Neymar joins legends Ronaldinho and Rai to extend Paris love affair and become the 34th Brazil star to make PSG switch

Alex Rea 4/08/2017
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Few clubs have a soft spot for Brazilian players quite like Paris Saint-Germain and with Neymar signing for €222million from Barcelona, the forward will become the 34th Samba star to turn out for the Ligue 1 giants.

The 25-year-old was unveiled in the French capital today as he set out his ambition to make history with the Parisians.

There is every chance he could go on to become the most distinguished Brazilian to turn out for the club as he extends a long Paris romance.

We take a look back at the five most prominent Selecao stars to play for PSG.

RAI

Years: 1993-98

Appearances: 217

The younger brother of the legendary Socrates, Rai was a talismanic figure for PSG in the 90s.

Signed from Sao Paulo in 1993, the attacking midfielder arrived having been named the South American Player of the Year with a reputation as a creative genius.

He oozed class and plundered goals during his five seasons in France and remained loyal despite opportunities to join some of Europe’s bigger sides.

On the back of his goalscoring form in Ligue 1 and after guiding PSG to the Cup Winners’ Cup, he earned a World Cup winner’s medal with Brazil before leaving in 1998 to rejoin Sao Paulo.

Rai

LEONARDO

Years: 1996-97

Appearances: 46

The versatile left-sided defender/midfielder returned to Europe in 1996 after spells in Brazil and Japan to sign for PSG and his single year with the club proved a success.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of his time in Paris came in the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup when he slotted home a rebound from close range to open the scoring in the first-leg tie with Liverpool.

PSG went on to knock the Reds out and triumph in the final against Rapid Wien.

He left for AC Milan at the conclusion of the 1997 season but his association with the club didn’t end there as he returned as general manager to kick off PSG’s domestic domination following Qatar Investment Authority’s takeover in 2011.

Leonardo

RONALDINHO

Years: 2001-2003

Appearances: 86

Arguably the greatest Brazilian to have played for PSG, Ronaldinho would twice be named Player of the Year while playing for Barcelona but he arrived in the European consciousnesses after his two-year stint in Paris.

Having displayed sufficient promise to break into Brazil’s XI, Ronaldinho had caught the eye of Europe’s elite but he chose instead to make the surprise switch from Gremio to PSG in a low-key step up.

With the 2002 World Cup on the horizon, the attacker did not want to be languishing in the reserves of a top-level side and so PSG prospered – eventually.

Indeed, Ronaldinho got off to a slow start with the Parisians, mainly operating from the bench but with Nicolas Anelka jettisoned to Liverpool the following January, he thrived leading their attack.

His form in France provided the platform for a stunning World Cup as he guided Brazil to the Jules Rimet Trophy in 2002 and after 86 appearances and 25 goals, he departed for Barcelona where he would evolve into one of the world’s premier playmakers.

MAXWELL

Years: 2012-2017

Appearances: 202

Since the Qatari takeover in 2011, PSG have signed eight Brazilians but the first to arrive was dependable defender Maxwell.

Almost a complete antithesis to the flamboyance of other samba stars, Maxwell was discrete but all class.

Like Neymar, Maxwell was signed from Barcelona, though the Ligue 1 giants only parted with €3.5million for his services, as he replaced Siaka Tiene at left-back who had departed for Montpellier.

His darting runs and commitment to the cause earned him the affections of the PSG faithful as he became one of the most decorated players in club-football history having amassed 36 trophies during his distinguished career – 14 in France.

He retired at the conclusion of last season but his influence did not end there as he is said to have played a role in luring compatriots Neymar and Dani Alves to the club this summer.

Maxwell

DAVID LUIZ

Years: 2014-16

Appearances: 89

Bought from Chelsea for a then world-record fee for a defender of £50million, David Luiz formed a partnership with compatriot Thiago Silva in the heart of PSG’s defence.

There was always a sense, though, that Luiz only retained his place in the side because of Silva’s wishes to play alongside him rather than because of his performances with the talented Marquinhos considered the better option.

While the former Benfica man was a popular figure, both with players and the fans, his disjointed displays were never of the level required for a defender costing £50million.

With Antonio Conte’s desire to operate with a three-man defence, Luiz was brought back to Stamford Bridge in a £32million deal and although the move was largely lamented, he flourished as Chelsea stormed to the league title last term.

David Luiz

CURRENT BRAZILIAN CONTINGENT

Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, Neymar, Lucas Moura, Marquinhos

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Ousmane Dembele and Eden Hazard head the list of direct Barcelona replacements for Neymar

Andy West 4/08/2017
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Neymar has completed his box office €222million move to Paris Saint-Germain and it means Barcelona are left with money to burn.

We look at the five signings boss Ernesto Valverde could make to replace Neymar.

OUSMANE DEMBELE

Although he is perhaps the least celebrated of Neymar’s potential replacements, the 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund star may well be the best long-term option.

Dembele’s ability to beat defenders with either pace or trickery allow him to add dangerous penetration to any attack, and the prospect of him racing onto Lionel Messi through balls is extremely enticing.

But Dembele is also raw and inexperienced, having played just two years at senior level, and it is unrealistic to expect him to immediately start playing 50 games per campaign for Barca – especially as he’d have to switch positions from the right flank to the left.

If they are prepared to nurture his undoubted talent, however, the Catalan side could land themselves with an unpolished gem – and the kind of player new boss Ernesto Valverde has succeeded in developing well in the past.

And although Dortmund would be reluctant to lose a player they only signed a year ago, they would not be able to withstand a serious offer from Barca if the Camp Nou club pursue him vigorously.

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN

With the greatest respect to Atletico Madrid, there has always been a sense that Griezmann is too good a player to stay with his current club for too much longer.

Indeed, Griezmann came extremely close to joining Manchester United earlier this summer before the move was scotched by Atletico’s transfer ban from FIFA being upheld.

Griezmann declined the opportunity to join United because he didn’t want to leave Atletico at a time when they’d be unable to sign a replacement, and there’s little reason to think he’d backtrack on that decision so quickly.

So, however perfect Griezmann might be for Barca considering his age, experience, versatile skill set and familiarity with La Liga, it almost certainly won’t happen.

Antoine Griezmann

PAULO DYBALA

The Juventus star has been long linked with Camp Nou, with stories of their supposed interest predictably intensifying after he scored two brilliant goals to mastermind Juve’s Champions League quarter-final victory over Barca in the spring.

There’s little doubt that Barca have closely tracked the progress of the 23-year-old for several months, and a move this summer would be no surprise.

However, for all the abilities possessed by Dybala, playing on the left flank is not one – or not one that we’ve seen so far.

He is, therefore, more likely to be a player Barca sign in addition to a Neymar replacement, rather than being the man they seek to fill the new vacancy on the left wing.

Considering their similar styles, there must also be a question mark over how Dybala and Lionel Messi can function together in the same team, something which has rarely looked like working well at international level.

Paulo Dybala

KYLIAN MBAPPE

Without doubt the biggest breakthrough talent in world football last season was the Monaco starlet, so it’s inevitable that Barca are reportedly ready to splurge a large chunk of their new transfer coffers on him.

Furthermore, although he’s more commonly been fielded as a central striker, Mbappe’s movement and mobility should allow him to adapt pretty easily to the left-sided role in a front three.

But there’s a big problem in this potential move, and it’s called Real Madrid.

Barca’s eternal rivals – and specifically the forward’s compatriot manager Zinedine Zidane – have been tracking Mbappe for years, and Los Blancos are surely well ahead in the race for his signature.

Madrid would not have sold Alvaro Morata if they didn’t believe that Mbappe was within reach, and losing out to Barcelona for his services seems almost implausible.

EDEN HAZARD

Over the last few years, alongside Neymar the best left-sided attackers in world football has probably been Chelsea’s electric but occasionally enigmatic Belgian.

And in terms of a like for like replacement who could immediately step in and fill the same role, he’s probably the best option Barca could hope for.

Hazard has also been regularly linked with a move to Spain – albeit to Real Madrid, not Barcelona – and his relationship with Antonio Conte has not always been plain sailing.

Chelsea will be reluctant to sell and the London club’s financial might puts them in a position of strength but, as we’ve seen with Neymar, players now possess an immense amount of power.

So if Barca are prepared to break the bank, landing Hazard is a distinct possibility.

Eden Hazard

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duFC High Performance Centre starlets head to Spain to take on the best of La Liga

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The finest football talents in the UAE touched down in Malaga Wednesday seeking to make an impact against some of the best LaLiga academies around.

The du LaLiga High Performance Centre is a ground-breaking project that has seen Spain’s top tier set up a base in the Emirates to help the finest youngsters in the country achieve their potential with year-round training.

And months of hard work will be put to the test over the next 18 days, as the centre’s Under-18 and Under-16 squads – which were whittled down from 7,000 hopefuls earlier in the year – aim to catch the eye of Spanish scouts.

Several players have received interest from La Liga academies already and HPC head coach Rafa Gil has backed his charges to flourish under the spotlight.

“The annual du LaLiga HPC trip to Spain is an amazing opportunity for our athletes to showcase their talents and be discovered by La Liga scouts,” said Gil, who has coached Malaga CF.

“We have worked intensively with our team over the past year and believe our U18 and U16 teams are developed to a stage where they will attract the attention of Spanish clubs. We are confident that we have amazing talents whom we have discovered in the UAE and this is their time to shine and flourish.”

Sport360° will be covering the first week of the trip, and below are just some of the young hopefuls to keep an eye out for…

Mohammed Rajeh Al Qasem

Nationality: Jordanian
Position: Striker
Age: 17

Rajeh Qasem (Read-Only)

Mohammed Rajeh Al Qasem has been a poster child of what the UAE Streets Cup stands for. Having discovered his love of football at the age of five, he joined the duFC platform as part of the Streets Cup team ‘El Classico’, who were a team with no prior formal training.

This talent took them to the finals where they won and became 2015/16 champions. During the course of the tournament Rajeh was selected by LaLiga scouts and made it through to join the du LaLiga HPC.

The coaching has seen him go from strength to strength, moulding his natural talent into a formidable striker with a strong promise of going all the way.

Mohammad Bouherrafa

Nationality: French
Position: Midfield
Age: 17

Mohammad Bouherrafa has been a stand out player since he was first scouted by Gil in Season 1 of the duFC.

He has stood out for his well-roundedness on the pitch and ability to hold a team together with constant communication; maintain focus when they are winning and raising morale when the team concedes a goal.

He is a natural-born leader and stepped into the role of team captain with ease and with full support of the team. He has an innate ability to motivate the team and direct the play on the pitch.

Mahan Javaheri

Nationality: Iranian
Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 17

Mahan Javaheri is a long-standing success story of the UAE Schools Cup, making his debut in 2013/2014 as the goalkeeper of the International School of Choueifat Dubai,
and then in 2015/2016 when the scouting arm of the tournament was installed.

His team clinched victory that year and he was promptly drafted into du LaLiga HPC.

His skills have since blossomed and he has become a symbol of determination and commitment for the whole team.

His life is about football and his relentless drive makes him a force to be reckoned with in the goal.

Ahmad Salam

Nationality: Jordanian
Position: Winger
Age: 17

Ahmad Salam joined the HPC after his team (EFF) made a dominant first appearance in the duFC’s first season.

He immediately caught the eyes of the La Liga scouts for his ability to judge the movements of his team-mates, receive the ball and power ahead of the opponents to both set up and score goals, making him a vital player.

Like many other players in the squad, Salam is excelling in his studies – but extraordinarily he is also a year ahead of his peers at school, whilst travelling from Abu Dhabi four times per week to train at the du LaLiga HPC in Dubai.

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