Rio de Janeiro — Brazilian superstar Neymar flew into Rio de Janeiro early on Thursday for an operation on his fractured foot that will rule him out for up to three months, casting a shadow over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Brazil’s World Cup preparations.
The world’s most expensive player, 26, arrived on an Air France flight from Paris and left in a wheelchair, a photo taken by a fellow passenger showed.
Dressed in a black hoodie, a black baseball cap and wearing sunglasses, the PSG star smiled and took selfies with passengers before leaving on a private jet to an undisclosed destination.
He will have surgery on Saturday, national team surgeon Rodrigo Lasmar said. But despite the hurry to put Neymar under the knife at a hospital in Belo Horizonte, he will not be back on the field soon.
"The [recovery] period will be around two and a half to three months," Lasmar said after arriving with the player on the same Air France plane.
The injury has not only ruled Neymar out of PSG’s do-or-die Champions League clash with Real Madrid but now threatens the much-fancied Brazilian national side’s build-up to the World Cup, starting on June 14.
On Tuesday the Brazilian’s father had said the player would be out for "at least six weeks".
Neymar suffered a hairline fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot as well as a twisted ankle late in PSG’s 3-0 win over Marseille in Ligue 1 on Sunday.
Speaking to ESPN in Brazil before PSG’s announcement, the player’s father, Neymar Senior, said: "PSG know that they will not be able to count on Neymar for the upcoming matches."
PSG coach Unai Emery had said earlier there remained a "small chance" of getting him back in time to face Real on March 6.
That chance has now gone.
PSG lost 3-1 in the first leg in Spain two weeks ago and are in danger of being knocked out of the competition in the last 16 for the second season running. Neymar appeared in tears as he was stretchered off the Parc des Princes on Sunday.
He has scored 28 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions for PSG since his world-record €222m move from Barcelona in August 2017.
Brazilians care little about the effect on PSG. Their attention is entirely trained on the World Cup, to take place in Russia, where they have ambitions of walking away with a sixth title.
"We just might have lost the World Cup last Sunday," one radio commentator in Brazil, Milton Neves of Bandnews FM, said on Wednesday.
Images of Sunday’s fateful duel between Neymar and Marseille player Bouna Sarr were being shown incessantly on TV, often in slow motion, before he was stretchered off.
Newspapers featured close-up illustrations detailing Neymar’s foot and ankle.
"I don’t think we can really talk about fears of him not being at the World Cup. But there is a noticeable haste to find a solution so that Neymar will have recovered in time," an ESPN Brasil sports commentator, Mauro Cezar Pereira, said.