Paris: Perhaps that crackle of expectation and hunkering was no longer in the air at the Parc des Princes, not after Neymar’s anthology of the brilliant and the extraordinary against Toulouse. But still among the sea of Neymarzetes and Neymarzinhos, Paris Saint-German fans and other partisans, there was a sense of wonderment and longing – an awed admiration for PSG’s new import and a craving for him to illuminate the Parc and Paris again.

They all came to see the new king. They were no longer stupefied by how much of Neymar’s arrival and the machinations behind it belonged to a different galaxy, where the fantastical and the preposterous had reigned. A fee of $263 million for a football player is after all, somewhat outlandish. It seemed to matter little on a gently meandering summer’s eve in the French capital as the Parc relished its new superstar. Perhaps this was commodification and commerce at its best, perhaps it was genuine fandom and veneration.

When Neymar under-performed

But amid all the hullabaloo of a mega-transfer with an A grade plot, “jet set” protagonists, acolytes from football’s netherworld and even some geopolitical scheming, it’s easy to forget that Neymar is human. He isn’t le Roi Soleil yet and in a middling 90 minutes, the Brazilian under-performed.

Naturally, he offered his seductive skills - a little nutmeg here, a pirouette there, and within the first five minutes of the game, Neymar’s movement and intelligence shone, making runs, demanding the ball and passing deep, all to assuage PSG’s overly lateral game. The Parisians gravitated towards the Brazilian. He teased and teased. The 25-year-old had 128 touches against Guingamp on his debut and a 118 against Toulouse. Ici, c’est Neymar!


Against Saint-Etienne, he had just about 83 touches. Neymar was less sovereign and serene. He drifted across PSG’s forward line, but his team struggled against a compact 9-1 formation, with Les Verts proffering two defensive banks when out of possession. Opposing coaches had previously tried to stifle PSG by isolating Neymar. Saint-Etienne tried the collective route and it worked. After 20 minutes, Edison Cavani converted a fortuitously awarded penalty, but Neymar, with Angel Di Maria all too central and Pastore nigh invisible, was strangely peripheral.

This was no MSN, but an impotent South American trident. They didn’t defy football logic with moments of tremendous titillation, but the sum of their parts weighed too little. Without the lucidity of the suspended Marco Verratti, PSG were mellow.

As a consequence, Neymar glided in and out of the game, always with the promise of a sudden acceleration and a touch of brilliance. He was involved in all of PSG’s three goals. At some point and with no real need to do it, Neymar flicked the ball up in the air and played an overhead pass over the Saint-Etienne defense. It was the maverick in him showing off. But those frivolities and Neymareque virtues didn’t obfuscate that PSG’s number ten was a subdued lone star in a very mundane team, who lapsed into a vice of old, playing slow, vertical football. It was Cavani who sealed a relatively straightforward if unremarkable victory for the hosts.

In Neymar’s rise to the top, Saint-Etienne were but a prosaic obstacle. After 270 minutes, three wins, three goals and three assists, his story in Paris is of course still incomplete, but one of a forward-prancing virtuoso, whose sole purpose is to eclipse Lionel Messi and supplant a Messianic universe.

Can Neymar be PSG’s new saviour?

Neymar is a genius, but can he also become the PSG’s new savior? He has never belonged to the celestial duopoly that subjugated the game. Sure, Neymar is an artist and staccato player, but he doesn’t match up against those two contemporary superlative athletes. He is the human interloper, seeking to mar and mangle the Leo-Cr7-hegemony.

Within the Parisian brand, Neymar, a mini LLC and money tree, is more than simply a revenue stream. His acquisition is also a mission statement for a club informed by a crushing obligation to win the Champions League. The new star must remedy PSG’s parody status, forever yearning for European glory, but always exiting in the quarter-finals, or, in apocalyptic fashion, against FC Barcelona.

This time Bayern Munich, Anderlecht and Celtic Glasgow will be the first hurdles on a long road to Kiev. Neymar is PSG’s new talisman and focal point, tasked with resuscitating a club from which the shiny veneer was beginning to fade. He can become PSG’s best ever, but to topple all those demi-kings that came before him in Paris – David Ginola, George Weah, Rai, Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – he has to lead his team forward in Europe. Serial victory in France won’t suffice nor will nights when he looks all too human.

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