PSG vs Atalanta: Neymar’s moment or reckoning

A 21st century football brand fueled by endless promises; a new-rich social, commercial and cultural phenomenon; a superstar who is no stranger to public scrutiny.

Yet when it comes to the lights of European football’s biggest stage – the Champions League – he’s trapped in a perpetual cycle of repetitions.
A single winner, yes – but for some ably helped by his extremely skilled South American counterparts – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – in the “ MSN ” triumvirate in Barcelona.

Twice, misfortune conspired to reverse the chances of the Brazilian prodigy to seize the competition by the skin of the neck in the red and blue colors of Paris Saint-Germain.

So here we are in 2020. Is this the third time lucky? Is this Neymar’s moment of truth?

Three games now stand between the “red pill” of European enlightenment or the “blue pill” of another footnote on the 28-year-old Wikipedia page.

“This is the year he can really redeem himself […] These three games can change everything […] I don’t think he will have another opportunity like this, ”Brazilian football journalist Fernando Kallás told CNN Sport.
'All or nothing': Neymar's goal helped PSG secure victory over Borussia Dortmund in Champions League round of 16 in March

“ The biggest mistake in the history of sport ”

Since they planted their flag in the cobbled streets of Paris in June 2011, Qatari investors from PSG have not hidden their ultimate goal: continental supremacy.

Domestically, it was an era defined by relentless domination. Seven top-level championship titles and five French cups, including four triples in six seasons.

But if Europe is a combination lock, they endlessly hunt for the locksmith with the elusive key. Seven times they have tried and failed to crack the complex code – each failure is more painful and bitter than the last.

“A precise timetable has been set and once you get past it each season it continues, it seems that PSG are moving further and further away, so there is a weight of history hanging over it”, explains the French football expert Jonathan Johnson.

Barcelona’s Neymar world record signing in August 2017 – still a staggering $ 263 million – was aimed at delivering this knight in shining armor.

He is no longer the backup singer of Messi and Suarez, but now the lead performer with a license to rock and become the best in the world.

For some, it was a game-changer; for Kallás, this remains “the biggest mistake in the history of sport”.

READ: How billionaire owners changed European football

A love-hate relationship

Reflecting on last week on the third anniversary of his move, the forward wrote that “(these) came with a lot of knowledge. I had some joyful times and some complicated times.”

His connection to City of Love supporters has worked its way through the gamut of Facebook relationship statuses: from ‘married’ to ‘separated’ to ‘it’s complicated’.

All with the allure of a former Catalonian lover in the background.

A long serenade, but ultimately unsuccessful, last summer to seduce the Brazilian at Camp Nou has boiled tensions in Paris.

The love-hate dynamic around the polarizing figure was perhaps best encapsulated in the superstar’s first league appearance of the 2019-20 season.

Booed relentlessly for 90 minutes before delivering a sublime match-winning bike kick to the very death – half of the opponents delighted; the other half furious.

Kallás portrays a picture of the equally divided jury along the generations in Brazil – the young suitors who adore “the image, the smile, the tattoos” contrast with the old guard who “really cares about him”.

The Cold War in Paris has since thawed, with the realization that a return to the future is – for now – not an imminent prospect.

“He showed on and off the pitch that he was committed to the project […] He really has to take up the challenge of being a PSG player and achieving something, especially in the Champions League, in Paris, ”explains Johnson.

Although a new sheet may have been rotated in the field, questions remain outside.

Ups and downs: the Brazilian's relationship with PSG faithful has wavered between periods of love and hate

Will the boy become a man?

Neymar’s personal life has – at times – carried the characteristics of a captivating telenovela – filled with intrigue, and all supported by an assembled entourage.

Last year he was cleared after a Brazilian model accused the former Brazilian captain of rape and assault.
This year, he was forced to miss a league game with an injury – two days after hosting a lavish birthday party at a Parisian nightclub.

Those who want him to be desperate: will the boy ever become a man?

“In Brazil we have an expression that says he (Neymar) is an endless promise […] That he’s “Menino Neymar” (“Baby Neymar”) – He’s not a boy […] He needs to be in reality […] He has to grow, ”says Kallás, who has followed the trials and tribulations of the Brazilian on and off the pitch.

“When he’s on the ground, he delivers […] I have never, ever heard a single complaint from a coach or another player about his attitude in training, in the locker room. “

And despite all the goals, assists, and silverware to date, history and biology have treated the glitter-footed star with a cruel hand – depriving him of the opportunity to have a say in the commercial area of ​​the elite club competition of European football.

The seasons shortened in 2018 and 2019 due to injury coincided with a dramatic existence for PSG in the round of 16 at the hands of Real Madrid and Manchester United, respectively.

“This is what makes the rest of this campaign so important and why it will be so closely watched,” Johnson says.

“It’s make or break”

The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically – and perhaps favorably for PSG – changed the dynamics of this year’s tournament final.

Gone are the two-legged knockout cases from the quarter-finals, replaced instead by one-legged shootouts – all in the Lisbon bubble.

Without the party sniper Edinson Cavani and the recently sidelined Kylian Mbappé, Neymar has the floor.
First of all, Atalanta’s surprise package awaits in the quarter-finals; Then a potential clash with the battle hardened Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals and, after that, who knows in a win-win final.

While progress in the competition would – according to Johnson – “really give the (Qatari) project the boost it needs after a few years of massive disappointment,” for Kallás this month could be the start of a career. define two years for the individual at the heart of the story.

The Brazilian’s contract due to expire in 2022 and a World Cup in Qatar the same year, which will probably be his last in the Brazilian jersey, is simply “make or break”.

“We always say ‘This is going to be the year. No – This is going to be the year. No – This will be the year ” […] He is 28, he should be at the peak of his career but he is not […] This is his last chance. “

The telenovela had its unforeseen twists and turns, its moments of madness and its outbursts. It is now in the hands of its main protagonist to script its flagship ending.


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About Emma Watson

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