Why everyone wins in a Neymar-Barcelona reunion

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 06: (L-R) Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar of Barcelona celebrate with the trophy after the UEFA Champions League Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Olympiastadion on June 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 06: (L-R) Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar of Barcelona celebrate with the trophy after the UEFA Champions League Final between Juventus and FC Barcelona at Olympiastadion on June 6, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images) /

There has been trouble in paradise following the Brazilian’s stunning move to the French capital.

It’s fair to say that Brazilian superstar Neymar’s time in Paris since his record-shattering £200 million move from FC Barcelona has been rather tumultuous. At the time, Neymar was the consensus choice to succeed Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo atop the pinnacle of football, and represented a clear statement of intent from the Parisian club.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari ownership cast the superstar winger as the crowning jewel in a side that was intended to conquer Europe and topple the sport’s traditional balance of power. Two seasons in, however, despite a tally of 48 goals and 27 assists and an impressive haul of five domestic trophies, PSG have yet to achieve their lofty continental objectives.

The Brazilian has been injured in consecutive campaigns during the knockout stage of the Champions League, with PSG losing to eventual champions Real Madrid in the round of 16 by an aggregate score of 5-2 a year ago. Although the Parisians hold a 2-0 aggregate lead against Manchester United heading back to the Parc des Princes, it seems unlikely that they will be able to lift the club’s first major European trophy without their talisman this season.

Neymar’s reputation has also taken a significant hit since the move. While initially viewed as a means to escape Messi’s shadow, an uninspiring showing at this summer’s World Cup and Ligue 1’s relative lack of international recognition has left the Brazilian in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Even at PSG, 20-year old phenom Kylian Mbappé has surpassed Neymar in the eyes of some as the heir apparent to the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly.

The transfer has also left significant ramifications in Catalonia. The Blaugrana have found it increasingly difficult to replace Neymar alongside Messi and Luis Suárez, a partnership that was arguably the greatest attacking trident in football history. In 450 appearances across four seasons, Barcelona’s MSN trio racked up 364 goals and 173 assists as the club recorded a historic treble in 2014-15, with an additional La Liga title and two further triumphs in the Copa del Rey.

Since Neymar’s controversial departure, however, none of the club’s new attacking options have been able to consistently produce at the Brazilian’s level. His intended immediate successor, £135.5 million French winger Ousmane Dembélé, has shown flashes of brilliance but has been hampered by significant injury issues, while Phillippe Coutinho has yet to discover his best form in a Barça shirt since his move from Liverpool last January.

With Neymar struggling to find himself at home in Paris, a multitude of reports have already surfaced expressing the winger’s desire to return to Spain.

Neymar and former teammate Messi have maintained an extremely close friendship even after the former’s departure. In a recent interview, the former Santos wide man was emotional when discussing the Argentinian superstar.

"“The time when I needed support the most, the man on the team, the best player in the world, came and gave me a hand,” Neymar said. “Leo [Messi] means a lot to me.”"

It has even been reported by Spanish news outlet MARCA that Neymar has called his former club five times clamoring for a return to the Camp Nou. 

It seems the interest is mutual, with Barcelona eager to regain their place atop European football from arch-rivals Real Madrid, who have claimed three consecutive Champions League titles. With both the player and club interested, the only remaining party in opposition is PSG.

The French side have been adamant that Neymar will not be sold, as in addition to his on-field contribution, his status as one of world football’s most-recognizable figures has significantly aided PSG’s off-pitch brand exposure.

However, as recently evidenced in the club’s Champions League tie at Old Trafford, PSG may already have their future star forward in Mbappé. With both Neymar and star striker Edinson Cavani out of the side due to injury, Mbappé stole the show as the focal point of the Paris attack.

Perhaps moving on from Neymar and building a squad around the 2018 World Cup’s Best Young Player could be a move that allows the Frenchman to flourish even further as he establishes himself among the world’s elite class of footballers.

That said, there are positives on all sides to a potential Neymar return to Barcelona. The player will have the opportunity find his footing again in a familiar environment, while both PSG and Barça can edge closer to their dreams of Champions League glory, albeit in different ways.

The French outfit will undoubtedly be able to reinvigorate a squad built around Mbappé with the hefty transfer fee, while Barcelona will re-create their best side of the post-Guardiola era. The Catalans will also have a succession plan to build around when Messi decides to hang up his boots, as the 27-year old Neymar is still in his prime.

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While a Shakespearean return to the Camp Nou is unlikely, it is not impossible. And given the signals that have already been presented leading into a potentially-busy summer transfer window, perhaps it may just be written in the stars.