He has dazzled Rio’s imposing Maracana and Barcelona’s storied Camp Nou, but it’s Guingamp’s humble 17,000-capacity Stade du Rouduorou, tucked away in sleepy Brittany, which on Sunday greets Neymar, the world’s most expensive footballer.
With the mundanity of transfer paperwork finally resolved, the 25-year-old Brazilian magician will line up for Paris Saint-Germain for the first time since his mind-boggling €222 million (Rs 1681 crore) move from Barcelona.
“He’s physically ready to play the whole ninety minutes,” PSG coach Unai Emery said.
“He’s been working well and we looked hard at tactics and free-kicks. We all want him in the starting eleven, he’s a player we need in the group.”
Even Guingamp coach Antoine Kombouaré, himself a former PSG boss, wants Neymar to play despite the potential for destruction at the feet of the Brazilian superstar.
“I want the fans to come Sunday to see Guingamp win, preferably against a side with Neymar in it.
“But the people here are not talking about Neymar. The people here support their team.”
1,200 km away, Barca start a new era
Around 1,200 km further south, Barcelona will start their first competitive match without Neymar by facing bitter rivals Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
Barca’s scattergun approach to finding a replacement for Neymar has so far been unsuccessful with bids for Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele of Borussia Dortmund rebuffed.
Gerard Deulofeu was handed Neymar’s role alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front in Monday’s 5-0 friendly win over Chapecoense on his return to the club after spells at Everton and AC Milan.
And the Spanish international took his chance with a goal and two assists in just 45 minutes on the field.