Over the past three years, Barcelona has been the pinnacle of footballing greatness. Beginning in 2014, Barça won the coveted and prestigious treble—Copa Del Rey, La Liga, and the Champions League. The next year, they’d go on to win the second Copa Del Rey and La Liga title in as many years. But, would fall short in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Last season was a down year, although they did wind up winning a third-straight Copa Del Rey and finishing a mere three points behind their fierce rivals—Real Madrid.
But last season’s Barcelona team should forever be remembered for the greatest comeback in football. Or perhaps in all sports—overcoming an aggregate score of 4-0 with a 6-1 win over French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
La Blaugrana has seen tremendous success in the past three seasons. Yet, why the Spanish giants were so successful was no secret at all. Their success can be summed up in three words: Messi, Suárez, Neymar. These three forwards are arguably three of the best five in world football. They’ve combined to score over 100 goals every year since joining forces in 2014. And, they are without a doubt the scariest front line in football. Well, were the scariest.
Neymar Jr., Brazil’s golden boy and Barcelona’s 25-year-old icon, made the decision to join Paris Saint-Germain on a record fee worth over £200 million. Neymar’s transfer fee shattered the previous record—that of Paul Pogba’s in 2016—that totaled less than £100 million. Of course, Neymar was instrumental in Barcelona’s historic win over PSG, including lashing home two goals and dealing the round-winning assist on Sergi Roberto’s late goal.
Neymar began his senior career at the young age of 18 with Santos FC back in his home country of Brazil. The wunderkind scored a dazzling 54 goals in 103 career apps, which sparked the interest of the Spanish giants. He would go on to eventually sign with Barcelona only four years later in 2013, and the rest is history. Then Neymar grew into an absolute superstar.
Since his arrival in 2013, he’s been part of 10 total titles—including two La Liga crowns, three Copa Del Rey titles and a Champions League trophy. But with Barcelona reaching the highest levels of footballing success, why would he leave?
There are many factors that influenced his decision, some within his control and others not so much. The first one could be chalked up to legal battles that have seemingly followed him since his arrival. His latest tax issues with the Spanish government had implications of very large fines and even possibly a jail sentence. While many players fail to receive any major punishments for tax malpractices, it can’t be ignored as one of the forceful factors behind Neymar’s move out of Spain.
Another reason for Neymar’s move could be that he was a part of a packaged deal. He was not the main act. Neymar is neither a central striker nor has he displayed any frustration with his position and role with Barcelona. But at PSG, he’ll be offered the opportunity to be the best player on one of the best teams in the world. At Barcelona, he will always be grouped with Leo Messi and Luis Suárez. And like everyone else, he’d always play second fiddle to Messi. At PSG, he’ll be the superstar. The 200-million-dollar man. The main act.
Another major factor that some fans don’t like to think has much of an influence is the money. According to Forbes, Neymar is set to earn “$350 million in salary and bonus before taxes… the Parisian club is on the hook for a cash outlay in excess of $600 million for the winger’s services.” Neymar became the world’s richest footballer—and athlete—seemingly overnight. That much money definitely has a big say in the decision-making process. Also, there’s an added bit of pride Neymar can take to Paris. That’s being labelled the world’s most expensive and richest footballer.
Lastly, as silly as it sounds it’s easy to forget that Neymar is an athlete. Not in a literal sense, but if you’re observing him as a person, he’s a competitor. He competes for a living and there’s a certain motivation that comes with overcoming obstacles in your game.
When Neymar led the Brazilian national team to Olympic Gold at the Rio games in 2016, Neymar collapsed and began sobbing at the realization that he had led his team to victory—especially after such a horrific exit at the hands of Germany in the World Cup. It was his vindication and relief after such a traumatic loss. Ultimately, it was the challenge to make it up to his country for the painful loss that still haunts many supporters of the Brazilian National Team.
With Barcelona, Neymar had literally accomplished just about everything, except for winning the FIFA Club World Cup and Ballon D’Or. There was nothing left for Neymar at Barcelona. He had a great run on what could be one of the best attacking trios ever and he should be proud of his time at the Camp Nou. But fresh new challenges await Neymar in France. He has a chance to dethrone new French champions AS Monaco. He has the chance to lead PSG to their first-ever UCL title, for which they should now be considered one of the heavier favorites. Winning the first Champions League trophy for Paris would be an incredible accomplishment for Neymar. And, it’s one he’s certainly capable of.
Every person is different and athletes are no different. Neymar does not deserve to be booed for taking a chance. Instead, he should be applauded. It’s not often players take such a great chance in the prime of their careers. It might end up being one of the most difficult decisions he has to make as an athlete. However, these points make it easier to see why Neymar chose to start anew in Paris. Coincidentally enough, Neymar’s renaissance—French word for rebirth—will start in France.
But the whole world will surely be watching just how the World’s Most Expensive Footballer will perform in his new home.