Saturday 20 January 2018

Neymar poised to spring from Messi's shadow

Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar looks on during his presentation to the fans at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris
Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian forward Neymar looks on during his presentation to the fans at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris

Seamus O'Hanlon - Sidelines

Neymar's €222 million transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain was completed last week, with the Brazilian unveiled to a capacity crowd of 45,000 in the Parc des Princes on Saturday.

Transfer fees in soccer have always been a little crazy, but this mind-blowing deal has the potential to change the game for decades to come. When the ripple effect of this world record sum kicks into the mainstream transfer market it will begin to inflate prices out of all proportion.

I, like most people, scoffed at the notion of a club paying €200m for a player when the Neymar story first broke at the beginning of July. After all, €105m was the previous record paid by Man United in 2016 for the dubious talents of Paul Pogba. Gareth Bale came next on the list with another questionable fee of €100m in 2013, followed by his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo who cost €94m in 2009 when Alex Ferguson reluctantly let him leave Old Trafford for the Bernabeu.

On the face of it, only Ronaldo's deal would appear to have provided the buyers any sort of return on their investment.

The last time I remember transfer fees going completely mad was around 2000/2001 when Real Madrid paid out the then staggering aworld record amounts of €62m and €77m for Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane. An idea of just how enormous Zidane's transfer fee was at the time can be testified by the fact that it stood for eight years until Ronaldo's move to Madrid.

Over the weekend my six and seven-year-olds, who are big Barca fans, were asking me why Neymar would want to move from Barcelona to Paris.

'Sure, Barca have all the best players and they hammered Paris 6-1' was along the lines of their reasoning. The easiest answer I could give them was simply 'money', but thankfully they are still at the stage where the influence of money has not just registered with them.

I was therefore forced to delve a little deeper into Neymar's possible motivations for seeking the move. While the lure of 'filthy lucre' obviously influenced his decision there are several other valid reasons for him to seek the move.

Since his arrival at the Camp Nou in 2013 he has constantly played in the shadow of the world's best player Lionel Messi. While the two South Americans appear to have a fantastic on and off-field relationship, along with Luis Suarez, the Barcelona team is unquestionably built around Messi's talents.

Neymar is one of the side's leading lights, but his supporting role requires lots of fringe activity and defensive responsibilities which don't always allow him express his natural attacking talents.

At Paris he will have top billing. His new teammates, many of them Brazilian, will do all the fetching and carrying required to allow him shine. This PSG team will be built around Neymar. And there is also the argument that Barcelona are not the force they once were in the recent past. Perhaps Neymar sees the ambitious Qatari-backed PSG as the team of the future.

The answer I gave the two lads was 'Neymar wants to be the best player on his team. He's not better than Messi, so he moved to Paris.' As Messi devotees, my lads nodded acceptance and moved on.

All the transfer talk in recent weeks had me thinking back to 1979 when Trevor Francis became the first British player to break the £1 million record. It felt like the sporting equivalent of putting a man on the moon.

As an 11-year-old, £1 million in 1979 felt like all the money in the world. Francis' move to reigning European Cup holders Nottingham Forest at the beginning of February 1979 came just days after the English international lined out with Birmingham City against Dundalk in a friendly at Oriel Park.

It's hard to imagine Neymar being allowed play in a friendly against an amateur side a week before such a big-money move.

Myself and my older brother queued up at the back of the stand to get this mega star's autograph, but we had to settle for just a brief glimpse as he was ushered out the door.

For the record, Dundalk won 2-1, with the goals coming from Hilary Carlyle and Tommy McConville. The Birmingham team also contained 1978 Argentinian World Cup winner Alberto Tarrantini.

Louth Minors

The Louth minors' 2017 season came to a close in Portlaoise on Saturday with defeat to Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

This was a real breakthrough year for the county at this level and huge credit must go the players and management who put in such a great effort.

The year will be remembered for bridging that long 46-year gap since our last Leinster final appearance, but the performances in those narrow victories over Laois, Offaly and in particular Wexford will live long in the memory.

Now that we have experienced life at the top table of underage football, there should be a real desire for all involved to get us back to this stage on a regular basis.

We have great potential at U-13 and U-14 level, but our structures and organisation from there to Minor and U-21 are light years behind what is happening in the successful counties. Hopefully we can build on the progress Wayne Kierans and his management team made with this group and afford them the best opportunity to develop into senior inter-county stars.

Sideline Bet

Last week's Sideline Bet of a draw between Galway and Tipp would have been a fair result, but Joe Canning's wizardry marginally tipped the balance in Galway's favour. Similarly, Cork and Waterford are very evenly match in this weekend's semi-final, and don't be surprised if it takes another day to decide the result. This week's bet is 9/1 on a Cork/Waterford draw.

The Argus

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