There should be a long line of clubs lining up to sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain this summer, but despite being one of the most well-known footballers in the world – and one with an incredible goal record to justify that tally – the Brazilian forward has become the superstar nobody seems to want.
Financial realities and changing football philosophies have meant signing the 30-year-old makes little if any sense to any club that could afford him.
Due to the terms of the three-year deal Neymar signed at the Parc des Princes 12 months ago, his contract will be automatically extended by 12 months on July 1, making it appear that he is committed to the French champions until his mid-term 30
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But it’s become an open secret within the game that Neymar – still the most expensive player in the world after moving from Barcelona in 2017 for 222 million euros ($264 million) – during this transfer window for a loan or permanent move to Sources have told ESPN that PSG would like to give up their €700,000 ($730,000) a week wages due to the financial strain of paying Kylian Mbappe – who himself signed a new three-year deal last month after appearing to be on a free transfer Real Madrid was ready – and Lionel Messi in the club.
Despite the vast wealth of PSG’s Qatari owners, the club has yet to project an image of being run as a viable business. So a reduction in payroll costs is a necessity, but Neymar’s fitness record over the past few seasons and his difficult relationship with the team’s two former coaches, Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino, are also factors in PSG’s willingness to listen to offers for the player.
Sources have told ESPN that Pochettino was deeply frustrated with what he saw as the club hierarchy’s soft treatment of Neymar, as the former Tottenham Hotspur manager wanted to enforce stricter discipline and introduce stricter rules on off-field behavior. Tuchel, meanwhile, struggled to get the best out of the player after taking a blunt and honest approach to motivate him.
Neymar’s performance on the pitch over the past three years has also been disappointing. He has made just 55 appearances in Ligue 1 over three seasons, scoring 35 goals. Despite helping PSG reach the Champions League final in 2020, where Tuchel’s side lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich in Lisbon, Neymar was never quite the talisman in this competition, for which he was signed when he was five years ago came from Barcelona.
So it’s clear why PSG are ready to move him on, especially now that Mbappe and Messi are above him at the club when it comes to star billing. But while it’s easy to argue the reasons why PSG can thrive without Neymar – it helps when you have Mbappe and Messi in the squad – the lack of an obvious target for the Brazilian reflects the state of the game today as he has become an icon has become another time.
At 30, Neymar is still young enough to have at least four more years to play at the top level and his goal record is incredible despite all his injury woes. Since moving to Europe in 2013, when he joined Barcelona from Santos, Neymar has scored 205 goals and provided an additional 136 assists in 330 games for Barca and PSG. He has also scored 74 goals in 119 games for Brazil – only Pelé has scored more goals for the five-time world champions with 77.
Neymar’s misfortune is that his record pales in importance compared to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two modern greats who have always overshadowed him, so he may not get the recognition his talents deserve. But Messi and Ronaldo were also more consistent, fitter and less affected by off-field distractions than Neymar and his own reputation was tarnished as a result. While Messi and Ronaldo have garnered global acclaim, Neymar is still seen as the party-loving flair player who can infuriate fans, coaches and teammates alike with his approach to the game.
However, there is still a game-changing player in Neymar, making it even more surprising that PSG are struggling to find a club to take him off their hands. But as the modern game demands every player work harder than ever, both on and off ball possession, Neymar’s inability or reluctance to contribute defensively makes him a luxury the top teams can do without.
Manchester City could afford to pay Neymar’s salary but he wouldn’t fit Pep Guardiola’s requirements for a player. Manchester United would see huge commercial value in Neymar’s signing but while he would have appealed to the club in recent years, the determination to focus back on football under new manager Erik ten Hag means Neymar is the wrong player is at the wrong time. It’s a similar story with Liverpool and Bayern Munich – Neymar just wouldn’t fit – while top Italian clubs like AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus couldn’t afford him.
Barcelona have consistently been linked with a move to bring Neymar back to the Camp Nou – where he helped the club win a fifth Champions League title in 2014-15 – but the financial situation makes such a move impossible. As for Real Madrid, who failed to sign Mbappe, it would be humiliating to help PSG pay for the French forward’s new deal by taking Neymar out of their hands. Chelsea, under new ownership following the sale of Roman Abramovich to a group led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, is the club currently linked with Neymar, but the team have other priorities, and it would now be an interesting decision by Tuchel Chelsea manager to decide to work with Neymar again.
So PSG and Neymar could be stuck in an ongoing relationship that doesn’t work for either of them. He’s too good a career player to drift aimlessly towards an unsatisfactory end, but when you’re too expensive and don’t fit into the modern game, it’s difficult to see a way out for Neymar and PSG.