FFT100 2018: No.8, Neymar (PSG)
If ever a period of 12 months was going to make Neymar more likeable to his detractors, then this was it.
With his debut season at Paris Saint-Germain curtailed by injury in February, the first part of the Brazilian’s year became a feverish race against time to make it to the World Cup. He successfully did so and coped well with the extraordinary pressure placed – as always – upon his shoulders, even if Brazil were unable to get past the quarter-finals.
Yet many still found sticks to beat him with, even after his truce with Edinson Cavani in the struggle for supremacy within PSG’s dressing room. Laying Brazil’s shortcomings in Russia or the French champions’ inability to progress in the Champions League at his door would be grossly unfair, since his physical condition was out of his hands. The demands he put on himself to come back and be the hero were considerable, and his climb back to fitness admirable.
Meanwhile, the numbers have continued to be sensational – as ever. In Ligue 1, Neymar has continued to rattle along at a fraction less than a goal per game this season – as he did in his debut term – and contribute a ton of assists on top. At 26, he remains a player who searches out responsibility and embraces it.
One has to ask, though, how close he is to where he really wanted to be at this point. If he stepped out of the unavoidable shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona to have a tilt at the Ballon d’Or, it’s not worked out so far. The arrival of Kylian Mbappe – who, to his credit, Neymar has fostered a close relationship with for the good of the team, which flies in the face of assumptions about him being selfish – has made that tough, and he finished outside the top 10 this year despite doing plenty of good work.
It doesn’t feel as if he’s closer to a proper crack at the Champions League again either, even if dazzling performances like his in the win over Liverpool show what he could do with proper backing.
PSG have spent so heavily on him and Mbappe that their efforts to strengthen elsewhere are stymied. That’s not his fault, but it’s natural to wonder if he’s in the right spot to fully realise his potential.