In March, Barcelona achieved one of the most remarkable comebacks in Champions League history as three goals in the final seven minutes secured a sensational 6-5 aggregate victory over Paris St-Germain.
The chief inspiration on that historic night, without any doubt, was Neymar, who capped a brilliant performance by scoring the first two of those late goals before assisting Sergi Roberto’s winner with a perfectly placed chipped cross.
The following day, the high emotions of the unforgettable occasion were encapsulated by the publication of a dramatic image which quickly went viral: Lionel Messi in a Messiah-like pose, standing on the advertising boards to celebrate the victory as awestruck fans hailed his glory.
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At that precise moment, Neymar decided enough was enough: he had just delivered the best performance of his career to inspire an amazing victory, and still everyone was talking about Messi.
That, at least, is an intriguing theory proposed by journalist Ramon Besa in Spanish newspaper El Pais, attempting to understand why Neymar is packing his bags from Barcelona for Paris.
Although Neymar and his entourage have not yet revealed their precise motives, the general belief is that he is no longer content to play second fiddle to Messi.
At the prime age of 25, with a potentially career-defining World Cup on the horizon, he has opted to join a club who will make him the centre of attention, both on and off the pitch.
And in doing so, he has left Barca on the brink of a full-blown crisis.
Long list of setbacks
Whatever the reasons for Neymar’s departure, it is merely the latest in a long line of serious setbacks to have hit the Catalan club in recent years.
Neymar was also at the centre of the biggest, with allegations of tax evasion during the Brazilian’s transfer from Santos eventually forcing the resignation of then president Sandro Rosell, who is now facing a long prison sentence in a separate money-laundering case.
After assuming office in 2014, Rosell’s long-time associate and successor Josep Maria Bartomeu soon saw the club handed a transfer ban from Fifa after breaking regulations on the signing of youth players from overseas.
That’s not all. Many fans believed that Barca’s ‘More Than A Club’ motto was sacrificed for commercial reasons in a recently expired shirt sponsorship with Qatar Airways, and there is ongoing concern that the supply of youth talent from the famed ‘La Masia’ academy system has dried up.
Another cause for complaint has been a loss of the club’s playing identity, with the departure of Xavi leading to the emphasis on midfield dominance being jettisoned for a more direct approach by manager Luis Enrique, who was consequently unpopular with many fans before his departure at the end of last season.
There has also been great sadness at the death of the club’s most influential figure, Johan Cruyff, who fell victim to cancer last year – as did ex-manager Tito Vilanova, Pep Guardiola’s former assistant, two years previously.
So it has been a rough ride for Barca fans, but throughout those travails they could always console themselves that their club remained untouchable in their position at the pinnacle of world football: scandals came and went, but Barca’s power and influence remained undimmed and unmatched.
Now, though, they have suffered the rare shock of losing their second most important player entirely against their will, and the club’s previously impregnable confidence has been shaken to the core.