Neymar left Barcelona to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow and has more chance of winning the Ballon d’Or at Paris Saint-Germain, former Barcelona teammate Jeremy Mathieu has told RMC.
Neymar made a surprise €222 million move from Barca to PSG this summer and there have been suggestions the Brazil star wanted the chance to establish himself as his club’s leading star.
While Messi has won the Ballon d’Or five times, Neymar’s best placing was third in the 2015 vote, and he did not even finish on the podium last season, being pushed down into fifth place by Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez as Cristiano Ronaldo won it.
Mathieu, who played alongside Neymar at the Camp Nou for three years before joining Sporting Lisbon this summer, said: “No one expected him to leave, but it’s a choice you have to respect.
“I think he left Barcelona to try to win the Ballon d’Or, because he was a little bit second to Leo Messi there. It was difficult for him there, and that’s why I think he left.
“I think he’ll have more chance of winning it in Paris than Barcelona. But it’ll be up to him to score goals, win trophies and try to help Paris win the Champions League.”
Neymar has made a positive start in Paris. He helped PSG to a crushing 5-0 defeat of Celtic in their opening Champions League match last week, while he has scored four goals and provided as many assists in his first five league games for his new club.
He did, however, cause a stir with his insistence on taking a late penalty against Lyon on Sunday only to be finally overruled by teammate Edinson Cavani.
Mathieu said the misunderstanding could have come about as Neymar still needs to adapt to club customs at PSG.
“Neymar wants to win above all,” he said. “In Barcelona, he took the penalties with Leo. Perhaps he thought it worked like that in Paris too. He’s a great player — it’s normal he wants to score lots of goals. Now, Cavani was there before him. In France, it works like that. It’s up to the two of them to talk about it.”
Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman