game’s history, and for the man who held that distinction before him.
For this, the glamour fixture of the Champions League group phase, the Bernabeu is braced for some industrial-scale booing.
On Saturday, at the home of the European Cup’s most decorated club, Gareth Bale, four-times Champions League winner with Madrid, came onto the field as a 67th-minute substitute. His entrance provoked whistling shrill enough to be heard a long way up and down the Paseo de la Castellana.
Bale’s perceived offences against his employers have accumulated over many months, but his recent declaration he feels happier playing for his country, Wales, than for his club provoked this episode of amplified rancour.
A night earlier, in Paris, Neymar was substituted after 65 minutes of a patchy performance, his first in six weeks, post-injury, against Lille. He left the pitch to jeers from sections of the Parc des Princes and, rather than taking a seat on the bench, strode directly to the dressing-room. It was not Lille supporters who had booed him to the tunnel.
Neymar’s offence? Somewhat like Bale’s. PSG fans have endured too many signs the 27-year-old’s loyalty to the French club who invested more than €220m (Dh889m) is exhausted.
During a summer spent pushing urgently for a transfer back to Barcelona, where he spent four seasons until 2017, Neymar said publicly his best-ever match was when he was on the winning side for Barca as they beat PSG 6-1.
It was a statement as undiplomatic as Bale chanting, with Wales team-mates last week, “Wales, Golf, Madrid,” behind a banner that listed those three things as his priorities “in that order.”
Sometimes footballers exposed to regular catcalling in their own stadiums develop a preference for away fixtures. Not so Neymar at the Bernabeu, where his past guarantees a Bale-scale booing.
Not many among the 70,000 there on Tuesday can ever put aside the Brazilian’s association with Barcelona, for whom he scored three times in nine Spanish ‘clasicos’, nor that in the years preceding his arrival at Barca he had been earmarked as a future Madrid man.
Real thought they had a deal with Neymar when he was a teenager, a precocious Santos starlet with a highly streamlined marketing operation around him. Medical assessments had been made, contracts readied, the full ‘Galactico’ hype ready to roll.
Then Barca gazumped the deal. Madrid, wounded, turned instead to Bale, a €100m-plus recruit from Tottenham Hotspur and were never happier about how things had worked out than the moment in the 2014 Spanish Cup final when Bale scored an astonishing virtuoso goal to defeat Neymar’s Barcelona.
That highlight, along with the sensational overhead volley in Kiev that sealed Bale’s third Champions League title, were obliquely referenced by Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane ahead of PSG’s visit.
“Gareth Bale has given a lot to this club,” said Zidane. “There’s a lot of noise around him, too much. Everyone is entitled to their opinions but we need our fans to be with us.”
Not too long ago, Zidane was contributing his own percussive beats to that ‘noise’. In July he publicly told Bale, 30, he should leave the club. Among potential buyers Madrid sounded out were PSG. At around the same time, Neymar’s associates were letting it be known he might be wanted at Madrid again.
Most madridistas preparing to boo and whistle Neymar on Tuesday recognise those stories for exactly what they were: a device to scare Barcelona into stepping up their efforts to drag Neymar back to Camp Nou, or risk him ending up at their fiercest rivals.
The home-ground derision for Bale and Neymar is partly a residue of those summer sagas, of Neymar the wantaway, Bale the stubborn, unloved stayer. It is a fortnightly challenge for the players and for their coaches. Zidane, who tried to usher Bale way four months ago, has picked him in his starting XI more often than not when Bale has been available this season.
PSG’s Thomas Tuchel acknowledged there were fences to be mended with Neymar, but remains clear that his superstar, focussed, offers a team with a dazzling range of attacking talents something unique.
Tuchel has a dilemma, though. PSG’s overwhelming need for Neymar is not as pronounced as it used to be. The superb form of Angel Di Maria – an ex-Madrid player – and Mauro Icardi makes picking them almost obligatory. Kylian Mbappe, meanwhile, is recovered from illness and available. Tuchel’s headache is over whether to let Neymar be jeered from kick-off, or save his booming Bernabeu booing for later.