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Neymar arrives at the Bernabeu for a Champions League clash with Real Madrid... a club divided over whether to pursue football’s playboy prince

  • Paris Saint-Germain face Real Madrid at the Champions League last-16 stage
  • Real club were unusually left behind in the transfer market by PSG last summer 
  • Even Spain's prime minister has had his say on whether they should sign Neymar
  • Some feel football’s playboy prince would be out of place at a traditional club 

Neymar arrives in Madrid on Tuesday as only Neymar can, still surfing the social media wave created by him posting a posed semi-naked photograph of himself on Instagram, and with the prime minister of Spain commenting on whether Real Madrid should sign him in the morning papers.

For the record, Mariano Rajoy thinks Madrid should stay well clear of trying to bring Neymar to the Spanish capital. And that Instagram snap of the player laying in the back of a car, covered only by a towel was taken by Mario Testino – one of Lady Diana’s favourite photographers. It was ‘liked’ by well over 2 million fans, Neymar’s opponent on Wednesday, Marcelo among them.

For Real Madrid this is a strange sensation. They are not used to being left behind in the transfer market but they were twice last summer.

Neymar arrives in Madrid on Tuesday for Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Real Madrid

Neymar arrives in Madrid on Tuesday for Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Real Madrid

Madrid were schooled by PSG last summer, who signed Neymar and Kylian Mbappe (left)

Madrid were schooled by PSG last summer, who signed Neymar and Kylian Mbappe (left)

First when Neymar skipped out of Barcelona and into the arms of Qatar Sports Investments' Paris Saint-Germain. Then when it appeared that, while they would not sign Kylian Mbappé, he would at least be staying put – giving them the opportunity to buy him in 2018.

Instead they were then schooled by the Parisians again as PSG cut a deal with Monaco to take Mbappé on a too-good-to-be-true 'buy now, pay later' deal that helped them hurdle Financial Fair Play rules and give themselves a forward line that made Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo seem almost ordinary.

The reaction was a mixture of fury and impotence. Behind the scenes there were noises made in the direction of UEFA's Club Financial Control Panel urging them to kick PSG out of next season’s Champions League. But there was an acceptance too that they just could not compete with a club powered by an entire country.

Not everyone at Madrid wants Neymar. Some echo the sentiments of Prime Minister Rajoy, who feel that football’s playboy prince would be out of place at such a traditional club.

The dangerous Neymar, Mbappe and Edison Cavani now lead the line for the Ligue 1 leaders

The dangerous Neymar, Mbappe and Edison Cavani now lead the line for the Ligue 1 leaders

PSG have assembled a frontline that makes Madrid's famous 'BBC' trio seem almost ordinary

PSG have assembled a frontline that makes Madrid's famous 'BBC' trio seem almost ordinary

Neymar’s PSG team-mate Adrien Rabiot told L’Equipe this week: ‘Inevitably Neymar has privileges. It doesn’t bother me.’

While it’s fine for one player to be a law unto himself at a club that has never won the Champions League, would it work for him to behave that way at a club with 12 European Cups?

The likes of Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo would perhaps be less understanding than Rabiot. The latter might have left the club in 2019 when it seems Neymar is more likely to arrive – it’s been ruled out by Madrid this summer save an extraordinary Neymar-inspired implosion at PSG – but there are still the supporters and directors to consider.

Some would not accept that their new signing was bigger than the club, as currently seems the case in Paris. Neymar has 28 goals in 27 games this year. 

Adrien Rabiot told L’Equipe this week: ‘Inevitably Neymar has privileges. It doesn’t bother me.’

Adrien Rabiot told L’Equipe this week: ‘Inevitably Neymar has privileges. It doesn’t bother me.’

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy thinks Madrid should stay well clear of the forward

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy thinks Madrid should stay well clear of the forward

But at Madrid he would be following Ronaldo, a man who has managed a goal a game for five straight seasons and aside from a few tantrums, has turned up for every training session and given as much, usually more, than his team-mates.

So there is a divide in the Spanish capital. Perez stands on one side knowing that the capture of Neymar would be the Empire striking back – old money giving new money a clip around the ear and taking what is rightfully theirs: the signature of the most expensive player on the planet.

And then there are those who believe Madrid should steer clear of a player who thinks nothing of holding the society event of the year to celebrate his birthday in the middle of the season and who led Barcelona a merry dance in the summer and would have to do the same at PSG to wriggle his way out of that five-year contract.

At Madrid, Neymar would be following Cristiano Ronaldo, who gives as much as team-mates
Ronaldo looks relaxed as he trains ahead of the Champions League encounter on Wednesday

At Madrid, Neymar would be following Cristiano Ronaldo, who gives as much as team-mates

Just how hard Real Madrid push for Neymar over the next 18 months may well be determined by what happens at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.

If he delivers a brilliant, but dignified, display that has the home supporters wanting to give him the sort of ovation they once gave Ronaldinho, then there will be a groundswell of public opinion pushing Perez to go to whatever lengths possible to ensure that, as soon as is financially possible, Neymar wears the white shirt.

But if Neymar starts showboating with unnecessary rainbow kicks over Ramos’s head, the classic sit-down on the pitch with the branded boot of to break up play, and the occasional 'sshhh' gesture to the home supporters, then it might mark him out as a man who can never play at the Bernabeu.

Mbappé will be observed in similar fashion. The more damage this pair do to Real Madrid on Wednesday, and the more they dazzle respectfully, the more it lends itself to a scenario further down the line when one, or even both of them, one day stand alongside Real Madrid’s president uttering the famous words: ‘This is the biggest club in the world; this is were I always wanted to play.’

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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