PARIS, France, Nov 25 – When Paris Saint-Germain travel to Spain on Tuesday to face Real Madrid in the Champions League it will be with a Neymar who has, according to his teammate Marquinhos, grown up.
“Neymar has lived things that have matured him as a person, and as a player,” the PSG vice-captain told AFP.
There is no doubt that there have been plenty of concerns for the French side over their record 222 million euro signing since he joined from Barcelona in 2017.
The 27-year-old forward has helped PSG to two titles in a weak Ligue 1 but has failed to inspire them to the heights in the Champions League, the main reason for the Qatari-financed club indulging in such a massive outlay in the first place.
He is generally respected by the fans but not loved. Indeed there was some jeering when he was substituted during Friday’s win over Lille, his first game in six weeks following a hamstring injury.
Part of the antipathy was his exerted and ultimately failed efforts to secure a transfer back to Barcelona during the summer.
Marquinhos, however, is in no doubt about the commitment that his fellow Brazilian brings to the Parisian cause.
“Ney has always been thorough,” says the 25-year-old central defender.
“He is someone who doesn’t do things by halves. It shows on the field. When he takes the ball he wants to be decisive.
“Once he’s on the pitch, even after all that happened during the transfer window and the other stories, he’s back on the pitch to win, to score, to make a difference.
“He’s not hiding. He proves that he is totally committed alongside us.”
Neymar’s return on Friday was his first appearance for PSG since October 5, having suffered a hamstring injury playing for Brazil against Nigeria a week later.
It was just the latest spell on the sidelines for the world’s most expensive player, who has featured in barely half of PSG’s matches since signing from Barcelona in 2017.
– Positive outweighs negative –
His decision to fly to Madrid to take in the Davis Cup tennis last week did not go down well with coach Thomas Tuchel but it marks just another blimp in the Brazilian’s sojourn in France, unfairly according to Marquinhos.
“There are other things to say as well. He worked well during the week, he did everything right,” says Marquinhos.
“I think we should put more emphasis on the good things he does rather than the negative things.
“If you put all this in the balance, the positive things that he does (are superior) but there are always some negative points that people want to talk about because it is Ney! And when you speak about Ney, it resonates around the world.”
“As a friend, he always does good things but we don’t talk about them.”
Tuesday’s game against Real Madrid comes with PSG already qualified for the last 16. But playing at the Santiago Bernabeu will serve as an indicator of whether PSG can finally be considered genuine Champions League contenders.
It may also offer a clue as to whether Neymar is finally going to live up to the 222 million price tag which has weighed heavily on him in big games over the last two years.
“I hope for that especially,” says Marquinhos.
“He always wants to perform, to win. He’s a real competitor, not just in football. In everything he does, he wants to be the best, that is always in his head.
“If he hasn’t been in recent years, he is certainly going to want to show it this season.
“I hope it’s going to be a very good season for him and for us.”