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Neymar’s future at PSG and Brazil, and as an elite playmaker, is now clouded.

After his last injury, neymar He vowed he would return better than ever, a claim now prompted by an apparently successful but season-ending surgery on his ankle on Friday. But her future holds more questions than answers, and his past is fraught with controversy. So what’s next for the 31-year-old Brazilian? And how has he become one of the most divisive figures in the modern game?

It may not be a popular opinion, but it can certainly be argued that there was some nobility in his decision to leave Barcelona and join Paris Saint-Germain in 2017. There was no animosity between him and Lionel MessiThe main star at the Catalan club at the time, the hug between them at the end of the 2021 Copa América deserves to be one of the iconic images of the game.

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But Neymar thought that the time had come to lead his own project, to be the symbol of a club that was going to sweep European football by storm. Almost six years later, it is clear that things have not turned out as he intended. PSG’s star-based project seems inherently flawed. He has sacked a number of high-quality managers and has given the impression that the club might have been better off pursuing a more organic and local model that takes better advantage of the abundance of talent in France. This point can be underscored by the emergence of kylian mbappewho has surpassed Neymar as the most important player in the squad.

So where will Neymar fit in on his comeback? Some don’t even think he fits right now. In an interview with RMC sports radio, former France center forward Christophe Dugarry declared himself “very happy for PSG that Neymar is injured. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for (manager Christophe) Galtier. At some point he would need the courage to leave Neymar, it was the only solution.”

If there is no place for him at PSG anymore, where could he go? He has a contract until 2027, and very few clubs can afford his salary, let alone the transfer fee. And most of them are in the Premier League, which has never been seen as the perfect destination for him. In hindsight, he perhaps underestimated the physicality of the French league, and English soccer operates at an even higher level of intensity, with a deep aversion to diving added.

Neymar’s interpretation of the rules of the game would come under close scrutiny. For someone who is usually very popular with his teammates, at least for Brazil, it’s amazing how much Neymar gets under the skin of some former players. Dugarry, for example, called it “unbearable”, and Marco Van Basten, one of the great forwards of all time, went further.

“Neymar is a real crybaby,” Van Basten told the Dutch outlet. ziggo sport Last October. “He’s constantly provoking. One second he’s fouling and the next he’s playing the victim. No one is allowed to touch him. He’s a nasty, dirty player.”

What makes Van Basten’s comments especially poignant is that the Dutch maestro’s career was interrupted by ankle injuries, the same problem Neymar continues to deal with. However, Van Basten blames medical errors for his tribulations. He and many of his generation see Neymar as someone who is trying to redefine football as a non-contact sport. Neymar is a product of his time and his environment.

The greatest producer of talent in the history of the game has been Brazilian street soccer, the informal soccer that is played at all hours on the street, in the park, in any available space. But Neymar is too young to have caught this in its prime. Many of these spaces have been devoured by urban sprawl. Many of those remaining spaces have become too dangerous due to the increase in urban violence.

The solution has been to bring the children indoors, to the safest and most disinfected environment of futsal. Informal street soccer does not usually have a referee. The skinny and talented player soon has to develop survival skills. He has to learn when to release the ball and when, close enough to goal to make it worth his while, to unleash the dribble.

But Neymar learned to defend himself in futsal by using the referee, showing the referee that he was being fouled. Some of his most frustrating performances are when he drops deep and seems to encourage fouls that earn pointless free throws. Regardless of what Van Basten thinks, there is no doubt that on the field he is much more of a sinner than a sinner. But that’s the way it has been for all skilled players since the game began, and today’s talent is given far more protection than anyone who played football before the crackdown on tackle from behind in the early 1990s.

In earlier times, Neymar would have had to endure much more brutal treatment. That magnificent goal against Croatia in the World Cup quarter-finals means Neymar has scored as many goals as Pelé for Brazil. And yet, many will still judge his career as a disappointment. The expectations were always too high.

For a time, Brazilians regarded the Ballon D’Or award as a birthright, one that, after a dry spell, Neymar could reclaim for his country. Chasing the award for the best player in the world may have been one of his reasons for signing for PSG. Surely the time has come to remove that dream as a priority.

If the prize comes, then instead of an individual search, let it be for the work done in a collective context. Because these recurring ankle injuries are sure to take their toll, especially on a player already in their thirties. It can be harder to conjure up that vital extra acceleration speed gear that takes you away from your marker.

But that change does not need to transform Neymar into an old man. He really is a remarkable talent, with great ability on both feet and extraordinary speed to gauge the situation. If he moves slower, he can still make the ball move faster, with more precision and intelligence than the vast majority of the best players. Can you go through this adaptation process? Will the boy prince be able to transform into the wise old owl? Can he be reborn as the senior statesman?

All stages of its run have been fascinating, and the next one, wherever it takes place, will add some exciting new episodes to the soap opera.