Neymar – superstar with a legacy unfulfilled?

neymar-–-superstar-with-a-legacy-unfulfilled?
Neymar poses with the PSG shirt after joining the club in 2017
Neymar became the world’s most expensive footballer when he joined PSG in 2017

It was a move that sent shockwaves around the world of football.

Six years ago Brazil legend Neymar left Barcelona to join Paris St-Germain in a record-breaking £200m deal.

Now aged 31, the forward is on the move again, this time leaving behind European football – at least for now – and joining a number of high-profile players in opting to play in Saudi Arabia.

He will reportedly be paid 150m euros (£129m) a yearexternal-link at Al-Hilal – six times the amount he earned at PSG – having signed a two-year contract.

Neymar made 173 appearances for PSG, helping them win 13 trophies, including five Ligue 1 titles.

But it was to win Europe’s elite prize – the Champions League – that Neymar was signed for, something he was unable to help the French giants achieve, coming closest when they reached the 2020 final.

“It hasn’t worked out in the eyes of many of his compatriots. He is abandoning the battlefield by leaving top-class European football,” South American football expert Tim Vickery told the BBC World Service.

“Neymar himself will not see this as anything other than an au revoir – not necessarily to Paris St-Germain, but with a view to coming back to Europe in two years’ time – because at this moment it’s hard to see what other option he had.”

It is the latest chapter in a career of highs and lows. Here, BBC Sport charts Neymar’s journey from Santos to Saudi Arabia.

Neymar shirts being printed in Saudi Arabia
Neymar shirts are already in demand in Saudi Arabia

2009 – Senior debut at Santos

Neymar started his career in his native Brazil, signing his first professional contract with Santos at 17.

He made his senior debut at the same age, coming on as a second-half substitute in a 2-1 win against Oeste on 7 March 2009.

One week later he scored his first goal for Santos against Mogi Mirim and finished the season with 14 in 48 games.

2010 – Brazil debut

Just over a year after making his professional debut, the teenage Neymar was called up by Brazil.

His first game was a friendly with the USA on 10 August. It took him only 28 minutes to mark his debut with a goal, heading Andre Santos’ cross beyond Tim Howard.

Neymar has scored 77 goals in 124 appearances for Brazil, but his first remains one of the favourites of his career.

2013 – Barcelona and Brazil success

Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar pose with the Champions League trophy
Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar became a formidable attacking trio at Barcelona

Having helped Santos win the Copa Libertadores in 2011 – their first since 1963 – Neymar joined Barcelona after being linked with a string of top European clubs.

Playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in a front three that became known as ‘MSN’, Neymar helped the Spanish giants win La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League in only his second season.

Shortly after joining Barcelona, he also helped Brazil win the Fifa Confederations Cup and was named the tournament’s best player.

2014 – Heartbreak at home World Cup

By now Neymar’s star was shining brightly and, with Brazil hosting the World Cup in 2014, he was seen by many as the player to lead his country to glory.

His image was everywhere before and during the tournament, but a nation held its breath when, in the quarter-final against Colombia, Neymar went down clutching his back after he was kneed by Juan Zuniga.

Archive: Zuniga challenge ends Neymar’s World Cup

Brazil won 2-1, but it came at a huge cost as Neymar was ruled out of the rest of the World Cup with a fractured vertebra.

It was to get worse in the semi-final as Brazil suffered a humiliating 7-1 loss to eventual winners Germany.

2016 – Record-breaking season and Olympic gold

Neymar, Messi and Suarez continued to be one of the most deadly strike trios in club football and in 2015-16 they combined to score 131 goals – the most in a season for an attacking trio in Spanish football history.

Those goals helped Barcelona complete the domestic double of La Liga and Copa del Rey, before Neymar linked up with the Brazil team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Two years after his injury heartbreak at the World Cup, Neymar scored the decisive penalty as Brazil beat Germany in a shootout to win their first men’s Olympic football gold medal.

2017 – The move to France

After scoring 105 goals in 186 appearances, Neymar made world football headlines by leaving Barcelona to join PSG for an eyewatering £200m in 2017.

His debut against Guingamp in August featured one goal and an assist. Going on to be part of a formidable attacking trio of Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, Neymar scored 28 goals in 30 matches as PSG won the treble of Ligue 1, French Cup and League Cup.

But his season was cut short when he suffered a fractured metatarsal, the first of a number of injuries that would blight his time in Paris.

2019-20 – Champions League final but uncertain future

After two years with PSG, Neymar was linked with a return to Barcelona and the summer of 2019 was dominated by rumours of his potential departure.

He angered PSGexternal-link after failing to turn up for the first day of pre-season training in July, but ultimately stayed in Paris.

Although injuries once again impacted his season, he helped PSG win Ligue 1 and reach the Champions League final for the first time, when they lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich.

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe applaud PSG fans
Neymar won trophies at PSG but also struggled with injuries

2021-23 – Ups and downs as end approaches

Neymar once again teamed up with former Barcelona team-mate Messi when the Argentina star joined PSG in August 2021, but that season was a disappointing one for Neymar as he finished with 13 goals in all competitions – his worst return since moving to Europe.

Alongside Messi and Mbappe, Neymar appeared to rediscover his form, scoring and assisting 13 goals in his first five league games in 2022-23, but in March he was ruled out for the remainder of the season after ankle surgery.

A 4-3 win against Lille in February, in which he scored PSG’s second goal, would be his final game for the club.

More great moments to come?

Seen as Brazil’s great hope, Neymar is still yet to lead them to World Cup success.

The disappointing end to his time at PSG means he leaves with a question mark over whether his spell there has hampered his legacy.

“He’s certainly judged as a disappointment, which in some ways is harsh as there have been lots of injuries,” said Vickery.

“But let’s remember this man has scored as many goals for the Brazil national team as Pele. That’s not a title that’s given away in a sweet shop. That’s been done over years and years and years, so maybe the expectations placed on him were always a little bit too high.

“Even if he never kicks another ball, there are plenty of great moments that he’s given us. And he would hope, both in Saudi Arabia and in top-class European football and in the next World Cup, there are plenty of great moments still to come.”

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