In the coming days, Neymar will end a rocky few months with some good news: a new four-year Paris Saint-Germain contract worth hundreds of millions, tying him to a place where he finally seems content.
At last, some stability for a superstar who will never escape the spotlight that started with his status as Brazil’s wonderboy and escalated when he became the world’s only £200million footballer.
Every summer since Neymar arrived in Paris, the talk has been of a move back to Spain: Barcelona or Real Madrid.
More recently, he’s lost a Champions League final with PSG and faced criticism for his off-the-field behaviour. Even this week, ahead of his 29th birthday, there has been more talk of partying in a pandemic. Neymar is adamant it won’t be happening.
But Paris, it seems, is staying as his home. Real and Barca can’t afford to buy big, but at 29 Neymar says his motivation comes from a belief he will win the Champions League at PSG. Defeat by Bayern Munich in Lisbon hasn’t dented that.
Neymar spoke to Sportsmail as he stands on the brink of signing a new PSG contract
Neymar speaks on his desires at PSG, his off-the-pitch exploits and on the Premier League
‘I’m not motivated by defeats, I’m motivated by the victories that I once conquered in my life and career,’ Neymar tells Sportsmail.
‘I know what it’s like to win a Champions League and I am sure that I will reach, once again, the final with PSG.’
Could the Premier League have been an option? Manchester City or Chelsea look the only clubs with the realistic spending power to coax Neymar away from the Parc des Princes.
But, he says, England has little draw – for a player who has complained of rough challenges in Ligue 1 – never mind the likes of Burnley and West Brom.
‘I do not get to watch a lot of the Premier League, but I have heard that there’s a lot of physical contact involved in the game… But the French league also has too much physical contact!’
PSG lost last season’s Champions League final – and the Brazilian is determined to go again
He has partied in London with the likes of Barbara Palvin and Lewis Hamilton in previous years
He loves London – regularly partying in the capital during his holidays in the past. ‘It’s one of the cities that I love most of the world because of its culture’. Paris has that too, but maybe one day… ‘I could never say for sure about living there (London),’ he adds.
Which brings us on to the partying and everything else that follows Neymar. It’s rarely just about football. This interview comes as part of a new partnership with PokerStars – and whenever things don’t go right on the pitch his online gaming, house-parties and haircuts tend to be brought up by critics.
This week he’s had to deny reports from Brazil that he will host a huge party to celebrate his birthday on Friday. There were similar stories around New Year’s Eve and a week-long bash that Neymar says wasn’t his.
He’s been living with this sort of attention for years – and is convinced he has the right balance.
‘If we, soccer players, only think about our profession, we wouldn’t make it,’ Neymar says. ‘We have to have time to have fun and think about other subjects, like anybody else. It’s natural, that’s how the world works.
Neymar celebrates scoring against Lorient last week – but PSG aren’t top in France
Neymar has had to deny reports of hosting parties in the pandemic – including this week
‘We all know how to correctly balance our working time with the time we have to be with our families, friends or just having fun. We are no different than anybody when it comes to the relation between working and having fun.
‘Of course that, due to our public position, we have to preserve ourselves a bit more. We can’t make certain activities that may harm our bodies, but we actually have the duty to seek distractions outside the pitch in order to keep our minds light and focused on our profession.’
That focus seems to be there this year. PSG aren’t top of Ligue 1 following a rocky end of 2020 which saw Thomas Tuchel, now of Chelsea, sacked on Christmas Eve.
Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is now the man in charge but regardless of manager, Neymar has glittered when he’s needed to.
Former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is manager of PSG, taking over from Thomas Tuchel
Past successes motivate Neymar – such as winning the Champions League with Barcelona
He joined an elite list of seven players to net a ‘hat-trick of hat-tricks’ in the Champions League with his magnificent treble against Istanbul Basaksehir in PSG’s decisive group game.
More of that and his main ambition will come good in 2021. ‘I want to win the Champions League with PSG – and the World Cup with Brazil national team,’ he says.
‘Outside the pitch… I think that 2020 changed our hopes and expectations, right?
‘The pandemic forced us to think differently, so I think that I’d really like to be able to hug everyone like we used to do before all of this happened.’
Post-pandemic, it really will be some party if Neymar brings that first European Cup to Paris.
Neymar posted about his ‘love’ for PSG this week – and his new contract is imminent
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