Pep Guardiola has claimed that Neymar would have won the UEFA Champions League “two or three more times” had he stayed at FC Barcelona, where he won it once as part of a legendary front three that included Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.
Now Guardiola’s Manchester City faces him and a hungry Paris Saint-Germain that is looking for its first Champions League title.
The former Barcelona boss first crossed paths when his team played Santos at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2011.
“I remember against Santos, I showed some clips of Neymar. I told them this was the king of Santos and all the players were open mouthed, saying: ‘Oh my god, what a player.’”
“He’s a joy to watch. As a spectator, I enjoy it a lot every time. He has Brazil on his shoulders. The No 10 for Brazil, it’s not easy to wear. And I’m pretty sure if he’d stayed in Barcelona, Barcelona would’ve won two or three Champions Leagues more.
“I faced the Barcelona with Luis Enrique - Neymar, Messi, Luis Suárez - the best three unstoppable guys I’ve seen in my life. If he had stayed they would have achieved more in that situation, but he decided to go to Paris.”
Neymar moved for a world record fee of 222 million euros, against the wishes of the Catalans and Messi himself. Neymar has achieved domestic success in France and made the Champions League final last year, but rumors persist that he is unhappy in Paris and has tried several times to engineer a route back to Catalonia.
“I’d say it’s not a bad decision. It looks like a nice city, nice club. I’ve not been there but it looks like it from outside,” Guardiola said.
“What I want is for him to have stability, no injuries, play in a regular way, as the last few seasons he has not done it. But I’m a big admirer because he helps to make our football better and it’s a pleasure for me to play against them and him.”
PSG’s other star, Kylian Mbappé, whom many have tipped to inherit Messi’s title as the best player in the world, will also surely cause headaches for City.
“Always I believe that with the amount of quality that these players have, there are not defensive strategies to stop them,” Guardiola admitted.
“They are too good. I try to sleep well last night and I slept well when I was not thinking of them. That is the reality.
“They are incredibly top top players, that is why they play in that team with the quality they have. We are going to try to stop them and the way we are going to do that is to defend well altogether as a team and play good football as a team and try to score goals.
“Of course we have to adjust something when you play against those players a little bit but at the same time we will have no sense… we fought arriving in these stages for just the second time in our history these players for four or five years not to be who we are.
“We have to adjust something, like we did against Tottenham for example, like we will do against [Wilfried] Zaha against Palace.
“This is normal. But we will try to impose, to be what we have done in these five years together. I am sure we will try to be ourselves and get the result we need for the second leg.”