Here I am, Neymar. You got me. I’ve chomped down on the bait. The internet pulsates with moments of fleeting outrage, here’s my contribution.
Neymar. A supreme talent, a flashing razor capable of scything through defences with a glide, a shimmy, and flick of his magic boots. But what a tragedy to see his antics for PSG against Dortmund in the Champions League round of 16.
The 28-year-old one-time boy wonder opened the scoring in a 2-0 win for the Ligue 1 side on Wednesday evening, setting them on their merry way to the quarter-finals, their infamous ceiling.
It was a fantastic win for PSG against a vibrant Dortmund side boasting Erling Haaland, arguably the hottest property in world football – a tag once boasted by Neymar, and never quite redeemed.
Neymar doing the Haaland ????♂️???? pic.twitter.com/6uL4IVkViA
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 11, 2020
Neymar’s goal celebration involved mocking Haaland, a copy-cat reproduction of the 19-year-old striker’s hand gestures after stealing the show in the first leg of the tie.
The final whistle was greeted by the entire PSG team reconstructing Haaland’s innocuous image, a side aiming to be the finest in Europe, desperate for relevance at Europe’s top table, mocking a teenager who started the current season in Austrian Bundesliga. Neymar, beaming, front and centre of it all.
‘It’s a goal celebration, big deal, Michael’ maybe so, but watching Neymar scramble for recognition in a world that has rapidly moved on from him was, well, sad.
The former Santos prodigy was a valued prong in a world class Barcelona trident alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, but he will always be remembered for bottling it, for his insistence on being The Man basking in his own sunlight, not poking out from Messi’s shadow.
It would have been an admirable ambition, to carve out a role as The Man elsewhere, but in opting to lead the line for French Celtic, he effectively ended his own hype.
And let’s be real, he was usurped as the Prince of Paris within the same month as ‘the next Neymar’ Kylian Mbappe strode through the door.
Mbappe has always been the adored one at Parc des Princes, Neymar never far from the brink of resentment by the watchful PSG ultras.
Neymar had the world at his feet, everything to play for, and he chose cheques over elite-tier silverware and a league that would test, train and tease a terrific player into becoming a generational talent.
He was prophesied to reign supreme in the post-Messi, post-Cristiano Ronaldo world, but with both stars in rich form and showing little in the way of decline, Haaland and Mbappe are the new icons-elect.
What space is there for Neymar to occupy?
He will never recapture his early appeal, the playful exuberance that captivated fans around the world. He will never wrap his hands around the calibre and quantity of trophies as others.
The world is increasingly apathetic to Neymar, while Haaland’s stock continues its meteoric surge, a Champions League defeat and moment of tinpot mockery can’t do anything to prevent his rise.
Haaland has kept his innocence thus far, a young lad living a fairytale season with a radiant smile on his face, scoring goals and relishing every moment.
He has a long way to go, but with time on his side in an adoring club setup, the ingredients are in the pot ready to boil.
Neymar’s petulance would kid you into believing he’s still a naive teen with a wide-open future to navigate, but he isn’t and the future simply doesn’t belong to him.
The world now sits at Haaland’s feet, and all Neymar can do is sit back, laugh, then probably wish he could start all over again.