We're only two weeks into the Ligue 1 season and after a seemingly harmonious start, Paris Saint-Germain are facing some controversy and drama. "Penaltygate II" is in full swing after the scenes on Saturday evening against Montpellier between Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
Before the start of the season, PSG's new manager, Christophe Galtier, set the rule for penalties: France striker Mbappe is the No. 1 taker and Brazil forward Neymar the No. 2, which means that Neymar would take a spot kick if his teammate was not on the pitch anymore, or if the foul had been committed against him. That's certainly how Mbappe understood it, yet Neymar was not happy with the decision. He thought he should take priority, but ultimately, he accepted it during preseason.
Fast-forward to Saturday. Mbappe had already missed a penalty in the game -- given in the 21st minute for Jordan Ferri's handball in the box -- when PSG got a second one 20 minutes later for another handball incident. Neymar grabbed the ball to the surprise of his teammate, who then had a word with him, but it was clear that the Brazilian hardly listened.
Instead, Neymar dismissed him, kept the ball, took the penalty and scored. Mbappe wasn't happy and his face showed it. He stayed grumpy all game, despite scoring, and despite PSG putting on another great performance, winning 5-2.
Sources told ESPN that Mbappe didn't like the way Neymar took the ball immediately for the second penalty. It upset him, though it wasn't the only thing on his mind as some off-field problems in the days leading up to the game also had an impact on his mood going into the Montpellier game.
All in all, it was not a good evening for Mbappe, and he has been at the centre of the media storm since. On top of that, in the hours after the game, Neymar liked a few tweets from some fans that criticised the choice of Mbappe as the No. 1 penalty taker.
It's a familiar issue for PSG, especially since Neymar's arrival from Barcelona over five years ago. Back in the 2017-18 season, the original "Penaltygate" between Neymar and Edinson Cavani polluted the dressing room, a small issue that festered and was never settled by the club or by then-manager Unai Emery.
This time, it is different, and in many ways, it has to be. First, defender Sergio Ramos had a word with both players immediately after the game in the dressing room to try to diffuse the tension between the pair. Then on Sunday, Luis Campos had a word. The new sporting director showed his authority and reminded the two players of their duties and the necessity of respecting the rules set by the manager. "You are two great players, don't let things like this damage your season," he told them.
Campos also reminded Neymar about the risks of taking issues to social media instead of his team. The world's most expensive player had been unhappy with Mbappe's attitude during the game following the penalty drama, such as when he stopped running down the left wing on a PSG attack just before half-time because Vitinha didn't pass him the ball.
Campos has known Mbappe since he was 14, and they have a strong relationship, which enables him to be tough and direct with the forward. After the Montpellier game, if Galtier said that there was nothing wrong in his eyes with Neymar taking the second penalty because Mbappe had missed the first one, he knew that Campos would act as the bad cop here. And so it proved on Sunday.
So where does this leave the duo? Neymar and Mbappe were close when they both arrived at PSG in the summer of 2017. However, their rapport has cooled in the past couple of years, with the pair slowly drifting apart. They still respect each other, but there is clearly a problem of egos and status there. Sources have told ESPN that Mbappe got annoyed last season at the liberties Neymar took in terms of his discipline -- his timekeeping and training habits, for example -- while Neymar was equally surprised to hear about the power given to his teammate by the club as part of his seismic contract extension this summer. (It also wasn't overlooked that PSG and Neymar discussed him finding a new club this summer, which did prompt the Brazilian to return with a renewed focus for preseason.)
Both players are now claiming that the Montpellier incident is behind them and that it was not a big deal. Mbappe was clearly frustrated about off-field issues, while Neymar explained that he got confused and thought it was his turn to take the second penalty. However, in a dressing room full of egos, the two biggest ones have to find harmony if PSG are to have a successful season. Galtier and Campos will be key for this, as well as the willingness of both players to make it work.
Neymar has started the season on fire while Mbappe has some catching up to do after missing the French Super Cup and the first league game of the season. On Sunday at Lille, both will start, and every single one of their movements, reactions and words will be scrutinised.