During Neymar’s first season at Catalan Club FC Barcelona in 2013, as the 21-year-old struggled to adapt to a new league, country, and language, he fell into Lionel Messi’s warm embrace.
“The best person in the world came to me,” Neymar Jr recalled years later, “held my hand and talked to me.” Neymar was so taken aback by Leo Messi’s soothing tone – pleading with the Brazilian to “be the same boy you were at Santos FC ” and “don’t be afraid of me or anyone else in the team” – that he burst into tears. “Suddenly I calmed down. Finally. It was the beginning of a warm friendship.”
The pair reunited at PSG in 2021 and, after a few fleeting flashes of brilliance, both left the French capital last summer. While Leo Messi turned down the riches offered by the Saudi Pro League (he already has a lucrative sponsorship deal with the tourism board there) to join Inter Miami, Neymar Jr couldn’t tear himself away from the golden handshake.
Leo Messi’s Miami travel to the home of Al Hilal, the Saudi giants who coughed up a staggering £86million for Neymar in August, for their pre-season tour on Monday, but there will be no reunion of firm friends on the pitch.
Why isn’t Neymar playing in Inter Miami vs Al Hilal?
Neymar Jr arrived at Al Hilal physically off the pace. The Brazilian sat out the final four months of the 2022/23 season with PSG after suffering another ankle injury that required surgery.
Al Hilal head coach Jorge Jesus questioned how the Brazilian FA could call up Neymar Jr for September’s internationals when he was not fit enough to make his debut in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, Neymar duly stood up for his country, breaking King Pele’s long-standing men’s national scoring record.
The Brazilian trickster only made only 5 appearances for Saudi Arab club Al Hilal before returning to international duty in October. Rather than records, Neymar Jr broke his knee.
In the first half of the 2-0 defeat to Uruguay, the Brazilian talisman tore the ACL and meniscus in his left knee. After so many fitness setbacks, Neymar Jr described this latest blow as the “worst” moment of his career.