Neymar's impending move from Barcelona to PSG fraught with risk, but the Brazilian is a shrewd operator

And so, it’s goodbye to Neymar and MSN (completed by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez) at Barcelona, the zenith and nadir of a balmy summer punctuated by platitudes from The Mooch, much bellicose grandstanding from Daenerys Targaryen and BBC pay gaps — and when it all began to feel hollow and unavailing, one reverted to one's old love: Sports.

But even ardent fans were somewhat repulsed — not by Jonathan Agnew's prank on Geoffrey Boycott in the TMS commentary box, but by what they uncovered, or didn’t: The absolute stranglehold of rampant capitalism on sports, slowly supplanting any romantic leftover notion of athletic and moral virtues.

First, there was, and sadly still is, the protracted build-up to the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor ‘bout’, a boxing and UFC Bigg Boss show, where the depths of tin-horn and lowbrow vernacular should be left untold. Mayweather stands to gain $100 million from the fight. Then, there was last weekend’s El Clasico at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, with official tickets selling up to $4,500. The 90 minutes were a quick cash-grab by FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Purists sighed at the sight of so much commodification and so much crudeness. But, with the benefit of hindsight, there was still beauty to be found: The last incarnation of MSN, the South American trident and Barcelona frontline, who so often — the sum of their parts and vice versa — defied footballing logic and offered aficionados so much titillation. Messi scored and Neymar delivered two assists against Madrid.

In the Sunshine State, Neymar was unruffled — it was business as usual, but then it never really was, not in a summer when Kyle Walker, the archetypal British nonentity, was traded for $64.7 million. In football, ratio isn’t required, it never was. It’s almost the chant de rigueur to vilify the game. Back in 1905, the House of Commons seriously debated Alf Common’s £1,000 move from Sunderland to Middlesbrough.

Is Neymar set to turn his back on Barcelona this season? AP

Is Neymar set to turn his back on Barcelona this season? AP

But now that the chatter, innuendo and content-creation has died down somewhat, all that is left to do is await Neymar’s grand unveiling in Paris and grapple with the moral dilemma of how the fantastical and preposterous have become the norm, because that is what a fee of $263 million for a football player is after all. Goodbye, FFP or fair play of any kind.

Within the Parisian brand, Neymar represents revenue. He is a mini LLC. His acquisition is also a mission statement for a club informed by a crushing obligation to win the European cup. Neymar must remedy PSG’s parody status, forever yearning for Champions League glory, but always exiting in the quarter-finals, or, in apocalyptic fashion, against FC Barcelona. He is PSG’s new talisman and focal point, tasked with resuscitating a club from which the shiny veneer was beginning to fade.

But can Neymar become the new messiah? He is a savant, but doesn't belong to the celestial duopoly that has subjugated the footballing universe. Neymar is a staccato player but in the C class, always a touch below Messi, the contemporary superlative athlete, playing with precision at pace, and Ronaldo, brilliantly reinvented, ever crooning about self-improvement. In their presence, the gifted Neymar is, at best, human.

Burdened by an astronomical valuation, Neymar and his story are incomplete, but forward-prancing with the sole purpose of eclipsing Messi and overthrowing the Messi-anic cosmos. His transfer to Paris is a risk, but Neymar is a shrewd operator.

His 2013 transatlantic move was a perilous endeavor, but one Neymar had to undertake. At Santos, the prodigy had been in his comfort zone. He easily exploited the space the Brazilian defensive lines offered him. He picked up possession, gathered speed and decided what to do. Neymar had outgrown his domestic league.

But football’s epicentre had long shifted from Brazil to Catalonian shores. In 2011, FC Barcelona dissected Santos in the final of the Club World Cup with a meticulous application of its famed "Tiki-Taka" game. A collective philosophy trumped Neymar. In the midfield, Santos and the Brazilian game at large had no equivalent of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Brazilian football was outdated. It struck a nerve with some, including Neymar.

He wanted to improve. Europe and Barcelona offered that chance, but, with a home World Cup looming large it was parlous — what if Neymar was to be benched at Barcelona? Could he adapt to the reduction of space in the European game and the higher speed of execution?

This is another defining season for Neymar. The 2018 World Cup may well decide how he is remembered. In this context, PSG is a haven: At last Neymar can expand his full talent, yet at the same time, pace himself for the high mass in Russia. It is hard, cold logic, incentivised by petrodollars from Doha.

Neymar and his ubiquitous, greedy father were swayed by those riches in a saga without heroism. Beneath all the obscenity of this transfer, with its smokescreens and falsehoods, there is a silver lining: Neymar remains a wondrous football player, who may blossom even more and become the world’s best. After all, 'a thing of beauty is a joy forever'.


Published Date: Aug 03, 2017 07:58 am | Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 04:44 pm


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