Neymar’s first month as a Paris Saint-Germain player has gone about as well as everyone involved could have hoped. PSG has not lost or drawn a game since his arrival, and sits atop Ligue 1 with a perfect record. The Brazilian has five goals and five assists in six games. He’s formed an already prolific strike force with Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe.
In many ways, PSG is unfair. And – *whispers* – kind of boring.
So at the first hint of hardship, Neymar and Cavani decided to give us some drama. Egos took over. PSG is suddenly interesting, but the interest isn’t the type the club will crave.
Leading 1-0 through an own goal late in Sunday’s home match against Lyon, Mbappe won a penalty. Cavani grabbed the ball and took it to the penalty spot. Neymar accompanied him, and appeared to plead for an opportunity to take the penalty. Cavani refused.
Cavani has been PSG’s penalty-taker in the past, and was PSG’s penalty-taker five days earlier in the Champions League. He was not going to cede duties in one of the few moments of PSG’s Ligue 1 season that will actually matter. But he is not the lone, undisputed No. 1, and that’s why trouble arose.
“The penalties are to be struck by a few players, one is Cavani and the other is Neymar,” manager Unai Emery said after the 2-0 victory. “It takes a gentleman’s agreement on the ground to hit the penalties.”
Not only was there no agreement at the penalty spot; there was no letting the squabble simmer down and die. Cavani reportedly “stormed off” in frustration, leaving the stadium 20 minutes after the final whistle through a back entrance to avoid the media. It probably didn’t help that he missed the penalty after the Neymar spat.
And now we have Neymar playing the role of Drama Queen, apparently unfollowing Cavani on Instagram. It’s tough to find proof that Neymar did previously follow his new teammate, but it’s clear that he does not currently follow the Uruguayan. And he does follow other PSG players. So you can infer petty, veiled messages as you see fit.
The penalty wasn’t the only source of contention either. Earlier in the match, Dani Alves – Neymar’s mate, and one of the key influencers of his decision to join PSG – fought off Cavani’s advances to hand a free kick to his fellow Brazilian star. It was as if the two were second-graders playing keep-away from an enemy after school on a playground:
There are several fascinating dynamics here. Cavani is the lone attacking holdover from a 2016-17 PSG team widely considered a failure. He’s been deemed inadequate as the man, shunted to third fiddle by 400 million euros worth of megastars. On the other hand, he’s been deemed good enough to retain a place as one of the men.
But Neymar did not come to Paris to be merely one of the men. He wants to be the man, his spotlight unshared. That, and an exorbitant salary, are why he’s no longer in Barcelona. And free kick and penalty responsibilities are part of being the man.
It is tough to see Neymar giving up this fight. And it is tough to see PSG refusing to cater to its new superstar’s demands. Emery urged Neymar and Cavani to sort out their differences, but clarified: “If there is no agreement, I will decide.” And it’s not difficult to guess what his decision would be.
The question is whether Cavani will surrender in PSG’s first ego war of the Neymar era. In that regard, Sunday sent an ominous message.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.
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