The GFFN View | PSG must sell Neymar this summer

“All of our players need to stay in good health, each of us needs to eat well, to sleep well”, rang Kylian Mbappé’s puzzlingly prophylactic rallying cry after PSG’s midweek defeat to Bayern Munich. The advice manifestly applies to everyone in the squad, not least in the midst of a winter injury crisis, but there’s no need to scratch too far below the surface to find a dig at one of his Brazilian teammates in particular.

In the wake of the Ligue 1 leaders’ fifth defeat of 2023 already – more than the whole of last year – Neymar has come under increasing scrutiny for his ineffectual recent showings. Brazil’s early World Cup exit will have been a major blow – one that “psychologically destroyed” him – and marked a turning point for his season, as he struggles to reach his autumn heights. As is often the case – sometimes unjustly – when he is out of form, Neymar’s off-field activities have once again been scrutinised and pointed to as a factor in his struggles. On Tuesday night, the media-savvy Mbappé was the latest – and most significant – voice to join the calls for his teammate to adopt a healthier lifestyle, at least for the duration of the team’s Champions League campaign.

The Brazilian proceeded to do exactly not that 24 hours later, taking part in late-evening poker tournaments and ostensibly ending the night at a McDonald’s. Coupled with reports of recent late-night parties, the forward has done little to dispel the notion that his off-field lifestyle could be detrimental to his performances. Against the Bavarians, Neymar – who, for the sake of completeness, suffered a lasting ankle injury at the World Cup – was again transparent, only really coming to life once Mbappé was on the pitch. 

The fact does remain, though, that Neymar was unquestionably PSG’s best player in the first half of the season, and his 17 goals and 15 assists in all competitions still make for more than respectable reading. The team’s lack of attacking depth – owing to a scattergun January transfer window approach – means he is too important for Christophe Galtier to go without. Hugo Ekitike, although beyond reproach in his commitment and attitude, has yet to replicate the form he showed at Reims on a bigger stage, and Carlos Soler has been, at best, ineffectual in his shifts as a playmaker.

Until the club are able to conjure up an adequate replacement – either externally or from within – the 31-year-old should be playing at every opportunity. His experience in leading Champions League comebacks – PSG will know this better than any other team – is invaluable, and in the right conditions he remains a one-of-a-kind attacking outlet and creator. 

But Luís Campos has a decision to make this summer – it’s either Neymar or Mbappé. Despite an idyllic start to life as teammates, the pair’s relationship has reportedly long soured. Given the World Cup winner is now effectively the centre of the PSG project since his contract extension, Campos has no choice but to move the Brazilian on. The move, coupled with Lionel Messi’s increasingly likely departure, will mark the start of a new era for the club, one that, in Nasser Al Khelaifi’s words, strips back on the “flashy, bling-bling” approach that has characterised the decade since the Qatari takeover. Neymar is somewhat unjustly held up as an example of this, but that the club is in any case ostensibly ready to move on without him.

Reports of a meeting between Al Khelaifi and Chelsea owner Todd Boehly seem to indicate that plans for a sale are already in motion. The attacker will nevertheless leave PSG as a four-time (most likely five-time) Ligue 1 winner and one of the club’s greatest ever players, one who more than anyone brought entertainment to the Parc des Princes and took Ligue 1 by storm for long stretches of his six-year stay. His whimsical yet devastatingly effective genius breathed new life into PSG and made him one of Ligue 1’s defining characters of the decade. But Neymar and PSG are inexorably growing apart – and neither party seems truly willing to mend the gap. 

GFFN | Raphaël Jucobin

More European Football News