Adam White

Nothing Special?

Adam White
Nothing Special?

This article also featured as part of the Ligue 1 review on GFFN and Guardian Sport.

“I couldn’t tell you a name of a single Marseille player.” Deliberately facetious or not, Dani Alves’ comments to Canal + before Sunday night’s Le Classique were the latest example of a seemingly growing arrogance amongst the PSG squad. The Parisians have long been a cliquey, ego-driven, even smug group but since the summer, their collective cockiness has begun to overflow and as France’s premier domestic fixture approached, the Paris half of Ligue 1’s most famous rivalry seemed non-pulsed. As Thomas Meunier put it, French football’s showpiece was “nothing special”.

After the arrival of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the belief that PSG would again disappear over the horizon with every domestic honour going has become difficult to disagree with. The only problem, is that Unai Emery’s players believe it too and in recent weeks this has noticeably affected displays and as a smirking Neymar trudged from the Vélodrome pitch, his side 2-1 down with the Marseille fans whistles and his red card behind him, it seemed as if that arrogance had finally taken over.

As the PSG players methodically cycled through their stretches, it was an easy going yet professional start to PSG’s Tuesday training session. But Neymar was laughing. The Brazilian record signing had started the session by trying to surreptitiously nutmeg his team-mates. Firstly failing on Marquinhos but succeeding in slipping the ball between a politely amused Thiago Silva’s legs, wildly celebrating his achievement before jokingly blocking the club captain’s warm-up runs. Neymar proceeded to half-heartedly jog along behind his colleagues, barely following the example of PSG coaches, doing everything at his own, slow pace.

Despite some effervescent early displays, in recent weeks Paris’ free flowing attacking play and intensity has waned and they have become disjointed. Their sheer weight of talent, coupled with Monaco’s current deficiencies means their record remains far from worrying in terms of their pursuit of the Ligue 1 title. However, the blunt 0-0 draw at Montpellier followed by a fortunate injury time win at Dijon before Edinson Cavani’s injury time free kick rescued a scarcely deserved point at the Vélodrome on Sunday night, has amounted to clear regression.

Neymar’s influence in particular has rapidly dissipated. Upon his arrival, although the footballing world put two and two together and got Ballon D’Or, Neymar insisted he simply wanted to ‘help the team’. This he has done with 10 goals in all competitions but he has yet to look as though he is truly part of the team or even want to be. Conversely, their season has become, as was perhaps inevitable, all about him and his selfish streak has started to drag his team down with him.

A puerile on-field spat with Edinson Cavani over penalties and free kicks during the win over Lyon last month reportedly had the Brazilian demanding that his South American counterpart was sold while Silva and Marquinhos had to intervene before punches were thrown between the two men in the dressing room aftermath. Cavani was then supposedly offered a huge bonus to relinquish his penalty duties before Neymar eventually apologised to the team for his childish behaviour. But nevertheless, setting a worrying precedent, it was Neymar who was anointed by Emery to take the next penalty.

His selfish, insolent attitude has since extended to encompass his general play too. Despite the ferocious atmosphere and intense first half at the Velodrome the €222m signing preceded to amble through the game, continually stopping to put his foot on the ball and robbing attacks of momentum, repeatedly looking to beat the OM defence on his own and generally only looking half interested, even as he equalised. The Brazilian’s indifference turned to petulance as Marseille took the lead for a second time in the 78th minute via a Florian Thauvin volley.

After being involved in a number of minor spats and niggly fouls throughout the game, a late challenge on Morgan Sanson led to a first booking. As the Brazilian skipped away from Lucas Ocampos minutes later, the Marseille winger repeatedly kicking out at PSG’s number 10 and eventually tripping him. Neymar reacted by squaring up to Ocampos and shoving his face in the direction on his opponent’s. Although this barely qualifies as a head-butt and Ocampos, of course, greatly accentuated any contact, a second yellow was warranted and duly arrived. A foolhardy and selfish act that should have cost his team the game.

Neymar’s individualistic nature is noticeably spreading, perhaps most worrying to Kylian Mbappé. Mbappé too started his PSG career in scintillating style but this consistency has also evaporated in recent weeks; regularly missing clear chances, frequently trying to take on too many defenders and making poor decisions.

This is arguably down to a youthful naivety, the 18 year old’s attitude being regularly praised previously, but Neymar is a clear influence on the young man as Marquinhos told AFP“Neymar knows how important he is for Kylian, as Messi was important for him, as Ronaldinho was important for Messi.” An odd comparison to make considering Pep Guardiola famously let Ronaldinho leave Barcelona so not to overly influence a fledgling Messi with his playboy lifestyle.

Mbappé’s fluctuating form aside, the arrogance of new boys Neymar and Alves has perpetuated a feeling of disrespect. Disrespect for Ligue 1, disrespect for Le Classique and even a disrespect for Paris Saint-Germain. PSG will still likely ease to the Ligue 1 title, they are far too good on an individual basis not to, Cavani’s superb injury time free kick the latest example of their quality, an ironic coincidence considering Neymar was not on the pitch to pull rank.

Nevertheless, this result and performance shows their new signings’ arrogance is starting to become toxic. Marseille were dogged, their manager Rudi Garcia was bold and they deserved at least a point but OM’s display was hardly as good as the score-line might suggest. Not for the first time, the Parisian egos took over.

Despite the behaviour of Neymar and Alves, Marquinhos said beforehand that “there is no difference between PSG vs Marseille and Barcelona vs Real Madrid” while after the game Mbappé admitted that PSG might not have taken the game a seriously as they should. These are promising signs. But nevertheless, if Emery is unable to assert his authority, the arrogance and self-centred attitude of a prominent few, Neymar reacting angrily after disagreeing with his coach’s instructions during Thursday training a further example, could yet destabilise what had, finally, promised to be a watershed season.

by Adam White 

Image: Zakarie Faibis