Richard Buxton: Neymar’s Real audition
PSG's Brazilian star must prove to Los Blancos that he is worth the trouble of trying to sign him
True royalty and a great pretender will face off at the Bernabeu tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid symbolise all that Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain yearn to be.
One continues to reign supreme at the highest level while the other desperately scrambles to be on that pedestal, trying in vain to realise that ambition with every possible trick.
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More than both clubs' seasons rest on this all-or-nothing Champions League tie.
For the world's most expensive footballer, a potential path to the top also hinges on a successful audition in the familiar surroundings of his former La Liga stomping ground.
A perennial focal point both for his side as well as in the headlines, Neymar has wanted for very little during his debut season with Les Parisiens. And therein lies the problem.
Unai Emery's side are coasting to the Ligue 1 title without even breaking into a sweat while the Brazil international has been autonomous, allowed to coast through without matching the hype which forecast a disturbance in the old order.
He has yet to take the Ballon d'Or from its existing two-horse race into a triple threat.
Ronaldo worked tirelessly, refining already impressive attributes to stay on a par with, and usurp, Lionel Messi as the world's greatest player.
That appeared too much like hard work for Neymar, who took the quick fix of stepping out of the Argentinian's shadow.
Opting for the easy way out is partially understandable, given how the 26-year-old's erstwhile teammate managed to steal the show even in his finest hour at the Nou Camp.
We will be playing against a fantastic team with excellent players... We have lots of experience and we must call upon that.Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo on Paris Saint-Germain
A jubilant Messi, surrounded by adoring fans in an almost biblical pose, became the enduring image of Barcelona's unprecedented comeback win against PSG in the Champions League's Round of 16 last season, rather than Neymar - the triumph's grand architect.
Ronaldo, too, was previously fixated by the undue attention given to his great rival, but instead rose above it to ultimately place himself in the spotlight.
Five years ago, Neymar had the luxury of turning down Real, having enjoyed a brief trial there as a teenager.
This time around, however, that choice is ultimately not his to make.
Joining Los Blancos would represent Barcelona's greatest betrayal since Luis Figo, but there remains no guarantees that the same predicament which prompted the forward's 222 million euros (S$361.1m) transfer last summer will not follow him to the Spanish capital also.
NOT SLOWING DOWN
Now 33, Ronaldo continues to show little signs of slowing down.
The Portugal captain has 23 goals from 28 outings, despite playing significantly fewer minutes this season than the last.
His penchant for the Champions League could see his latest tally in the competition hit double figures against PSG, having scored nine during the group stages.
Neymar, meanwhile, managed just six despite amassing 27 goals in 27 games overall.
To gain new-found 'Galactico' status, he has to do more than just displace the master of self-assuredness.
Petulance has also become a recurring theme in Neymar's debut season at the Parc des Princes, niggling opponents and teammates in equal measure.
Adding further incendiary elements to the Bernabeu's often powder-keg dressing room may temper even Real president Florentino Perez's obsession with the biggest names.
Neymar has to prove tomorrow that he is still worth that risk.