Student writer Andrew Noland predicts how star Mbappe will bring about the end of the Neymar era in Paris.
A dark cloud looms over Parc des Princes. On the pitch, nothing could be simpler: Mbappe and Neymar are dominating in tandem as they lead the Parisians in their quest to defend their Ligue 1 title. Underneath the surface, however, UEFA is concluding their investigation into Paris San Germain’s finances and the ownership might be confronted with a paradox of monumental proportions: which of the superstars to kick to the curb and which to make the standard-bearer for Paris’ aspirations for the next decade.
How PSG got here is no secret. The bewildering transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris proved a seismic event in the summer of 2017, totaling a record U.S. $263 million for the Brazilian icon. While fans around the world scratched their heads at the two-time La Liga and the 2014-2015 Champions League winner’s move to an internationally unsuccessful club, critics recognized the Brazilian scramble to escape the long shadow of Lionel Messi. In Neymar’s imagination, Paris would become the epicenter of a soccer revolution that would transform the soccer world from its decade-long see-saw between Ronaldo and Messi into a triumvirate. In addition, Kylian Mbappe, the French wunderkind from Monaco, was loaned to PSG for $180 million with a buyout in the next year. While this news would have ordinarily raised eyebrows, it was relegated as a sidebar to PSG’s remarkable capture of Neymar.
But Barcelona immediately drew everyone’s attention to the staggering numbers PSG faced financially, and UEFA (surprisingly) pounced. Overshadowing the 2017-2018 season was UEFA’s investigation into PSG’s losses, including a raiding of the owner of PSG’s French mansion. Even though Neymar displayed his technical mastery, Mbappe demonstrated his wondrous raw talent, and Cavani followed with his clean finishing, PSG, while naturally unstoppable in domestic play, still folded before superior talent in Real Madrid in the Champions League. The months of rumors of chaos in the locker room finally detonated with the fan-favorite striker, Cavani, at odds with Neymar and his legendary ego.
While PSG sleepwalked through Ligue 1, the nineteen-year-old Mbappe kept his head down and quietly honed his skills. With the UEFA investigation still lingering in their minds, the PSG management felt that nothing could be done about the issue: Neymar, the globally marketable icon, would remain while they sold the still relatively unknown Mbappe. However, the World Cup drastically altered that calculation. While the Frenchman confounded the world with his unmatched ability and earned himself the title of Best Young Player at the tournament, his club teammate, playing for the Brazilian favorites, flopped his way into the quarterfinal before being stomped by Belgium. Neymar could only watch from home, surrounded by sharp criticism, mockery and disappointment from fans, as the youngster lifted the World Cup with France and earned the admiration of millions around the world.
This fall shows no signs of ending Mbappe’s rise to glory. He has burst back into France a hero from his spectacular World Cup performance and, despite his humility, his four goals and two assists in only three games back in Ligue 1 indicate he is poised to be Paris’s new superstar, not his left-wing teammate. The hard truth for Neymar is that, once again, he finds himself outshined in another city, this time by a national hero seven years his younger. If UEFA decides to punish PSG by forcing them to sell one of the players that led to their financial losses, PSG have an easy choice in the winter transfer window: they will sell Neymar. With Mbappe’s seemingly limitless potential, his jovial attitude, and the love of countless fans in France, combined with Neymar’s infamous ego and his inflated contract, the latter’s dream of soccer domination from Paris will more than likely come to an unfulfilled end. The math also just adds up to Mbappe: a 19-year-old World Cup winner that has exhibited unmatched skill at the domestic and international level has far more years left in him than a 26-year-old player unproven (and possibly unable) of taking himself and his team to greatness. Come the end of January of next year, Neymar will remember his time in Paris as nothing more than a footnote to Mbappe’s ascension as one of the sport’s greatest.