One night in March apparently convinced Neymar he would never be able to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow at Barca.
That night, that performance … that picture.
In March, Neymar singlehandedly orchestrated one of the great Champions League comebacks.
Barcelona had no right to come back from a 4-0 first leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain.
Instead, the Brazilian scored two goals and grabbed an assist in seven minutes.
It was astonishing and Neymar described it as his best performance ever.
The next morning, Neymar woke to read the papers. On the front page: Lionel Messi.
That, according to several media reports, was the exact moment Neymar decided enough was enough – he had to leave Barcelona to step out of the shadows of arguably the greatest player to grace our sport.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 8, 2017
“The enduring image of a historic night was Messi,” wrote The Guardian’s Spanish football expert Sid Lowe.
“With Barça it almost always is and maybe there is something in that? The argument most consistently put forward for Neymar’s decision to leave for PSG is that he believes it is time to stand alone.”
He added: “At the Parc des Princes, success will be his own; PSG will be his team, players brought to his specifications and he will be surrounded by his people, friends and countrymen.”
“Neymar has played Barça with his soap opera with PSG, the team against which he probably scored his best game as Barca,” wrote Spanish daily El Pais.
“That famous comeback ended with Messi on a billboard in the north goal of the stadium, fist in high, worshiped by the fans of the Camp Nou.
“Maybe that was when Neymar realised that he would never reach the glory, even on the nights of his greatest success, as long as he aligned with Leo.”
Neymar has, in his four seasons with the Catalan giants, played second fiddle to the Argentine master.
When Luis Suarez arrived to create what could be the greatest ever attacking trio, Neymar’s attacking role shifted from goalscorer to provider for the other parts of MSN.
Shunted out to the left and forced into defensive responsibilities to cover for Messi, El Pais also argued that Neymar craved the free central attacking role he is granted with Brazil.
“Although Neymar and his entourage have not yet revealed their precise motives, the general belief is that he is no longer content to play second fiddle to Messi,” wrote the BBC’s Spanish football writer Andy West.
“At the prime age of 25, with a potentially career-defining World Cup on the horizon, he has opted to join a club who will make him the centre of attention, both on and off the pitch.”
It seems almost inevitable that Neymar would seek to leave to fulfil his ambitions of being the world’s best player – a dream that South American football expert Tim Vickery traced all the way back to the 25-year-old watching his boyhood idol Robinho fail to live up to his potential at Real Madrid.
Yet what Spanish football scribe Graham Hunter questions is Barcelona’s inability to see the future and plan for the day Neymar decided to leave.
He wrote for ESPN FC: “The reason why, at least in the eyes of their club socios (”members”), the board must wear the Dunce’s cap and sit on the naughty step is that from the moment Neymar, his agent and his entourage refused to accept a vast (and genuinely unpayable) buyout clause, Barcelona’s board, director of football and coach should have been working diligently towards a “what if?” scenario.
“It’s clear that they haven’t been doing that, or at least they haven’t done it to a sufficient standard.”
He added: “If Barcelona happen to be less competitive without Neymar and thus lose the two Supercup matches to [Real] Madrid, you can expect all hell to be let loose around the Camp Nou.”
Some fans understood, others were enraged, but most supporters of Barcelona have reacted with sadness to the Neymar news.
“It’s a blow,” said Javier Barranco, a 19-year-old psychology student in Barcelona.
“It hurts because I thought he was going to grow here like (Lionel) Messi, that he was going to spend his entire career here and that he would be a Barca great for life.
“The fact that money moved him more than anything else bothers me.”
When Neymar arrived at Barcelona in the summer of 2013, fans hoped he would be the natural successor to Messi when the performance of the Argentinian five-time world player of the year, now 30, declined.
His dribbles and fast game soon seduced supporters at the Camp Nou stadium, where his shirt with the number “11” and name “Neymar Jr” were still on sale on Wednesday.
But by the afternoon, workers took down a promotional poster of the Barcelona players to replace it with an identical one… without the image of Neymar.
“They’re professional and it’s good that they look for the best for themselves and their family. We’re talking about a lot of money,” said Ramon Urgell, a 63-year-old economist.
“Then there are emotions, and I would like him to stay.”
Not all supporters showed the same level of understanding. For Jesus Reinal, a bus driver, Neymar is “another turncoat, like Figo,” the Portuguese player who abandoned Barcelona in 2000 to go to its arch-rival Real Madrid, for a then record 61 million euros.
But after weeks of speculation and uncertainty, many are just glad that the drama has finally come to a close.
“The club must be celebrating following this summer saga, which is embarrassing and pathetic,” said Sara Huertas, a Peruvian who supports Barcelona.
“Is it really 222 million euros? Well that’s money in the coffers, may they decide on and bring someone who’s worth it.”
This article originally appeared on FOX Sports Australia