Qatar-backed PSG and French football braced for Neymar exit

The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2019

Qatar-backed PSG and French football braced for Neymar exit

  • Since moving to the Parc des Princes, he has played in almost exactly half of his club’s matches
  • Foot injuries saw him miss three of the four Champions League knockout matches the Qatar-owned club have played in

PARIS: The saga of Neymar’s seemingly inevitable departure from Paris Saint-Germain is proving a long, drawn out affair bringing the curtain down on what will ultimately feel like a fleeting and failed experiment.
Having arrived in France in 2017 hoping a world-record transfer to PSG would help him emerge from the shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and win the Ballon d’Or, two years on he looks set to leave with his reputation having taken a serious hit.
There is no doubting the 27-year-old forward is a brilliant player, and there is every chance he will get the success he craves — collectively and, chiefly, individually — by returning to Spain, whether with his old club or Real Madrid.
However, there is every reason to believe a Kylian Mbappe-led PSG, and football in France in general, will ultimately be better off without him.
The French champions’ first Ligue 1 game of the campaign last Sunday, a 3-0 win against Nimes, saw supporters unfurl banners insulting the 222 million-euro ($264 million at the time) man.
Neymar himself was not involved in that game, left out amid the uncertainty over his future. He already missed the season-opening Champions Trophy against Rennes in China due to suspension.
Since moving to the Parc des Princes, he has played in almost exactly half of his club’s matches.
When he has been on the field he has frequently been brilliant, scoring 51 goals in 58 games, but when it has really mattered he has been absent.
Foot injuries saw him miss three of the four Champions League knockout matches the Qatar-owned club have played in since his arrival. Without him, they lost in the last 16 to Real Madrid in 2018 and then to Manchester United this year.
“I like Neymar, I want to keep playing with him, with Kylian and with everyone,” coach Thomas Tuchel said last weekend.
“But the reality is that we must find solutions without ‘Ney’. You can’t lose Neymar and just find someone else who will do the same things.”
Mbappe added that “without Neymar, it’s not the same team,” but PSG can still improve by investing in a more balanced squad — summer signings made so far under sporting director Leonardo are a step in the right direction.
Center-back Abdou Diallo, midfielders Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarabia and Idrissa Gueye have arrived. With the money recouped from the eventual sale of Neymar, not to mention the saving on his 36 million-euro annual wage, more reinforcements can be brought in.
The off-field circus around Neymar has been an unwelcome distraction for too long. On the field, Paris will still have Mbappe.
The other side of the coin is what this means for PSG’s brand. After all, Neymar’s following on social media far outstrips that of his current club.
Similarly, when the French league (LFP) put their television rights up for auction last year, they capitalized on the Brazilian’s presence. Rights for the four seasons from 2020 were sold to Chinese-owned group Mediapro for 1.15 billion euros a year, a huge increase on previous deals.
Television stations could be forgiven for being a little concerned now, but LFP chief Didier Quillot remains bullish.
“It’s always better to have several stars in your league. That said, during the Champions Trophy in China, it was Kylian Mbappe who was the star. His popularity is growing around the world,” he told sports daily L’Equipe.
In any case, Ligue 1 is in a constant state of renewal, forever prepared to see star players move abroad. Nicolas Pepe, Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombele and Ismaila Sarr have all left this summer.
The game in France can move on from Neymar, and everyone will be relieved to let the football on the field do the talking if and when he departs.


Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

Updated 21 January 2020

Africa Cup switch to winter sends a chill through European leagues

  • High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire

CAIRO: There is little doubt that the switch by the Africa Cup of Nations from summer to winter competition will have a big impact on European competitions, with those at the top of the Premier League perhaps most affected.

The confederation confirmed that from 2021 when Cameroon will play host, the tournament will revert back to being played in January and February.

The tournament was moved to a June-July slot for last year’s edition in Egypt, which meant minimal disruption to the European domestic season. But plenty of Premier League managers will be left with problems this time next year, with several stars likely to leave for up to six weeks, including pre-tournament preparations.

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp appears to face the biggest headache given that two of his star attacking players, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Sadio Mane from Senegal, both featured in the African tournament last summer and are almost certain to be involved in the 2021 competition in some capacity.

High-profile African players playing in England include the Arsenal duo Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang of Gabon and Nicolas Pepe of Cote d’Ivoire, while Manchester City will lose Riyad Mahrez should Algeria feature.

Klopp is critical of the decision to move the tournament dates, calling it “a catastrophe.” Salah and Mane’s absence would leave huge gaps in the Liverpool side. There is also Cameroon’s Joel Matip and Guinea’s Naby Keita to worry about. Matip has become solid at the back. Keita, too, would be a loss given his recent resurgence.

The Liverpool manager is upset because last year’s tournament was moved to mid-year to end a long-standing clash between clubs and countries over the release of their players. It was felt that common sense had prevailed when the tournament, which since 1960 had always been held during winter, reverted to summer. African players in western European clubs would no longer find themselves the target of competing claims for their attention every other season, which would benefit the players and their clubs and countries, and lead to fewer squabbles.

But then Cameroon changed its mind about hosting the tournament in summer next year, changing the dates from June and July to between Jan. 6 and Feb. 6. Why? The weather. It’s simply too hot in Cameroon in summer.

Organizers said they had agreed to the change after discussions with player and coach representatives.

But didn’t Cameroon know beforehand that its summers are too hot, too humid and right in the middle of its rainy season? That the country does not enjoy ideal conditions for football in summer could not have taken its organizers by complete surprise.

The situation serves as a vivid reminder of the botch-up of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The host and FIFA decided that the World Cup, which is forever played in summer, would be moved to winter because of Qatar’s oppressive heat — but that decision came only after Qatar won the bid. That change, again, will mean a head-on clash with international tournaments and club competitions.

A football tournament simply cannot keep changing when it will be held as often as people change their socks. This is especially true for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is played every two years.

A major sports tournament must have fixed times. And, to be sure, its organizers should understand that you can’t please everybody. A championship’s times are bound to clash with some tournament or other. The African tournament, for example, will avoid a clash with FIFA’s revamped 24-team Club World Cup to be played in China in June and July 2021. But it cannot but conflict with European leagues. The important thing is to stay the course. Once a date is picked, it should be stuck to like glue.