In the summer of 2017, La Liga giants, Barcelona went through one of the most defining patches of the club’s or even football’s history.
In the summer of 2017, the transfer market witnessed the unabashed might of Ligue 1 powerhouse, Paris Saint-Germain — the club which triggered the most ludicrous release clause in history.
For them, Neymar was the only and obvious choice to carry on Messi’s legacy, to guide Barcelona to more silverware and glory. Unfortunately for them, PSG were also in the market for a talisman, and they weren’t shy of spending big.
A week of drama and a €222 million transfer later, Neymar landed in Paris, promising to take the club to their first Champions League trophy.
Three years have passed since that outlandish transfer, and Paris, at least on paper, are exactly at the same place as they were in the pre-Neymar era — unabashed champions of France, but strugglers in Europe.
Has Neymar fulfilled his true potential?
When the forward joined Lionel Messi’s Barcelona in 2013, he was an unpolished, unadulterated bottle of Brazilian ecstasy. He was excellent in one-on-one situations, could pick out a pass when needed, and had a respectable shooting boot.
At Barcelona, however, he had to adapt to a whole new ball game, unlearn some of the key aspects of his game at Santos.
Brilliant as he is, it didn’t take much time for him to flourish, and he came good in his first season itself, pitching in with 15 goals and 15 assists in all competitions.
In the next three seasons, he took his game to a whole new level and played a crucial part in Barcelona’s exploits, which included the treble in 2014-15. Four seasons, two La Liga titles, one Champions League, and three Copa del Reys later, he joined the French giants.
PSG finished behind Monaco in the league in 2016-17, thanks to the exploits of Radamel Falcao and teen sensation Kylian Mbappe. So, Neymar’s first job was to nudge PSG ahead of the competition, which was made easier by Monaco’s lack of retention skills.
Rejuvenated by Neymar’s inclusion, PSG cruised to the Ligue 1 title. Neymar, as expected, played a key role — chipping in with 19 goals and 13 assists in 20 Ligue 1 appearances.
In the Champions League, PSG brushed aside their Group B competition to set up an epic Round of 16 clash against Real Madrid.
Neymar, who had scored six goals in the group stage, was kept quiet in the first leg and missed the return leg with a metatarsal fracture. Real Madrid registered a 5-2 aggregate win over the French side.
Next season, Neymar once again an impressive campaign domestically as PSG picked up their second Ligue 1 title on the trot. Unfortunately, he missed more than half of the matches with a foot injury and ended the league campaign with 15 goals and eight assists in 17 matches.
In the Champions League, he helped PSG qualify alongside Liverpool from a highly-competitive Group C. Sadly, the Brazilian skipper missed the Round of 16 tie against Manchester United due to the foot injury. Without their talisman, PSG succumbed to a defeat on away goals.
Finally, in 2019-20, Ligue 1 was prematurely abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the abandonment didn’t keep PSG from winning their third title on the trot.
Out of the 27 matches that were concluded, Neymar only managed to feature in 17 of them, missing the rest with multiple injury concerns. The extra healing time allowed Neymar to fire on all cylinders in the Champions League, which is exactly what PSG needed from the very beginning.
He kicked off his Champions League campaign with two Group A fixtures, helping the club pick up four points from six. After topping the group, the Parisians went against Borussia Dortmund in the Round of 16.
Here, Neymar stepped up to the plate and scored two goals in a 4-1 aggregate win over the German side.
The quarter and semi-finals were one-legged encounters, which made them all the more unpredictable. PSG beat Atalanta and RB Leipzig in the successive rounds, with their most expensive talisman popping up with two assists.
PSG booked their place in the Champions League final for the first time in their history.
Against Bayern Munich, who had won all Champions League matches up to that point, Paris were always going to have a hard time. Neymar had one of the most forgettable games of his career and couldn’t lead his team the way the Parisians had hoped.
The cagey affair ended in favour of Bayern, with Kingsley Koman’s only goal separating the two teams.
Over the last three years, Neymar hasn’t done much wrong at Paris Saint-Germain. However, that doesn’t mean he has done enough to justify his price tag. He’s, of course, helped Paris reclaim the throne in France, but continental success has remained elusive.
What’s more frustrating is that he’s played knockout football in only one of his three seasons at PSG — the only season where PSG managed to make their way into the final.
Neymar, despite being an injury-prone superstar, remains PSG’s best hope for Champions League success, and we believe, it’ll be best for the two parties to remain patient and pray that the footballing gods keep the forward injury-free.