The ESPN FC crew gives their take on what PSG should do with their troubled superstar Neymar this summer, with rumours of Real Madrid knocking on the door.
Despite winning all they could domestically, Paris Saint Germain’s Champions League failure still denies them elite status in Europe.
PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain’s final home match of the season takes place at Parc des Princes on Saturday, and it promises to be an evening of firsts and lasts.
The likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will be celebrating their first domestic clean sweep in Parisian colours with the home supporters, while the French champions will also be debuting their new 2018-19 home kit. At the same time, the players, staff and fans will be saying goodbye to Thiago Motta, who will hang up his boots at the end of the season, and departing coach Unai Emery.
Also, nobody can be 100 percent sure that it will not be the last time that Neymar and the likes of Thomas Meunier, Layvin Kurzawa and some others grace the Parc des Princes pitch in rouge et bleu.
Considering that the Brazilian superstar is the most prominent face in PSG’s campaign to launch their new kit, it appears to be a strong signal — the strongest yet — that the 26-year-old is going nowhere.
However, at least until the players address the crowd after the match against Rennes this weekend, where Neymar will have the chance to kill the speculation and reassure everybody that he will remain in Paris next campaign, nothing can be taken for granted — even Saturday is not a guarantee that the fanciful Spanish rumours will stop.
Although the PSG ultras’ treatment of Neymar and Meunier, particularly the latter following the news that Dani Alves will miss the rest of this term and this summer’s World Cup through injury, is one of many storylines to keep an eye on, the day’s big event will be Motta’s farewell. The veteran Italian signed for the Ligue 1 giants from Inter Milan back in January of 2012 and has played more than 200 official matches, amassed 18 pieces of silverware and established himself as one of the most respected figures in the capital club’s dressing room.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit from Rennes in Le Championnat, Emery was effusive in his praise for Motta, who is set to take up a coaching role.
“Thiago has been an exceptional player,” said the Spaniard on Friday. “He is also a great guy, with an important footballing history that speaks for itself.
“Thiago has won 28 titles (overall), played in more than 200-and-something PSG matches and has given this team a clear identity — he has the necessary qualities to become a good coach.
Neymar’s reception in his return to Parc des Princes will dominate PSG’s Ligue 1 finale.
“What has the club prepared for Thiago? It is up to the club to say.”
PSG have readied a tribute to Motta for Saturday’s game, and the Brazil-born Italian will no doubt play a central role in celebrating this season’s trophy haul with the supporters.
Emery will also be bidding farewell to the team’s spiritual home and his workplace for the past two campaigns, but the former Sevilla boss had less to say about his own goodbye than Motta’s.
“My memories? I am very proud to have been here and to still be here, with everybody who works here,” Emery said. “This morning, we played a match between ourselves. I thank everybody. I want to finish my work with a smile.
“A word to the public? I will make the most of this moment — I hope it will be as natural as possible.”
Emery has confirmed his final Parc des Princes PSG squad without Alves, captain Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani (both muscle pains), as well as Neymar (continued post-surgery recovery). Rising American starlet Timothy Weah and fellow youth academy talent Kevin Rimane have made the cut.
For a match with very little riding on it for PSG, it promises to be eventful and Emery, as well as Motta, will get the send-offs that they deserve.
Perhaps most interesting, though, will be how the crowd receive Neymar upon his first appearance at Parc des Princes post-injury and Meunier, who is now in an interesting position regarding his future after Alves’ injury.
Win, lose or draw, the post-match talking points will have little to do with what happens during the 90 minutes of football on the pitch on Saturday.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.