Qatar-backed PSG and French football braced for Neymar exit

The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019
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Qatar-backed PSG and French football braced for Neymar exit

  • Since moving to the Parc des Princes, he has played in almost exactly half of his club’s matches
  • Foot injuries saw him miss three of the four Champions League knockout matches the Qatar-owned club have played in

PARIS: The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment.
Having arrived in France in 2017 hoping a world-record transfer to PSG would help him emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and win the Ballon d’Or, two years on he looks set to leave with his reputation having taken a serious hit.
There is no doubting the 27-year-old forward is a brilliant player, and there is every chance he will get the success he craves — collectively and, chiefly, individually — by returning to Spain, whether with his old club or Real Madrid.
However, there is every reason to believe a Kylian Mbappe-led PSG, and football in France in general, will ultimately be better off without him.
The French champions’ first Ligue 1 game of the campaign last Sunday, a 3-0 win against Nimes, saw supporters unfurl banners insulting the 222 million-euro ($264 million at the time) man.
Neymar himself was not involved in that game, left out amid the uncertainty over his future. He already missed the season-opening Champions Trophy against Rennes in China due to suspension.
Since moving to the Parc des Princes, he has played in almost exactly half of his club’s matches.
When he has been on the field he has frequently been brilliant, scoring 51 goals in 58 games, but when it has really mattered he has been absent.
Foot injuries saw him miss three of the four Champions League knockout matches the Qatar-owned club have played in since his arrival. Without him, they lost in the last 16 to Real Madrid in 2018 and then to Manchester United this year.
“I like Neymar, I want to keep playing with him, with Kylian and with everyone,” coach Thomas Tuchel said last weekend.
“But the reality is that we must find solutions without ‘Ney’. You can’t lose Neymar and just find someone else who will do the same things.”
Mbappe added that “without Neymar, it’s not the same team,” but PSG can still improve by investing in a more balanced squad — summer signings made so far under sporting director Leonardo are a step in the right direction.
Center-back Abdou Diallo, midfielders Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarabia and Idrissa Gueye have arrived. With the money recouped from the eventual sale of Neymar, not to mention the saving on his 36 million-euro annual wage, more reinforcements can be brought in.
The off-field circus around Neymar has been an unwelcome distraction for too long. On the field, Paris will still have Mbappe.
The other side of the coin is what this means for PSG’s brand. After all, Neymar’s following on social media far outstrips that of his current club.
Similarly, when the French league (LFP) put their television rights up for auction last year, they capitalized on the Brazilian’s presence. Rights for the four seasons from 2020 were sold to Chinese-owned group Mediapro for 1.15 billion euros a year, a huge increase on previous deals.
Television stations could be forgiven for being a little concerned now, but LFP chief Didier Quillot remains bullish.
“It’s always better to have several stars in your league. That said, during the Champions Trophy in China, it was Kylian Mbappe who was the star. His popularity is growing around the world,” he told sports daily L’Equipe.
In any case, Ligue 1 is in a constant state of renewal, forever prepared to see star players move abroad. Nicolas Pepe, Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombele and Ismaila Sarr have all left this summer.
The game in France can move on from Neymar, and everyone will be relieved to let the football on the field do the talking if and when he departs.


Di Maria scores 2 as PSG beats Madrid in Champions League

Updated 19 September 2019

Di Maria scores 2 as PSG beats Madrid in Champions League

  • Di Maria doubled the advantage when he struck again in the 33rd minute, found this time by Gueye

PARIS: No Neymar. No Kylian Mbappe. No problem.
With two first-half goals from Angel Di Maria and a rare late strike from right-back Thomas Meunier, a new-look Paris Saint-Germain missing its headline stars brushed aside a flat Real Madrid 3-0 in the Champions League to go top of Group A in an impressive start to its European campaign on Wednesday. 
Di Maria, a Champions League winner with Madrid in 2014, was rampant against his former club, using phenomenal speed and clever placing to torment a Madrid defense sorely missing the suspended Sergio Ramos.
The Argentine's first goal poked past Thibaut Courtois' near post in the 14th minute was his 25th in 100 European matches.
Some of PSG's new recruits were instrumental in the victory. Idrissa Gueye, bought from Everton, bossed the midfield.
Di Maria's opener originated with Mauro Icardi, a late loan-signing from Inter Milan. He linked up smartly with left-back Juan Bernat, who then found Di Maria in space in the box with a swift cut-back pass.
Di Maria doubled the advantage when he struck again in the 33rd minute, found this time by Gueye.
Di Maria caressed a pinpoint shot with his left foot from long range past the outstretched Courtois and celebrated enthusiastically as Paris fans lit red flares.
Gareth Bale thought he'd got a goal back moments later with a sweet volley over former Madrid teammate Keylor Navas, bought by Paris to provide added assurance behind the suffocating PSG defense that snuffed out Madrid at the Parc des Princes.
But referee Anthony Taylor spotted on video replay that the Wales winger had touched the ball with his right arm as he juggled it from his left foot to his right one before shooting.
Meunier's goal in second-half injury time was only his sixth in 48 European matches. Bernat's pass set up the strike. Up in the posh seats, the suspended Neymar and Mbappe, recovering from injury, chuckled together at the sight of the full-backs combining to score. Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane scowled.
Zidane lamented the lack of urgency from his side that had zero shots on target other than Bale's disallowed goal and another disallowed for offside in the second half.
"It was a weird sensation," he said, speaking through a translator. "We hardly ever got into the match."
Zidane refrained from singling out any player, saying "it's everybody's fault when we lose."
But James Rodriguez, back from Bayern Munich, was particularly ineffective. And Eden Hazard, bought from Chelsea, looked ring-rusty as he makes his way back from injury. A trademark dribble in the PSG area in the second half ended with Hazard tripping over himself and landing on his backside.
Zidane replaced them both with 20 minutes to play.
PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, on the other hand, had no problem singling out Gueye for praise. He clicked with Marco Verratti and the deeper-lying Marquinhos in the PSG midfield that purred as if they'd played together for years.
"He's a machine. He never stops, never stops running," Tuchel said. "Against a team like Madrid, that is super-important."
Tuchel suggested the absence of Neymar, Mbappe and PSG's record scorer Edinson Cavani, also recovering from injury, may have been a help rather than a hindrance.
Without them, outside observers figured PSG was unlikely to win, and that eased pressure on Tuchel's other players, the coach said.
When Neymar has served out the rest of his two-match ban, and Mbappe and Cavani are fit again, expectations will quickly rise in the wake of this humbling of Madrid that showed the strength in depth of PSG's expensively assembled team.
But PSG knows from bitter experience how hard the road will become in the Champions League, having failed to get beyond the quarterfinals since the club's wealthy Qatari owners took over in 2011.
Tuchel was eager to tamp down any buzz.
"If someone asks me if we are going to win the Champions League, I'm leaving," he said.