When Lucas Moura was officially announced as a Paris Saint-Germain player in January 2013, it was the culmination of a transfer saga with more twists and turns than the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Having been linked with Manchester United for much of the summer of 2012 and caused much excitement in England, he was poached by the newly-monied Parisians in what was widely reported as a “snub” to the Old Trafford club.
This was before PSG had assembled one of the most opulent and free-flowing teams in football history and, as such, was seen in England as something of a cop out by Moura. Rather than join Manchester United – the pinnacle of footballing greatness, or so our parochial Britishness told us – he had instead opted to cash in and take a healthy slice of the Qatari billions.
Despite the presence of Carlo Ancelotti dragging nonchalantly on the occasional cigarette, PSG didn’t have any ‘cool’ factor yet or much cultural and sporting cachet outside France.
Still, despite the sour grapes in England, Moura looked set to be the marquee signing which heralded the dawning of the megabucks era at the Parc des Princes. He was young, handsome, already a shining star for the Seleção and a prodigy with the ball at his feet.
That was before Neymar burst onto the European scene.
Santos to São Paulo
Born within seven months of each other, Moura made his competitive debut for Brazil the same year as Neymar despite being the younger of the two. The pair grew up not too far away from each other, with Moura a resident of inner-city São Paulo and Neymar spending his younger years in the nearby municipality of Mogi das Cruzes.
As it was, Neymar would move away to São Vicente and then Santos, where he would make a name for himself as the best young player in South America. Moura was not so far behind back then, having stayed and made waves at São Paulo FC.
São Paulo had an instrumental role in his eventual move to PSG, reportedly failing to agree a fee with Manchester United after opening talks with the Premier League champions-elect. It was arguably the club which most coveted PSG’s money, though the wages on offer to Moura in Paris no doubt helped to smooth over the deal.
In the three seasons since his club debut in 2010 Moura made 128 appearances for the Tricolor, scoring 33 goals in total and 16 in his final campaign with the club. In 2012, he had been part of the team which had won the two-legged final of the Copa Sudamericana, scoring a decisive opener in the second leg as São Paulo overcame Tigre of Argentina.
Controlling the ball on the edge of the box he had slotted home under Tigre goalkeeper Damian Albil, this before assisting the second goal of the game with a beautiful through ball off the outside of his boot.
The game was then abandoned at half-time following a brawl involving the police – a very Brazilian end to a football match – and São Paulo declared champions. That same year, Moura would make 12 senior appearances for the national team.
Already, however, Neymar was overshadowing Moura. The Santos forward would score 136 goals in five seasons with the Peixe, winning the Copa Libertadores – the Champions League to the Copa Sudamericana’s Europa – and three Campeonato Paulista titles. He would also win the Puskas Award after scoring a frankly unbelievable individual goal against Flamengo, which was beamed all around the world for fans to see.
So, when Neymar was unveiled at Barcelona only six months after Moura joined PSG, it was little surprise that he blew his compatriot’s profile out of the water. All the frantic excitement of Moura’s transfer saga dissipated in an instant, with a new South American wonderkid stealing the limelight almost instantly.
Neymar, too, was young, gifted and Brazilian, but rather than playing in a then-unheralded and unfashionable Ligue 1 he was given the opportunity to showcase his skills in La Liga.
Neymar certainly took his chance at Barcelona, winning the treble in his second season: the rest is history. Meanwhile, the judgement on Moura’s time at PSG has been far more mixed, even if his arrival coincided with their newfound dominance of the French league.
From the perspective of PSG fans, Moura has been something of a luxury player. While his dribbling and trickery out on the wing have often drawn gasps of wonder from the stands, those gasps often seem to fade away as supporters are left wondering what his latest feint or jink has brought to the team.
Though he has been a mainstay of the side, making 50 appearances or more in three of the last four seasons, he has been forced to play a supporting role over the years to the likes of Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, making fewer and fewer international cameos in the meantime.
He has struggled most noticeably in the Champions League – a tournament which Neymar has made his own – scoring only three times from 38 appearances in the competition.
Eventually, emboldened by an ever-more grotesque influx of cash, PSG decided that they could afford to go after the man himself and dare to dream of signing Neymar. Who knows, perhaps in their delusions of grandeur they convinced themselves that Neymar was the Brazilian wonderkid they had sought all along.
With the arrival of his fellow Brazilian for £198million last summer, Moura’s once-dazzling star waned further. Where once their careers ran parallel to each other, their lives in football have now overlapped and Moura has found himself usurped as PSG’s South American superstar.
Reunited with Manchester United?
This is not to say that Lucas Moura is not a supremely talented player, merely that he has had the misfortune to be born in the same age as his countryman. After all, Moura scored 18 goals in all competitions last season, which would have put him second only to former teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United.
Perhaps it’s little surprise, then, that the club he once flirted with are now reported to be back in for his signature. Moura would certainly give Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial some serious competition on the United wings, though whether he could displace potential new recruit Alexis Sanchez is another question entirely.
In the end, being usurped by his compatriot may be the thing which inspired Moura to kick on in his career. Will he continue to live in Neymar’s capering shadow and resign himself to lesser glory, or can he make a fresh mark on one of the biggest clubs in Europe?
Judging by his raw talent and potential, Moura could still go on to great things and salvage his flagging Brazil career before the World Cup.
He may not be Neymar but, then again, only one man is.