“No personal pictures, no flash photography, no controversial questions,” an official reminded the media while clearing the corridor of people. Neymar was in another part of the hotel, awaiting the signal that all was well so that he could come down to his press conference.
Suddenly, a hush descended on the hall where the event was to take place. A couple of intrepid reporters nevertheless kept their cell phones at the ready, hoping to get a long-shot selfie as Neymar passed by them on the way to his seat. They were disappointed with the outcome of their efforts.
The Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain star is one of the most fiercely protected sportsmen on the planet. Every move of his is timed to perfection by the security team. Qatar-owned PSG may have paid a staggering $263mn to get him from Barcelona, but in purely sporting terms his value far exceeds that. Less than three months since he took the short flight from Barcelona to Paris to sign for the top French Club, he has become indispensable to their fortunes.
Inevitably, the first question sporting celebrities visiting Qatar face is about the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Like everybody else, Neymar, too, couldn’t help praise the country’s preparations and its facilities.
“I have full confidence in Qatar as the hosts of the World Cup in 2022,” said Neymar. “I am sure Qatar will host a perfect and wonderful World Cup.”
The Brazilian, who only prior visit to Qatar was six years ago, marvelled at all the development taking place in the build-up to the mega event in five years’ time.
“Some of the facilities I saw, like Aspire, could be the envy of any other country. I hope that other countries, too, develop such facilities for the benefit of young sportsmen,” he said.
Neymar also dwelt on some personal goals, saying winning the Champions League for PSG and the Ballon d’or award was topmost on his bucket list.
“The Champions League is a top priority for me, no question. If I am able to help PSG win the event, I’ll be able to carry that confidence to the World Cup in Russia,” added Neymar whose club will be clashing with Real Madrid in the tournament’s round of 16 in February.
He also dismissed reports that he was struggling to adjust in Paris.
“I have been warmly welcomed in Paris by everyone and I am more than happy with what I have achieved so far for the club. The fans and supporters of my team have always backed me.”
Neymar’s strike partner Edinson Cavani, who also spoke to the media, said he loves to visit Qatar as part of PSG’s winter tour every year.
“This country (Qatar) is not new for me. I’ve been always welcomed here. The atmosphere during our training is always festive, with many fans turning up,” said the Uruguayan.
Cavani is enjoying a stellar stint at PSG where he scored a goal against Caen in their Ligue 1 match on Wednesday, a few hours before taking a chartered flight to Qatar with the team.
It was his 155th goal in 224 games for PSG since he joined them in 2013, leaving him just one short of the club’s all-time record of 156 set by none other than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who now plays for Manchester United.
But the genial star dismissed the importance of personal milestones, saying it is the team performance that eventually counts.
“I am not a fan of such numbers. All that matters for me are good results for the team. My focus is on winning the French title as well as the Champions League.”
Meanwhile, PSG’s teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe said playing alongside Neymar and Cavani was a great learning experience for him.
“It’s amazing that I can learn from these stars at the start of my career,”said Mbappe, who also scored against Caen on Wednesday, his 19th birthday.
“I happily take whatever advice they give me. It would be great if I could win the Champions League with this great bunch of players.”
PSG stars Neymar (L) and Edinson Cavani react during their press conferences at the M?venpick Hotel Al Aziziyah Doha yesterday. PICTURES: Shemeer Rashid and AFP