Neymarâ€™s record Â£200 million move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain will be topical for a long time, to establish himself as the Prince of Parc des Princes, whichÂ have pitched him against Edinson Cavani. Kunle Adewale reports
W ith four goals and four assists in three league matches, Neymar has so far lived up to expectation ofÂ fans that troop outÂ to the Parc des Princes every weekend to watch the most expensive footballer in the world. Last Sunday, against Olympique Lyonnais, a side that has yet to taste defeat in the Ligue 1 six-week old league, football analysts felt it was the real test for PSG and indeed Neymar and they were not disappointed as the match lived up to expectations, but not without controversies with Neymar and Edinson Cavani trying to establish themselves as to who really is in charge at Parc des Princes.
Before the arrival of the golden boy of Brazilian football, Cavani was the undisputed penalty taker, but Neymar was ready to prove that he has come to take charge. The two argued over who should take a penalty in their toughest test of the season so far against Lyon, with PSG maintaining their perfect start to the season with a 2-0 win – though it wasn’t their most convincing performance and both goals came from Lyon players as Marcelo and Jeremy Morel deflected shots from Cavani and Mbappe late on.
The main talking point was the squabble between Cavani and Neymar, who for the second time in his stint in Paris, attempted to take a penalty. He was unsuccessful again, as Cavani took charge his effort was saved by Anthony Lopes.
There was also an incident where Cavani wanted to take a free-kick and Dani Alves nabbed the ball off him, and gave it to Neymar.
Though Manager Unai Emery has told them to sort out the issue, it doesn’t seem like the situation has improved. Alarmingly for everyone associated with PSG, there are reports that in the dressing room after the match, things were close to getting physical between the South American pair.
An altercation between the two took place, with Cavani unhappy with the way Neymar conducted himself. Captain Thiago Silva was said to have intervened to defuse the tension.
While both players along with Kylian Mbappe, have developed a strong understanding and formed a fearsome attacking trio that has scored 16 goals so far this term, the dispute is a major cause for concern and doesn’t exactly bode well for team spirit.
In a classic case of modern football, it soon came to light that Neymar has unfollowed Cavani on Instagram as a result of the disagreement, while after the game, the former Napoli man made a decision to rush out of the Parc des Princes and avoid what would have been intense questions from journalists in the mixed zone about the incident.
The Brazil superstar now wants to win the Ballon d’Or after leaving Barcelona. When Neymar joined Barcelona in 2013, Johan Cruyff could see trouble ahead. â€œI wouldn’t put two captains on the same boat,â€ he said referring to the Brazilian joining the same team as Lionel Messi. â€œYou have to learn from the past on this one.â€
For once, the great man was wrong. Neymar and Messi got on well that they both paid gushing tributes to each other when they parted company this summer.
However, it’s unlikely to be that way when Cavani inevitably leaves Paris Saint-Germain â€“ Neymar has already stopped following him on Twitter and he passed to him just twice in the weekend game against Lyon. Cavani didn’t pass to Neymar at all, and by all accounts went for him in the dressing room after the game.
There are two differences between PSG in 2017 and Barcelona in 2013: Cavani is not Messi, and the Neymar of four years ago is not the Neymar of now.
Messi can be as self-centred as the next superstar but it’s also true that by genius standards, he has a remarkably underdeveloped ego, and Neymar benefited from that.
At the end of the 2014-15 season, Barcelona were thrashing Cordoba 6-0 and Messi, on a hat-trick, let Neymar take a penalty because the Brazilian hadn’t scored yet. It was typical of his attitude during their four seasons playing together.
Whenever they played weak opposition, Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez would make an effort to ensure all three get on the scoresheet. In closer, more difficult games when Messi felt that his aim was off and that Neymar was turning everything he touched into gold, then he would step aside and let the Brazilian be the protagonist.
In last season’s comeback against PSG at the Nou Camp it wouldn’t have entered Messi’s head to push Neymar to one side for that late free-kick and even later penalty.
Neymar was also very keen to show that he had not come to rip Messi’s crown off his head even though succession was his long-term idea.
On the day of his presentation, he said, â€œI’ve never worried about being the best in the world. The best is already here and he’s Messi, who cannot be compared with anybody. I am one of the luckiest men in the world to be able to play alongside him and learn from him. I have come to help him stay as the best and to win many more trophies.â€ It may well have been as premeditated and scripted as his speech in Catalan that day but it played out just as he said he wanted it to. Messi stayed No 1 and Neymar helped him.
Clearly, he has not gone to PSG to help Cavani remain the main man at the Parc des Princes. The Uruguayan is perhaps the bigger fool for not realising that if the Â£198 million man wants to take the half-time team talks as well as all the free-kicks and penalties, he is going to be allowed to.
And there is one more big difference between PSG and Barcelona. At Barca, Neymar had his band of brothers off the pitch, at PSG he has one on the pitch too.
In Spain, the so-called â€œToissâ€ never left Neymar’s side. This group of friends from Brazil was with him from his presentation in 2013 to his last day in Barcelona when they all went to get tattoos in the city â€“ each one got a letter tattooed on to his wrist that when the group stand together and put their arms out spells â€œamigos.â€
Several â€œToissâ€ even went on the club flight to the US for the pre-season tour, much to the annoyance of some of the club’s directors â€“ especially the ones who knew Neymar was going to leave the club before the season started.
Despite the social entourage, on the pitch he was increasingly isolated. He stayed with friends like Messi and Suarez but the Brazilian quota in the squad seemed to go down every year and he was left sitting next to reserve team right back, Douglas, on flights to games.
He wanted Brazilian players brought to the club and the signings of Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho were both linedup with his desire to have his own gang very much in mind.
Barca followed through on Paulinho, and tried to get Coutinho, despite Neymar’s departure.
At PSG, he has Marquinhos, Lucas Moura, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves. He doesn’t have to take the ball off Cavani because Alves will do it for him.
He’s the prince of Paris now; he has his court, his royal protector in the shape of club president, Nasser Al Khelaifi, and unless Cavani starts playing like Messi, he has little choice but to dance to Neymar’s tune.