Ligue 1

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Kaka urges Neymar to stay at PSG, lead Champions League push

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LONDON (AP) From lifting the World Cup to being named the world’s best player, Kaka ascended the highs Neymar is still chasing.

So after more tumult in Neymar’s career, Kaka has some advice for his fellow Brazilian:

  • Stay at Paris Saint-Germain to lead the pursuit of Champions League glory, and the world player of the year accolades will follow.
  • Keep on maturing and maybe the forward can win a World Cup to avoid being viewed as a failure for Brazil.

“Everybody wants to give some advice or an opinion about his life,” Kaka said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He’s just a 27-year-old guy, a lot of people of the same age make mistakes and improve with that.”

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But Kaka’s opinions and advice could be worth listening to, even for Neymar.

After all, Kaka won the game’s top individual honors in 2007 when he was named FIFA world player of the year and collected the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with AC Milan.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is reeling from being jeered on his return to the PSG side last weekend after sitting out the opening four league games of the season as he pushed for a move back to Barcelona during the summer transfer window. He won’t play in the Champions League until the third group-stage game because of a suspension.

“For him I think it’s good to stay there in PSG for now,” Kaka said at the FIFA20 video game launch. “I think it’s good for him, for the club. I think PSG is always trying to build a great team to win a Champions League, so he can be the leader for this project and in my opinion, it’s good. It will be a great year for him.”

When the FIFA player awards are handed out on Monday, though, Neymar will be far from the Milan ceremony. He has never finished higher than third in the vote for the Ballon D’Or, and still lives in the shadow of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“What I believe that lacks in Neymar to accomplish the world’s best player award is a big team accomplishment,” Kaka said in London. “When he achieves this big team accomplishment, being the leader of this accomplishment — and he has a big chance for it, I am sure of — Neymar will be chosen to be announced as the world’s best player.”

Neymar is starting a third season in Paris after Barcelona could not strike a deal to re-sign the player it sold two year ago for $246 million.

“Maybe at 27, I could have made the same mistakes,” Kaka said. “And so I think this is a great opportunity for him to improve himself and to be better and mature.”

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While Neymar has won the French league twice — the minimum expected for a team with lavish Qatari funding — he has not won a European title with the French capital club as he did with Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final.

Neymar’s only titles with Brazil so far are gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Confederations Cup on home soil in 2013. Neymar missed the 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals through injury and was part of the team knocked out the 2018 quarterfinals by Belgium. He also missed this summer’s Copa America, which Brazil won without him.

Kaka was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup, and Brazil hasn’t reached the final since then.

“Always for Brazil we have this pressure,” Kaka said. “Because we have won five World Cups, so everyone thinks about the World Cup. So, if you do a lot of good things for the national team but you don’t win a World Cup, maybe you fail.

“I don’t think it’s fair but it’s like this and this is the situation. And Neymar had an opportunity to play in two World Cups and didn’t win one with Brazil. So, our expectation with him is for him to be the guy for the next World Cup for us. I think it’s hard for him but I think every year he’s more mature, he understands his position in the national team better as well and it’s good.”

VIDEO: Neymar’s amazing bicycle kick goal on PSG return

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Neymar’s long-awaited return for Paris Saint-Germain didn’t disappoint.

The Brazilian superstar missed large spells of last season through injury and has been suspended at the start of this season after a tumultuous few months on and off the pitch as he almost left the French capital to return to Barcelona.

PSG are glad he didn’t, even if fans held up banners calling out the Brazilian star for wanting a summer transfer.

Neymar scored an absolutely sensational overhead kick in the 92nd minute to grab PSG a 1-0 win against Strasbourg on Saturday.

He can’t play in their first three games of the UEFA Champions group stage due to his criticism of officials during PSG’s defeat to Manchester United in the Round of 16 last season, and that is a huge shame.

Still, do yourself a favor and watch the video below on repeat.


Neymar set to make PSG return after being included in squad

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PARIS (AP) Neymar is set to make his Paris Saint-Germain return after being included in the squad for Saturday’s French league game at home to Strasbourg.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel said Friday that “he’s available for tomorrow and ready to play.”

Neymar has played for Brazil but not for PSG this season. The 27-year-old forward sat out four league games as he pushed for a move back to Barcelona during the summer transfer window.

PSG and Barcelona – which two years ago sold Neymar for a world record 222 million euros ($246 million) – could not reach an agreement over his transfer following lengthy talks, and Neymar is now starting his third season with the French champion.

“I’m counting on him,” Tuchel said. “It’s necessary that he comes back.”

It could be a tense atmosphere in some sections of the crowd at Parc des Princes on Saturday, however.

Neymar’s public desire to re-join his former club, along with an interview recounting how much he enjoyed playing in Barca’s 6-1 humiliation of PSG in the Champions League in 2017, led to hostile chanting against him by PSG’s ultras in a home game last month.

One banner held aloft during that game urged him to “Get Lost”.

Neymar may also not relish facing Strasbourg again. When the teams met in the French Cup in January, he limped off injured in a physical contest.

Meanwhile, new signing Mauro Icardi could make his debut after joining on a season’s loan from Serie A side Inter Milan, after a difficult last season with the Italian team. The problems began in January in a contract dispute, and he was then stripped of the captaincy.

Tuchel said the Argentina striker lacks match fitness and is not likely to start the game.

“Maybe we can use him tomorrow,” Tuchel said. “But I’m not sure he can play 90 minutes or even 60 minutes.”

PSG forwards Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe are still recovering from minor leg-muscle injuries.

Messi opens up on summer hopes of Barcelona landing Neymar

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On any given day, Lionel Messi holds most of the power at Barcelona.

A few months out from the possibility of negotiating a deal with any team in the world, that world’s best player darn nears holds all of it.

[ MORE: Kompany statue at MCFC ]

Messi, 32, has been out of the line up for two of three matches as Barca struggles early in La Liga’s season, and the absence of a key piece to fill his void is glaring after the club’s failed summer chase of Neymar.

Messi stopped short of expressing doubt about the team, saying they have a “spectacular squad and can achieve everything without him,” but it’s clear he truly wanted the Brazilian back in the Blaugranas and was closely following the proceedings.

From Sport:

“I know that I spoke with Ney and he told me how things were going. He was desperate to come back. I don’t know if the club really tried or not. From what I do know, Neymar was hoping it would happen. I also understand it’s very difficult to negotiate with PSG after all their previous back and forth issues with Barcelona. And it’s difficult because Neymar is one of the best around. Negotiations are never easy. I can’t offer an opinion because I don’t know everything. I know what was published and what they said.”

Barca is said to be preparing a lifetime contract for Messi, and did land Antoine Griezmann and a potential midfield star for a lifetime in Frenkie de Jong. This summer however also said Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid invest heavily in closin the gap to Barca.

Will Neymar spend the entire season at Paris Saint-Germain?

An Englishman in Bordeaux

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Very few have traveled the path from south London to Manchester, then Sunderland and then the Southwest of France. Then again, few people are Josh Maja.

While Jadon Sancho and Keiran Trippier may garner most of the media attention for English players plying their trade off the British Isle, one young Englishman is poised for a breakout year in Ligue 1. Maja, who joined Bordeaux during the January transfer window in 2019, is finally healthy after a knee injury cut short his first season in France, and he’s ready to make a big impact as part of a young squad.

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The 20-year-old striker has an impressive story, overcoming the odds to not just become a professional, but also to make it to the top division in France. Maja began his career playing for St. Andrews Youth Club, its headquarters just steps away from Westminster Abbey.

He also spent time as a youngster with Crystal Palace and then Fulham, but left the club after three-and-a-half years for personal reasons. He then returned to St. Andrews, all the while going for trials across the country, trying to latch on with a team. While training with Manchester City and featuring in a friendly match against Sunderland, his fortunes suddenly changed. Sunderland liked what it saw, brought him to the northeast of England, and gave him a chance.

After working his way up the ranks from the Under-18s through the Under-23s and reserves, it was then-Sunderland manager David Moyes who gave Maja his first team debut in 2016. After working on his game for another season, Maja had a breakout year with Sunderland down in League One at the start of the 2018-2019 season.

Maja scored in Sunderland’s season opener, a 2-1 win over Charlton, and then went on to score 15 league goals in the first five months of the season, scoring with both feet and his head, and making it look easy at times.

Amazingly, Maja wasn’t even supposed to start that first game of the season. Sunderland had just signed experienced forward Charlie Wyke. But an injury to Wyke in the buildup to the game put Maja in, and he didn’t look back.

“I probably say everything was clicking,” Maja said in an interview with Pro Soccer Talk. “(Wyke) got injured in training so I had to start that game, and then I scored in the first game. From there, my confidence just went up. I think just the momentum and the confidence I had going into games was pushing me on to be successful that season.”

Suddenly, there was interest from clubs in the Championship, Premier League, and abroad. For a player who had trained at Manchester City, Fulham, and Crystal Palace, this could have been a big moment for him to make a move to a bigger club. But Maja said he didn’t see it that way.

“I just felt it was a good time for me to go abroad,” Maja said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to take the step into the Premier League. I think signing for a PL team wouldn’t have been the right decision for my development.

“Obviously for me developing is playing games and I felt as if going abroad was going to enhance my development and get more game time. I think it was the right decision and I hope this season I can push on.”

By late January, it was done. Maja’s agent, Emeka Obasi helped Maja move from Sunderland to Ligue 1’s Bordeaux on an undisclosed fee, with Maja signing a four-and-a-half year contract. Obasi has been influential in seeing some of England’s top young talents move abroad, including Jadon Sancho’s move to Borussia Dortmund, Ademola Lookman’s move to RB Leipzig and Reiss Nelson’s loan to Hoffenheim last season.

“There was interest before the season, I knew there was a little bit there,” Maja said. “When I was scoring goals as the season was going on, the attention from them grew. My agent was the one, just because he’s got a good relationship with a lot of teams, he basically gave me confidence to listen to clubs abroad, and Bordeaux showed the biggest interest. That’s the main reason I took the opportunity to come here.”

After joining Bordeaux, Maja quickly integrated into the young squad and played in seven matches, starting three and scoring one goal. However, a torn meniscus in his left knee shut down the rest of his season for good. Instead of spending the time injured back home in London, Maja said he remained in Bordeaux to rehab, and he was ready to go at the start of the season for coach Paulo Sousa.

Following a preseason with Bordeaux, in which Maja participated in EA Sports League 1 games in Washington D.C., Maja seems primed for a big season in France. He’s come off the bench in each of the first three league matches of the season, scoring in Bordeaux’s 1-1 draw with Montpellier. Bordeaux’s young team looks to improve from a 14th-place finish last season, in which the club only earned 41 points.

“He’s very young like a lot of players on our team, but he has a lot of experience,” Maja’s Bordeaux teammate Aurelien Tchouameni said. “He played a lot of games in League One in England so he’s a very good player, a very good striker. I think he will help the team this season.”

At just 20, there’s still time for Maja to continue to improve, grow, and potentially return to England as a finished product.

“It’s a possibility,” Maja said about playing in the Premier League in the future. “I am focusing on my work in France with Bordeaux, maybe if the timing is right and the right club comes in, I’d love to take that opportunity. Right now I want to be the best I can be here.”