Neymar ends turbulent PSG stay, six years after record fee
PARIS - Neymar brought an end to a topsy-turvy spell at Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday by leaving for Saudi club Al Hilal, six years after great fanfare greeted his arrival in the French capital.
The Brazilian was afforded a rock star’s welcome in Paris when he signed from Barcelona for a world-record fee of €222 million, but left just months after PSG fans protested outside his house, demanding his exit from the club.
PSG hoped Neymar would help deliver a coveted maiden Champions League title when he joined in 2017, but the closest he came was a 2020 final defeat by Bayern Munich.
Several injuries plagued his time in Paris, with PSG seemingly happy to cut their losses by allowing him to leave for a reported €100 million (S$150 million).
The 31-year-old lifted five Ligue 1 titles and three French Cups with PSG, scoring 118 goals in 173 appearances.
But Neymar only lived up to expectations intermittently, as even his combination with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe failed to deliver europe’s biggest prize to PSG’s Qatari owners.
French media reported Mbappe made Neymar’s departure one of the necessary conditions for him to sign a new contract in 2022.
The France captain was also tipped with a move away from the Parc des Princes this summer but now appears set to stay for at least another campaign.
Neymar has instead settled for following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane in accepting the Saudi riches on offer.
He is reported to be set to earn €100 million a season with Al Hilal, according to a source close to the negotiations.
The deal brings an end to an indifferent relationship with PSG, a club he wanted to leave to return to Barcelona in 2019 before signing a contract extension until 2027.
Paris were open to Neymar leaving last season, but his estimated salary of €30 million a year put off any potential buyers.
He started the season strongly but was hit by the latest in a series of ankle injuries at the World Cup in Qatar.
Neymar won a domestic treble in his maiden season in France, although he did not play in the latter stages of the campaign after fracturing a metatarsal.
The following season saw Neymar insult officials on Instagram after PSG were dumped out of the Champions League by Manchester United, before he appeared to punch a spectator after a French Cup final defeat by Rennes.
He was then disciplined after missing pre-season training in 2019 but decided to stay at the club after not securing a transfer back to Barca.
A third straight Ligue 1 title followed in a Covid-hit season, but PSG suffered heartbreak in the Champions League showpiece, losing 1-0 to Bayern.
He suffered ankle and adductor injuries in the 2020-21 season as PSG contrived to lose the French title race to Lille.
More injuries followed under coach Mauricio Pochettino, although he did play in their next Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid.
Last season, the front three of Neymar, Messi and Mbappe were in fine form before the World Cup.
But Neymar needed surgery on his injured ankle in March and missed the second leg of the Champions League last-16 loss to Bayern.
The season ended in turmoil for PSG, although they stumbled across the line to win another league title, with supporters protesting outside the club’s headquarters and Neymar’s home.
Neymar’s exit helps PSG balance the books as they bid to adhere to financial fair-play restrictions, with midfielder Marco Verratti also expected to leave before the end of the month after 11 years with the team.
PSG are now hoping for the start of a new era at the Parc des Princes, evidenced by the recent signings of Marco Asensio, Ousmane Dembele and Goncalo Ramos. - AFP