Ever since Neymar Jr. bolted FC Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, he’s been public enemy number one.
The media rarely miss an opportunity to criticize him for leaving the Catalan club for the French capital and non-PSG fans routinely lob insults at him on social media whether it be for his perceived diving tactics, showboating, or off-the-pitch lifestyle.
Hope football is the real winner tonight and Neymar snaps his ACL,therefore ending his career.
This sister rattling fraud.
— fergal (@fergalkiernan) August 18, 2020
On the eve of the UEFA Champions League final, Neymar has silenced his critics. After multiple injuries kept him out of the knockout stages of the Champions League the past two seasons, the 28-year-old is finally healthy and showing that he is worth the €222 million PSG paid for him.
Neymar singlehandedly propelled PSG past Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16 last March and then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Neymar and his teammates had to wait months before being allowed to even train with each other. They played a handful of friendlies and two domestic cup finals—hardly the ideal build-up to a crucial stretch of Champions League matches.
Against Atalanta in the quarter-final and then RB Leipzig in the semi-final, Neymar didn’t get on the scoresheet but he did just about everything else, including win Man of the Match against Atalanta. His energy, his passing, his creativity with the ball, his partnership with Kylian Mbappé and Angel Di Maria, it’s all been sublime to watch and in the process, he’s made it very hard for his detractors to find fault with him.
While Neymar has been on the ascension, his former club, Barcelona, has been an abject embarrassment from the pitch to the boardroom. They haven’t made a Champions League final appearance since Neymar left and every season since 2017, they’ve had arguably worse exits than even PSG, which is really saying something.
This year, the 8-2 loss to FC Bayern Munich in the quarter-final cost manager Quique Setién his job and sporting director Eric Abidal is out as well. Even Lionel Messi is reportedly considering his future with the club. If he decides to stay, Barcelona are still very much in rebuild mode after spending the money they received from the sale of Neymar on players who have underperformed since.
What this proves is that Neymar made the right decision to leave in 2017. He saw the PSG project as a chance to elevate his status in the game and get out from under Messi’s shadow. While his tenure in Paris got off to a rocky start (again, mostly due to injury), he now has a chance to win the club’s first Champions League title and only the second ever for a French club. His name would forever be etched in the history books of football.
It has to be said that Neymar did try to orchestrate a transfer back to Barcelona last season but it had more to do with his unhappiness with being injured and not being able to play in the Champions League and not necessarily anything personal with PSG or his teammates. A year later, you would have to say that both Neymar and PSG are pleased with the way things worked out since that time.
Looking ahead, there’s no doubt that PSG’s future is much brighter than Barcelona’s. They have players who need to be offloaded and will likely do so at a loss. Comparatively, many of PSG’s assets have appreciated in value, and in Mbappé and Neymar, they have two of the most highly coveted footballers in the world.
He may not have realized it at the time, but Neymar 100 percent made the right decision to leave Barcelona and his timing couldn’t have been better. You can call him a mercenary, a diver, soft, whatever you like. But on Sunday, he has a very good chance at becoming called a two-time Champions League winner.
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