Neymar created waves in the world of football when he chose to join Paris Saint-Germain for a world record €222m fee in 2017, with one of the main long-term talking points in the aftermath concerning whether he had actually made the right choice.
Barcelona were furious about the transfer and La Liga initially even said they would refuse the payment from PSG, which had triggered the buyout clause to release the Brazilian from his Camp Nou contract.
But they had no grounds to block the deal and Neymar was soon unveiled in Paris.
For Neymar, the move appeared to be about taking the next step in his career. He had won the treble with Barcelona in 2014/15 and was part of a famed attacking trio alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, but he would never not be in the shadows of Messi at Camp Nou.
That a club with ambitions like PSG were willing to make him the star of his own show couldn’t have failed to have influenced his choice to accept their offer.
Yet by 2019, Neymar was heavily linked with a return to Barcelona, rumoured to regret his decision to leave in the first place, both the club and the city, and keen to reunite with Messi. He was seemingly so determined to make it happen that he was even alleged to have cried upon finding out it was off the table. Barça didn’t have the resources available without offloading players that didn’t want to go and it is debatable how much effort they truly put into it, knowing that.
In 2021, Neymar has pledged his future to PSG instead, insisting he is ‘truly happy’ at Parc des Princes and that ‘things have changed’, although he stopped short of explaining exactly what.
Neymar has won more trophies with PSG than Barcelona have without him.
He has lifted three Ligue 1 titles in three full seasons, two domestic cups, two league cups – of which there is no equivalent in Spain, and two national super cups.
Barça have won two La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and one Supercopa Espana in that time.
Barcelona have gone further more often than PSG in the Champions League in recent years, although it is the latter who have come closest to winning it.
PSG made the final in 2020, narrowly losing to Bayern Munich, while Barca had been utterly humiliated in an 8-2 thrashing by the same opponents in the quarter-finals.
It is worth pointing out that injury ruled Neymar out of a crucial last 16 second leg against Real Madrid in 2017/18, with a similar injury the following season causing him to miss both legs of another last 16 tie against Manchester United. PSG were knocked out each time.
One of the biggest criticisms of Neymar’s 2017 transfer was that he traded La Liga for a less competitive evironment in Ligue 1. That is despite PSG finishing second to Monaco the season immediately before he arrived in France.
It could also be argued that at the peak of the Clasico dominance in the mid-late 2010s, La Liga also wasn’t especially competitive, save for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
This season, there is a level of competition in Ligue 1 that has made for a potential four-way title challenge between PSG, Lille, Lyon and a resurgent Monaco.
Neymar played with some of the best players of all time at Barcelona, including Xavi and Andres Iniesta in addition to the aforementioned Messi and Suarez.
But he hasn’t exactly been short of superstar colleagues at PSG either. Kylian Mbappe is the obvious one, while Angel Di Maria, Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti, Marquinhos and Keylor Navas have been among the best of their generation.
Come next season, Neymar may even get his wish of a reunion with Messi should the six-time Ballon d’Or winner leave Camp Nou and follow his friend and former teammate to Paris. Sergio Ramos is another increasingly expected to wind up at Parc des Princes in a modern day ‘Dream Team’.
Were he to go back to Barcelona, he would not find the same club he left in 2017.
Having now turned 29 and looking ahead to the immediate future, Neymar’s best prospects for future success at a domestic and continental level appear to be at PSG, not Barcelona.
The financial situation at Camp Nou has spiralled out of control, with an estimated €1bn worth of total debts that will make a necessary squad overhaul almost impossible to achieve.
Even if PSG opt to sell Mbappe, which would no doubt disappoint Neymar, the blow would likely be softened by the arrivals of Messi and Ramos. That would give him something Barcelona cannot and will not likely be able to for some time. PSG is the only place for him now.
There may have been times when it didn’t seem it, doubting even himself. But, on balance, Neymar did make the right call when he quit Barcelona for PSG nearly four years ago.
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