Yet when it comes to the bright lights of European football’s biggest stage – the Champions League – he is trapped in a perpetual cycle of repetition.
A one-time winner, yes – but for some ably aided by his hugely skilled South American counterparts – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – in Barcelona’s once-famous ‘MSN’ triumvirate.
Twice, bad luck contributed to overturn the chances of the Brazilian prodigy to seize the competition by the scruff of the neck under 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 matches now stand between the “red pill” of European enlightenment or the “blue pill” of another footnote to 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.

“The biggest mistake in the history of sport”

Since planting their flag on the cobbled streets of Paris in June 2011, Qatari investors in PSG have made no secret of their ultimate goal: continental supremacy.

Domestically, this has been a time defined by relentless domination. Seven top-flight champion titles and five French cups, including four hat-tricks in six seasons.

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

“A specific timetable has been set and once you have exceeded this deadline each season, it seems that PSG are moving further and further away, so there is a weight of history hanging over it,” explains the expert. of French footballer Jonathan Johnson.

Neymar’s world-record signing from Barcelona in August 2017 – for a still mind-blowing $263 million – was set to deliver this knight in shining armour.

No longer Messi and Suarez’s backup singer, but now the main performer with a license to rock and become the best in the world.

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

READ: How billionaire owners changed European football

A love-hate relationship

Reflecting last week on the third anniversary of his transfer, the striker wrote that “(these) came with a lot of knowledge. I lived through joyful moments and complicated moments.”

His bond with fans in the City of Love has worked its way through the gamut of relationship statuses on Facebook: from “Married” to “Separated” to “It’s complicated.”

All with the allure of a former lover in Catalonia lingering in the background.

A long, but ultimately unsuccessful, serenade last summer to bring the Brazilian back to Camp Nou boiled over the simmering tensions in Paris.

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

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

Kallás paints a picture of the jury equally divided along generational lines in Brazil – young contenders who adore “the image, the smile, the tattoos” contrasted with the old guard who are “really concerned about him”.

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

“He has shown on and off the pitch that he is 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,” Johnson said.

While a new page may have been turned on the ground, questions remain.

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

Will the boy become a man?

Neymar’s personal life has – at times – carried the hallmarks of an engrossing telenovela – filled with intrigue, and all backed by an entourage together.

Last year he was cleared after a Brazilian model accused the former Brazil captain of rape and assault.
This year he was forced to miss a league game through injury, two days after throwing a lavish birthday party at a Paris nightclub.

Those who want him to succeed despair: will the boy one day become a man?

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

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

And despite all the goals, assists and silverware to date, history and biology have treated the glitter-toed star with a cruel hand – robbing him of the opportunity to have a say in the business side. of European football’s elite club competition.

Seasons cut short in 2018 and 2019 due to injuries coincided with dramatic exits for PSG from the knockout stages at the hands of Real Madrid and Manchester United, respectively.

“That’s what makes the rest of this campaign so important and why it will be watched so closely,” Johnson said.

“It’s make or break”

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

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

Without the missing sniper Edinson Cavani and the recently dismissed Kylian Mbappé, the floor is up to Neymar.
First, Atalanta’s surprise package awaits the quarter-finals; Then a potential clash with battle hardened Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals and, after that, who knows in a winner-takes-all final.

While progress in the competition — according to Johnson — “would 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. defining two years for the individual at the heart of the story.

With the Brazilian’s contract expiring in 2022 and a World Cup in Qatar the same year, which will likely be his last in a Brazil shirt, it’s simply ‘make or break’.

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

The telenovela had its unforeseen twists, its moments of madness and its blows of brilliance. It is now up to its main protagonist to script its flagship ending.

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