Last week was an interesting one for Neymar, with one big high and two huge lows. The high, of course, is the announcement of his contract extension at Paris Saint-Germain, made official on Saturday by the club despite it being in the works for three months, as previously reported.
The Brazilian star is now tied to the Parisians until June 2025, with an option for another year beyond that. Considering that he’ll be 34 by the end of this extension, it’s clear he is committing his long-term future, and arguably the remainder of his European career, to Paris.
The two lows, though, were brutal. The first was PSG’s elimination from the Champions League semifinals by Manchester City, as Neymar was kept at bay by the English side’s stout defence.
The other was the points PSG dropped (again) in a tight Ligue 1 title race; Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Stade Rennes means Lille are now three points clear with just two games to go. (Rennes deserved the point, too, outshooting PSG 19-12 and with 10 shots on target to the four mustered by Neymar & Co.)
To review: there won’t be a second career Champions League win for Neymar this season, after claiming it with Barcelona in 2015, and there likely won’t be a fourth consecutive league title row either. There could be the small consolation of claiming the French Cup, after PSG beat Montpellier on penalties in the semifinals on Wednesday to set up a final against AS Monaco or minnows Rumilly. But for the first time since the 2013-14 season with Barcelona, there is a risk that Neymar ends a season in Europe winning nothing.
However, he can celebrate this new deal, a much-discussed new deal, too. Neymar has been dividing opinion since he arrived in the French capital from Barcelona in August 2017 for a (still) world-record fee of €222 million. The debate is not so much around his talent, but more his impact on the team and his ability to lead the super-club to the very top.
His production doesn’t come into question either — his 86 goals and 46 assists (all competitions) in 113 games is quite extraordinary — but the flip-side of such form is the fact that in almost four seasons in France, he has missed half of the games! At €36m net a year (or nearly €620,000-per-week), it is a lot of matches missed and the return on the investment could be an issue.
Yet there’s a bigger question: should Paris have used the money spent on Neymar’s new contract to make the team stronger and more balanced around him?
There are strong arguments on both sides of this debate. Without Neymar, PSG would not have reached last season’s Champions League final. He was clutch for them in the knockout rounds, and was good — though not clinical enough — in front of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the 1-0 final defeat to Bayern Munich. Yet their best performance of the season didn’t involve Neymar at all: the Feb. 16 first-leg win over Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16, in which Kylian Mbappe scored a hat trick as PSG ran to a 4-1 victory.
Julien Laurens shares his thoughts on Kylian Mbappe’s future in Paris given Neymar’s contract extension.
Neymar was outstanding in this season’s quarterfinal first leg against Bayern, notching two assists in the 3-2 away win, though that prodigious form was absent against City in the next round.
When it comes to his remarkable numbers, the question is often asked whether they are exceptional just because he is far too good for Ligue 1? Neymar has scored 55 goals and had 30 assists in the 68 matches he’s played since joining the club. (PSG have played 140 league matches since they recruited Neymar.)
Then there are the injuries and absences — astonishing when put in context. In four seasons at Barcelona, he never played fewer than 26 league matches in a season (his first one, before featuring in 34, 33 and 30 league games respectively). In Ligue 1, he has never played more than 20 (his first one, followed by 17, 15 and 16 so far with two games to go). The metatarsal injury he suffered in his first season was bad, as was the one a year later, but there are other issues such as his relaxed off-field lifestyle.
Should Neymar change to become even better? Can he even change at 29 years old? Already, there is a view that he is much more professional than ever before in what he eats and what he does off the pitch. Then there is an argument that maybe he could adapt his game a bit more.
Dribbling has always been at the heart of what he does and is part of what makes him so special. Yet, he’s not as efficient anymore in terms of dribbling past opponents, nor in creating chances and goal opportunities through his dribbling. A look at his stats from the past few seasons in the Champions League confirm it: this season, he has had 3.7 successful dribbles per game (52%). Last season, it was 6.1 (65%), the season before 5.3 (59%), and in his first season, a whopping 7.3 per game (61%).
Neymar is talented and intelligent enough to evolve. Maybe it would be better for him to play centrally now, as a proper No. 10 like he did vs. Bayern where he was excellent, instead of on the left wing where he sometimes drifts in and out of games.
It will be interesting to see how and where manager Mauricio Pochettino uses him next season. The Argentine was keen on keeping him at the club, as Neymar is a key part of what he wants to do at the Parc des Princes. It is the same for PSG sporting director Leonardo, who didn’t always have the best of relationships with Neymar and his father, but who is now really close to them. “Poch” and “Leo” both believe that Neymar and Mbappe are among the 5-10 best players in the world. Keeping the Brazilian was also a way of showing their ambitions — and of signaling to Mbappe that he too can stay a bit longer in Paris.
More importantly, PSG believe that by keeping Neymar and hopefully Mbappe, they will still be able to strengthen the squad and key positions (midfield, full-backs) to make this team even better. They have promised Neymar a really competitive squad for seasons to come, while he has promised them to bring the Champions League trophy to Paris. They trust each other, which is priceless in football. But can both sides deliver?
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