January 19, 2018

The PSG-Neymar show rolls on – but is it more celebrity than sport?


An hour into Paris Saint-Germain versus Dijon at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday there was a scramble in the Dijon penalty area, the thrilling spectacle of three world-class players tussling over the ball in the tightest of spaces.

Not that this was entirely straightforward. Some might point to the slight oddity that all three players were wearing PSG shirts. Ángel Di María, Edinson Cavani and Neymar tangling furiously with one another in their eagerness to pick up another loose ball and shoot. It is tempting at this point to describe the Dijon goal as “beleaguered”. But this would assume, incorrectly, it was ever actually leaguered in the first place.

PSG were 5-0 up, the white shirts of Dijon glimpsed only briefly, like Victorian garden ghosts, extras in someone else’s show. Half an hour later PSG were awarded a penalty to close the game out. The crowd had been lulled into an after-party vibe by then, drunk on its own gurgles of pleasure. Some chanted for “Eddie” to take the kick, a nod to a previous penalty shemozzle and to the fact Cavani was on the verge of breaking Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s PSG goal record.

There were even mischievous boos as Neymar stepped up instead, although these were transformed into cheers 10 times as loud as he tickled the ball into the corner of the net to make the final score 8-0.

The next day this would be reported as “crowd boo Neymar during wonder-show”. But these people weren’t really booing. They were amusing themselves, finding something to do at the end of a victory that left football’s most annihilating superstar vehicle 11 points clear at the top of the French league; and which provided the most extreme example to date of the disorienting ease with which Neymar is gliding his way through the domestic season.


Yes: I went to Paris and watched PSG win 8-0 against the 10th-placed team in the league. This is a shared problem now. Mismatches are common everywhere. Manchester City are 12 points clear in the Premier League. Barcelona may have lost their unbeaten record but they are still gambolling away with La Liga.

There is a question of degree, though, and this was an astonishing night as Dijon, who have yet to spend more than £2m on a player, performed with sub-zero intensity against PSG’s £450m attack. Shortly after kick-off Neymar was allowed to take the ball, stop for a bit, think about it and play a return pass, all the while adjusting his socks. By the end this was a spectacle so lacking in tension or uncertainty it seemed to stray beyond the definition of sport into something else: a choreographed performance, a display, 90 minutes of beaming celebrity triumphalism.

There was at least a star turn. Even on a room-temperature night the next-best player in the world, that delightful little cartoon skill-sprite in the No 10 shirt, was jaw-droppingly good. Neymar scored four times, set up two more and produced constant throwaway moments of sublime skill. The next day he would become only the eighth player to be awarded 10 out of 10 by L’Équipe in its famed player ratings, despite having spent parts of the night strolling around, choosing his moments to snap out of standby mode.

This is an oddly static kind of brilliance. Neymar may end up fulfilling his own much-trailed destiny by becoming the world’s best player. But he is already football’s most post-modern entity, a star player who seems to spend most of his time being a star player, being Neymar, willing figurehead for the Qatari global domination project, cloudless branding receptacle, playing out his own oddly airless domestic dominance.

The highlight of the game arrived midway through the second half. Neymar picked up the ball inside his own half, facing the crowd. In one movement he turned, wriggled clear and surged forward with that gliding style, like a pond-skater on ice, beating five Dijon players without breaking stride and easing the ball into the far corner to complete a mind-boggling hat-trick.

An hour into Paris Saint-Germain versus Dijon at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday there was a scramble in the Dijon penalty area, the thrilling spectacle of three world-class players tussling over the ball in the tightest of spaces.

Not that this was entirely straightforward. Some might point to the slight oddity that all three players were wearing PSG shirts. Ángel Di María, Edinson Cavani and Neymar tangling furiously with one another in their eagerness to pick up another loose ball and shoot. It is tempting at this point to describe the Dijon goal as “beleaguered”. But this would assume, incorrectly, it was ever actually leaguered in the first place.

PSG were 5-0 up, the white shirts of Dijon glimpsed only briefly, like Victorian garden ghosts, extras in someone else’s show. Half an hour later PSG were awarded a penalty to close the game out. The crowd had been lulled into an after-party vibe by then, drunk on its own gurgles of pleasure. Some chanted for “Eddie” to take the kick, a nod to a previous penalty shemozzle and to the fact Cavani was on the verge of breaking Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s PSG goal record.

There were even mischievous boos as Neymar stepped up instead, although these were transformed into cheers 10 times as loud as he tickled the ball into the corner of the net to make the final score 8-0.

The next day this would be reported as “crowd boo Neymar during wonder-show”. But these people weren’t really booing. They were amusing themselves, finding something to do at the end of a victory that left football’s most annihilating superstar vehicle 11 points clear at the top of the French league; and which provided the most extreme example to date of the disorienting ease with which Neymar is gliding his way through the domestic season.


Yes: I went to Paris and watched PSG win 8-0 against the 10th-placed team in the league. This is a shared problem now. Mismatches are common everywhere. Manchester City are 12 points clear in the Premier League. Barcelona may have lost their unbeaten record but they are still gambolling away with La Liga.

There is a question of degree, though, and this was an astonishing night as Dijon, who have yet to spend more than £2m on a player, performed with sub-zero intensity against PSG’s £450m attack. Shortly after kick-off Neymar was allowed to take the ball, stop for a bit, think about it and play a return pass, all the while adjusting his socks. By the end this was a spectacle so lacking in tension or uncertainty it seemed to stray beyond the definition of sport into something else: a choreographed performance, a display, 90 minutes of beaming celebrity triumphalism.

There was at least a star turn. Even on a room-temperature night the next-best player in the world, that delightful little cartoon skill-sprite in the No 10 shirt, was jaw-droppingly good. Neymar scored four times, set up two more and produced constant throwaway moments of sublime skill. The next day he would become only the eighth player to be awarded 10 out of 10 by L’Équipe in its famed player ratings, despite having spent parts of the night strolling around, choosing his moments to snap out of standby mode.

This is an oddly static kind of brilliance. Neymar may end up fulfilling his own much-trailed destiny by becoming the world’s best player. But he is already football’s most post-modern entity, a star player who seems to spend most of his time being a star player, being Neymar, willing figurehead for the Qatari global domination project, cloudless branding receptacle, playing out his own oddly airless domestic dominance.

The highlight of the game arrived midway through the second half. Neymar picked up the ball inside his own half, facing the crowd. In one movement he turned, wriggled clear and surged forward with that gliding style, like a pond-skater on ice, beating five Dijon players without breaking stride and easing the ball into the far corner to complete a mind-boggling hat-trick.