Former Brazil star Ronaldo believes Neymar has “everything to be happy” at Paris Saint-Germain and told SFR Sport his countryman is close to winning the Ballon d’Or.
Since Neymar’s world-record €222 million transfer from Barcelona to PSG last summer, there have been reports in the French and Spanish media that have suggested the Brazil international has regretted the move.
“I haven’t really spoken about it with him, but I think he has everything here to be happy,” Ronaldo explained. “He’s in a marvellous city. He’s in a team that plays very well, who’ve had a good start to the season. Perhaps he’s under a lot of pressure, but he’s used to it. I think this project is incredible.
“He has everything to be happy and you can see that on the pitch. When he plays in a relaxed manner, happy, the results come. He pulls off great moves, scores beautiful goals. He gives joy to football.”
One of the reasons put forward for Neymar’s willingness to leave Barca was his desire to step out of the shadow of Lionel Messi and become the star of his club. The Brazilian has scored 18 league goals this season and has assisted on another 11.
That idea is fuelled by Neymar’s ambition to join Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the winner of the Ballon d’Or, having twice come third, including in 2017.
Ronaldo picked up the honour twice in his career — in 1997, while at Inter Milan, and 2002, when at Real Madrid — and is convinced Neymar will soon get his hands on football’s most coveted individual award.
“I think that, each time, he’s closer and closer to winning this individual prize,” explained the 41-year-old, whose 2002 triumph was driven by his success with Brazil at that year’s FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea. “Even if the criteria are variable and depend a lot on team performance. I’m sure he’s close to it; 2018 is an important year. There is the World Cup in Russia where a lot of things can be decided.”
“If you score a goal in the final, you’ll have a great chance of winning the trophy as best player, so I support him, and I think that sooner or later, he’ll win it. If it’s not this year, it’ll be next year, because he’s a player with a lot of potential. And the Brazilians are nostalgic about having one of their own as the best player in the world.”
Meanwhile, Luis Fernandez, the sporting director of the PSG youth academy, has no doubt in his mind that Neymar will remain at the club next season. When asked about reports linking Neymar with a return to play in Spain in the summer, Fernandez told Cadena Ser radio he doubted it.
“I would put my hand in the fire that Neymar will not leave,” Fernandez said. “If PSG has brought in Neymar and [Kylian] Mbappe it’s for them to win here and not leave. Neymar is eager to success here and bring titles. The club president [Nasser Al-Khelaifi] and the fans are with Neymar.”
The former PSG player and coach has brushed aside media reports that Neymar is unhappy in Paris and that he doesn’t get on well with his club teammates.
“He is very happy, very comfortable here with his teammates,” Fernandez said. “When you see him play, you don’t see what is being reported. On the contrary, Neymar is very happy. You can see that when he scores, gives assists.
“He is eager to succeed here. There were reports that he had a problem with [Edinson] Cavani but those are just stories and you can see on the pitch by how they play together [and] how they pass each other the ball that this is not true. All of his teammates and everyone knows that Neymar is the top player and that is how it is. I see Neymar being the one that guides the team, that triumphs here.”
Asked how much the Brazilian is worth, Fernandez said Neymar “has no price. Neymar is a star, he is talented and shows brilliance. He stands out and makes the difference. We are thrilled to have him.”
ESPN FC’s Adriana Garcia contributed to this report.
Ian is ESPN’s French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman