Neymar looks to mend broken fences with PSG as the Barcelona transfer saga rears its head once again
Brazilian set for return to action in France after failing to secure summer move back to Spain
It is the saga that refuses to end. Ten days after the close of the transfer window and confirmation of the aborted bid to reunite Neymar with Barcelona, the club he left two years ago, comes firm notice there will be a sequel.
"Negotiations between the two clubs are not finished," said Neymar’s father, and principal adviser, just as his son is preparing, teeth gritted, to adopt a posture of industrious humility and mend some broken fences at Paris Saint-Germain.
The most expensive footballer in the history of the game will resume his career in the fifth-ranked league in Europe, France’s Ligue 1, as of this weekend.
Having proved his fitness after a long lay-off with some lively displays from Brazil, PSG, the club Neymar said that he wanted to leave, will now make a decision on how gradually to reincorporate him into their title defence.
This return could be at some stage on Saturday, at home to Strasbourg or perhaps not until next weekend’s trip to Lyon, a more challenging fixture but possibly an easier one for Neymar’s rehabilitation.
Easier, because the antipathy towards the player is still visceral in Paris. Banners displayed at the Parc des Princes during August – when Neymar was still pursuing the idea of leaving and while PSG and Barca, through intermediaries, were tabling ambitious, complicated proposals that might enable his return to Catalonia – insulted and wished injury on the footballer. And those were by PSG fans.
Colleagues will need to be won around, too. Neymar, signed for €222 million (Dh900m) in the summer of 2017, was to be the standard-bearer of PSG’s determined effort to remake themselves as the lords of all European superclubs.
He has played some brilliant football in his two seasons with PSG, but not guided them beyond the last eight of the Champions League and, over the last six months, made plain his dissatisfaction with a working environment where he has been ostentatiously indulged and celebrated.
Ligue 1, which PSG won at a canter in the last two seasons, is excessively physical, Neymar suggested; its referees do not afford him enough protection (there have been occasions when he has a point on that). He also missed playing alongside his friend Lionel Messi.
By June, Neymar was clearly engineering his departure, and the strategy included remarks apparently designed to make him unloved in Paris.
He told an interview the best match he had ever played was the 6-1 defeat by Barcelona of PSG in the Champions League in early 2017.
He was on the winning side then; the losers, as he knows, regard it as the greatest humiliation they have endured since they came into serious money, thanks to the backing of Qatari sovereign wealth.
The 6-1, which eliminated a PSG who held a 4-0 first-leg lead in that tie, may well have been Neymar's finest hour-and-a-half but to choose to say so as he angled to rejoin Barcelona from PSG seemed calculated to make enemies.
The manager at PSG, Thomas Tuchel, is now set a task he had believed, at moments during August, might not be on his agenda: to rehabilitate, and get the best from Neymar.
Tuchel continues to describe him as "a key player", and, with Kylian Mbappe, Ligue 1’s reigning Player of the Season, currently injured, Tuchel could do with Neymar sharp, focused and available quickly.
To Tuchel's irritation, the moment he requires him most, for next week’s Champions League group-stage opener against Real Madrid, Neymar is suspended, a consequence of his angry protests when PSG were knocked out by Manchester United from last season’s competition.
There is a new star at the Parc, too. Mauro Icardi, the Argentinian striker, joined on loan from Inter Milan, where he had been engaged in his own saga of restless, troublesome wantaway battles, but where he was also a totem for a long period, his goals carrying Inter.
Neymar cannot help but notice that PSG have promoted Icardi heavily in their marketing over the last week, and that the club have another elite forward on their roster.
With all of them fit, Mbappe, Icardi, Edinson Cavani and Neymar are quite a quartet. With all of them at peace with one another, complementing each other's distinct skills, they represent a world-class front line.
Neymar may wish to belong somewhere else, but his mission to get there will be better assisted by enjoying the company he keeps, by standout performances, by gestures of collegiate generosity and reminders of what made him most valued footballer of his generation.
Enough of those, and even the Parc des Prince might gradually turn to cheering him again.
Updated: September 12, 2019 03:33 PM