The sky is grey, dead leaves line the sidewalks and passers-by are few and far between in the shopping street of Bougival. A very calm, even gloomy atmosphere, which contrasts with the fact that one of the most influential footballers on the planet settled in 2017 for 222 million euros, in this small town in the Yvelines, which has barely 10,000 inhabitants. Neymar lived for six years in a huge 780 m2, 14-room villa spread over 5 floors, not far from the city centre, until he left this summer to join the Al-Hilal club in Saudi Arabia.
The Brazilian's arrival in Paris resonated like a real earthquake in the world of football, mixing passion and ecstasy in the French capital. An event that obviously left its mark on some Bougivalais. "It was amazing to think that Neymar lived in our small town. He could have chosen to live in Paris, but for him to come here was really a surprise. No one expected it," says Christine, who has lived in Bougival for about twenty years. Inevitably, at the moment, the Brazilian's departure is being felt. Even if the latter did not impact the daily life of the people of Bougival, his presence still brought something. "It's a shame he's not here anymore, it was our 'attraction'. When we thought about the fact that he was there, it made us smile. Now it's over (smiles)," admits Philippe, slightly nostalgic for the presence of the former PSG star.
That was our "attraction"
Philippe, inhabitant of Bougival
Contrary to what he shows about his life on social networks, Neymar has always been discreet, even "too discreet" in Bougival. Some regret his lack of involvement in the town, such as Valérie, owner of the pizzeria "Le Basilic Rouge": "We've never seen him. It's a shame, we would have liked to see him participate in the life of the city. He could have gone to visit the Bougival football club, for example. The little ones would have been so happy to see him." The director of the brand then gave a little anecdote about the top scorer in the history of the Brazilian national team: "Before he left PSG, Neymar had one last night at home. That evening, we got a call from his butler to order fifteen pizzas. He then came for them, but without Neymar." The Brazilian, invisible in the streets of Bougival like a ghost, his entourage was less rare in the town. "His staff would come to lunch from time to time. They didn't ask themselves any questions. They were incognito here. It was a bit crowded for us," says the management of the bistronomic restaurant "Les Papilles".
Neymar Jr when he arrived at PSG in 2017. JB Autissier / JB Autissier / Panoramic
Beyond his status as an international celebrity, followed by hundreds of millions of people on social networks and around the world, like his relatives who did not hesitate to go to lunch in the city, Neymar wanted to keep a certain simplicity in his operation. A young rapper from Bougival, C Dimeh went to ring the bell once at the Brazilian's house, accompanied by his friends. The group obviously didn't expect any response, but they were very surprised when they heard the assistant of N.10 pick up the intercom. The latter obviously could not let them enter the majestic residence but offered to bring them balls or jerseys so that "Ney" could sign them "with pleasure". This idea came from the Brazilian himself. C Dimeh and his friends, not being football fans, never went back to ring the Brazilian's doorbell, but were touched by this gesture from the former Parisian: "He wasn't inaccessible, that's what was good. It's a shame he's not here anymore. There's not much here. It's very small and everyone knows each other. His presence has clearly put a light on the city, especially for us young people. It was like a little pride. Now it's back to the way it was before."
This feeling is also shared by seniors like Sandrine, in her fifties, who noticed a form of euphoria when the Brazilian arrived in the town. A period that marked her. "Some locals used to go in front of his house, PSG fans too and fans even came from Brazil to see him! It was crazy. We've never experienced anything like this before." Today, the craze has died down. "There's no longer that little bit of madness that there used to be, even if you didn't see it. There is clearly a before and after Neymar. We've lost our darling (smiles).»
Bougival didn't exist before Neymar
While living in Bougival, Neymar has also made friends in the surrounding area. A garage owner for several years in the town, Ricardo took care of the Brazilian star's many cars and became friends with her over time. The Franco-Portuguese was the first person 'Ney' could trust, outside of his entourage, when he arrived at PSG. "When he moved in, he had two car accidents. So he came to my garage with his butler to ask me to help him. Since I speak Portuguese, conversations were fluid between us. I was the first person he could confide in here." Whenever the Brazilian had questions about the city, he called on Ricardo. "He's someone who is very careful who he hangs out with outside of his inner circle, but once he trusts you, he's a very quiet person."
Neymar's whimsical and provocative side on the pitch contrasts with the discretion he showed at Bougival. "He didn't want to go into the city too much and take risks, he was afraid of riots or crowd gatherings, which is normal," says Ricardo. Also known as a big party animal, the Brazilian was as good as an image according to his friend: "He only did two or three parties in the villa. He never disturbed the neighbors. This is all false. He's a far cry from that party animal image." Beyond his status as a global star, Neymar has always shown signs of great sensitivity on the pitch. Ricardo remembers him as simple and generous. "To thank me, he invited me to his house several times to eat, with his friends. He also invited me to come and watch PSG matches at the Parc des Princes, each time in the VIP boxes. He's a very human person."
Beyond his very good understanding with Kylian Mbappé's former teammate, the Bougivalais highlights the spotlight that Neymar has been for the municipality. "Let it be said: Bougival did not exist before his arrival! He clearly put the city on the map of the country. No one had ever heard of Bougival before Neymar came to live here. This created a media craze around the town. He liked the city, he found it quiet and pleasant. It's a shame, it was a great story."