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