“I hope to continue my work, winning championships with my club. The acknowledgement comes naturally for those who deserve it”
Neymar, PSG 2017
“I don’t even know who Joey Barton is”
also Neymar , Barcelona, 2013
“What? I thought you said Cannes?”
(possibly) also Neymar, SM Caen, 2026
Like most of us in FM I have experienced the highs (winning the UCL with Everton on a 10 team journeyman; winning the Libertadores with the Mexican Pumas before Liga MX left it; winning EVERYTHING with Newton Heath) and the lows (being sacked in Hong Kong after not winning a single game all season in FM14, being sacked after 6 games when trying to save Darlington in the last edition). I have also experienced the sheer joy of excellent signings (Kai Havertz I will love you forever for scoring the winner in the Champions League final against City) and desperate deadline day car crashes that lost me my job (yes Ross Barkley that’s you, and who the fuck gets injured for a year when they turn up on the first day of training at Morecambe?).
However I have never experienced the sheer joy that I experienced last night when this miracle happened, best shown in the tweets I sent at the time:
Yes, quite incredibly it happened, we only signed Goddamn bloody Neymar for our little SM Caen team! Let’s first take a look at how it happened ..
1: CHASING A SEXY BRAZILIAN
For those of you who still find this hard to believe (so do I) here’s how the whole drama played out and the pursuit methods I used – excuse me if you are already aware of such methods but if not you may find them useful yourselves when pursuing a top target:
- SPOTTING HIM and FIRST FEW APPROACHES: I noticed in February that his contract would be up in June then made the initial approach to be met by the usual brick wall about three times:
- FINAL APPROACH and some FM LUCK: tbh I’d given up hope until he came up on the release list so had another pop, when this happened with him not only interested but wanting just 20.5k a month rising to 34k with addons!
- THE CHINESE START TO HOVER: for the next weeks it got a little bit hairy as there was news that some Chinese teams had come in so with this in mind I started the pursuit proper by making him the top target ..
.. I also assigned him his own scout (though tbh I have no idea what he was scouting as he had already left PSG) and also asked my top Brazilian player, Iago Oliviera, to talk him up in the press ..
- THE WAITING CONTINUES: as the days ticked by nothing happened. We were now at the start of July so knowing my wage budget was around the 50k mark I went back in with a further three improved offers, offering the agent a little more and also upping his wage until eventually it tipped the balance and he signed six days later on the 11th July 🙂
2: REALITY CHECK: NEYMAR IN 2026
So let’s get one thing clear, I was under absolutely no illusions about what we were getting with the boy at this stage of his career when of course his form was on the decline (he’s only played 1 game for me for 20mins at this point):
For a better comparison here he is both in 2022 and now, in 2026, with as you would expect a big drop in his physicals, but check out those technicals and mentals! Despite the odd one going down such as dribbling (though it’s still 17) there has been hardly any change! In fact he’s even gone up for vision and decisions, bloody lovely.
That said, given that physical change and also his greater chance of injury his participation I think will need to be adjusted so that I don’t blow this chance and get him injured in the first few games out, which brings me on to how to use him in general and also the tactical changes that are required to get the best out of him.
3: TACTICAL ACCOMMODATION: ALL ROADS (SHOULD) LEAD TO NEYMAR
It almost goes without saying where his best position is, namely on the left wing as an IF or a IW on attack duties, which fitted our tactic well. That said, I wanted to delve a little deeper to see a) how he has been used in the past and b) is there a better role I could give him to reflect his reduced physicals and also the fact that I want him to be the hub of the team? For this I wanted to do a quick before and after check to see where he used to be and where he was at now.
a) THAT WAS THEN: 6-1 vs SM Caen, 18th May 2024
(2 goals and 1 assist)
For the first one I searched back in our schedule for the last time he really dominated a game against us which was back in May 2024 in the last game of our season when they smashed us 6-1, with him getting two goals and one assist, playing in that IF-A role:
After watching the highlights I could see that both goals were poacher tap-ins and the assist was from a ridiculously curled free kick delivery.
His heat and pass maps were also what you would expect, heavily focussed on the top left of the pitch but also with some on the right too ..
b) THIS IS NOW: 3-1 vs SM Caen, 23rd May 2026
(1 goal and PoM)
Believe it or not, we also had them the last game of this season, when he scored a screaming curled FK and finished on an 8.1 after only coming on on 61 mins. What is more he even got PoM!
When I delved deeper what was encouraging to me was that he was still covering the same space (NOTE it’s all less clear on the map because of it only being 30 mins). Unfortunately I can’t find the role he played or even the position but I’m guessing it was IF-A again.
Therefore I came up with these conclusions, which were pretty much what I had initially thought anyway:
- STILL GOOD FOR IF-A: Maybe not for long periods but the boy still has it
- KEEP AN EYE ON FITNESS AND INJURIES: I’m not a lover of (no)impact subs but I’m happy to start with him and sub him later if needs be
- SET HIM FOR ALL FKS: OBVIOUSLY!!!!!!
That said, as he needs to be the focus of our team and I want to channel the ball to him as much as possible, I’m thinking about setting him as an AP-A, as he will hopefully draw the ball more like so ..
As you can see, I’ve also emphasised play down his side plus the CWB and MEZ to accentuate it further, though this could well be overkill so we will have to suck it and see.
I also have these two variations too, for alternately DEF and ATT:
Of course though they all needed to be worked and tweaked. In addition, as they were basically a completely new tactic it was unclear how they would play, which was a chance I was willing to take.
So how did it work out? Here’s how the first three games went plus my observations:
GAME ONE 1 nil win vs Metz away (Hmmmmm ..)
Position played: AP-A and later IF-A
Min played: 90
Contributions: scored penalty
Summary: Poor performance by the whole team, possibly due to new tactic, he got around and contributed well but only on a par with everyone else
GAME TWO 1 nil loss vs Reims home (Oh dear ..)
Position played: AP-A and later AF-A
Min played: 90
Contributions: corners and FKs all found their mark again but we couldn’t convert
Summary: Poor performance by the whole team again so it is most definitely the tactic, first half he contributed really well but 2nd half he definitely waned and wasn’t the only one on a low score
Conclusion: tactic needs looking at and I need to look at the players around him and try him in 2nd halves.
GAME THREE 3-1 win vs Reims home (Get in!!)
Position played: AP-A
Min played: 45, second half sub, mildly injured the minute he came on
Contributions: Outstanding, 2 identical assists to change the game!
Summary: Made some tactical changes to make it more aggressive but also to reduce the crowding on his side to make him stay wider
Conclusion: EXACTLY what I wanted
4: OVERALL CONCLUSION: EARLY DAYS BUT ..
I have to say that after a stuttering start I’m very pleased with that third game. I think in general the tactical changes were way too much to all try at once as they affected the whole team’s performance.
What I wanted, namely for him to supply long balls from deep, I got. Now all I need to do is work on those set pieces and we could be looking very good indeed. On a final note, here’s how he has progressed in those three games where you can see the tactics change made a real difference in that last one:
So there you go, thanks for reading, let’s hope the bugger doesn’t get injured and I hope to see you again soon!
Best wishes, Daz
aka @fmheathen everywhere