How will Neymar‘s time in Paris be remembered? Will it be the highs or the lows? The highs seem obvious enough: 12 domestic trophies and genuine dominance within the borders of France.
But after that… losing the Champions League final? Coming third in the Ballon d’Or twice? An injury-time bicycle-kick winner against Strasbourg in 2019?
Looking at the career of a player capable of conjuring moments of brilliant aesthetic beauty and all you can really see are moments. His obvious talent, often a defence to his shortcomings – defensive disinterest, an ego the size of the Eiffel Tower – is now seen as a rod to beat him with: how can someone so gifted have achieved so little?
Five-and-a-half years after joining, how will Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain spell be perceived?
The French giants have enjoyed massive domestic dominance during his tenure at the club
And so it was that after Paris Saint-Germain’s limp 1-0 loss against Rennes, their second defeat in January, with chasing Lens just three points behind in the Ligue 1 table, he was labelled ‘the biggest flop in football history’ by the French media.
Not just the biggest PSG flop or the biggest football flop right now, but the biggest in the history of the sport. Ever.
The press in France are notoriously scathing with their criticisms (see L’Equipe’s player ratings for a flavour) but that scorn is reflective of the mood in Paris darkening towards a player who has often flattered to deceive, despite still being the most expensive footballer of all time after his £198million move from Barcelona in 2017.
So below, Sportsmail assesses whether he really is the ‘biggest flop in football history’.
But there have been plenty of lows too – and below, Sportsmail assesses whether Neymar is the ‘biggest flop in football history’ after that criticism was aimed at him by the French press
Arriving from Barcelona
Joining Spanish giants Barcelona as a raw, skinny 21-year-old, he quickly became a key part of the club’s forward line, as part of the fearsome ‘MSN’ front three alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
In his second season in 2014-15, he scored in stoppage time as the Catalan side won the Champions League, the 39th and final goal in a stellar campaign.
The following two seasons, partially hit by injuries, saw a reduced output, with his final campaign in red-and-blue bringing 20 goals in all competitions – almost half his tally from two years earlier.
The order of the MSN abbreviation also hinted at him being the least important member of the attacking triumvirate.
In that context, the PSG move was seen as his chance to step into the spotlight, making his name and forging a path alone before, potentially, going full circle and returning to the Nou Camp.
The Brazilian forward was part of the ‘MSN’ front three alongside Lionel Messi (right) at Luis Suarez (left) during his time at Barcelona – but left to join PSG for £198million in summer 2017
The goals and the titles
One thing absolutely inarguable is the goals Neymar has managed to score in the French capital. A current total of 115 goals and 73 assists, 188 goal involvements, in 167 matches (a goal every 0.69 games on average) in all competitions is pretty impressive on the face of it.
However, he lags behind superstar team-mate Kylian Mbappe (191 goals in 240 games, every 0.8 games on average) in the all-time list.
Although he is more a winger or wide forward than a striker, and as such it’s not his only target to score goals like it was for, say, Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Mbappe can say the same.
Neymar has largely been outshone by Mbappe at the club, and since Messi signed in 2021 – ironically, given he left Barca to leave Messi’s shadow – he’s arguably back to only being the third-most important player again. At best.
Neymar has an impressive 115 goals and 73 assists (188 goal involvements) in 167 PSG matches
Looking at silverware, in the five years since he joined, the club has won the Ligue 1 title four times, the French Cup three times, the French League Cup twice and French Super Cup three times.
PSG have enjoyed total domestic dominance recently and Neymar has been an important part of that, no question. But they had enjoyed similar success in the previous years as well.
In the five years before he joined, they’d won four league titles, the French Cup twice, three French League Cups in a row and five French Super Cups on the spin too. He hasn’t improved their supremacy in France, or outside for that matter.
He’s never won the Champions League either- although he played well in the run-up to the 2019-20 final, which PSG lost narrowly against Bayern Munich.
Players having a gargantuan ego is to be expected at the very top level. After all, unshakable levels of confidence and self-belief in your own abilities is part of what takes you to the top of the sport and keeps you there.
That can sometimes spill over into arrogance and controversy, and Neymar’s had his fair share of those. He was filmed punching a Rennes fan in the face in April 2019; the club responded by backing him up ‘100 per cent’.
Neymar has also endured public fall-outs with fellow superstar forward Kylian Mbappe (right)
PSG might have been less happy in July that year, two years after he joined, when he refused to turn up for training amid links to a Barcelona return. The club took disciplinary action, but when the move fell through in August, he agreed to stay.
Again, this summer, he was linked with a move away, but – a little sadly – like Cristano Ronaldo, his issues were outnumbering his benefits and, like the Portuguese forward, a lack of potential suitors squashed an exit.
He started this season like a house on fire, with 13 goal involvements in the first five games seeing him given the Ligue 1 Player of the Month award – just the third he’s ever won – but has not kept it up.
In October, he didn’t even make the 30-man shortlist for the 2022 Ballon d’Or.
The 30-year-old was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for diving on December 28
Since the Qatar World Cup, Neymar was sent off with a second yellow card after diving against lowly Strasbourg, suspended for their loss at Lens, saw a goal chalked off against bottom side Angers and was utterly peripheral in defeat against Rennes – across the space of just five matches.
RMC journalist Daniel Riolo responded by saying: ‘He had half a good season because he was preparing for the World Cup; he was just in training. There, it’s over.
‘Do we realise that Neymar, in terms of recruitment and salary, is the biggest flop in the history of football? I can’t think of a bigger flop for what he cost; it’s horrible.’
That seems a little overstated. But Neymar now appears locked in a loveless marriage, not producing the goods on the pitch in the same way, providing the same issues off it and with two-and-a-half years to go on the contract he signed in 2021.
His transfer fee is the biggest of all time, he’s one of the best-paid players in the world, he hasn’t fully delivered on his talents, and he turns 31 in around three weeks.
Partner all that with the club’s lack of genuine progress since he joined, and it provides a compelling argument to suggest that the French media could actually be right.
Amid Neymar’s recent woes, his massive cost and the fact he turns 31 in February, there are compelling reasons to support the theory that he has been one of the biggest footballing flops