17 February ~ For Paris Saint-Germain, it is a most unwelcome case of déjà-vu. Their star player, Nenê, appears to have run out of steam at the season's half-way point. Just as he did last year. A €5.5 million (£4.6m) signing from Monaco last summer, Nenê took to life at the Parc des Princes as if his whole career had been building towards it. Having netted on his league debut against Saint-Etienne, he scored the only goal in the Europa League victory at Sevilla and claimed a magnificent late winner in the league game at Valenciennes. Nenê was then Marseille's chief tormentor in November, teeing up the winning goal for Guillaume Hoarau with a sublime scooped pass over the champions' defence that even the despondent OM fans would have admired.
His showboating was not to everyone's taste (Marseille's Souleymane Diawara received a two-match ban for stamping on his stomach and said watching the Brazilian "dive, dive and dive again" had been too much to bear). But Nenê was without doubt the hottest ticket in the French top flight and he signed off for the first half of the season with 16 goals to his name.
It was when he returned to action last month that things began to go south. In PSG's four league games since the turn of the year he has failed to score and looks to have lost his way, frequently crowded out by opponents and unable to find range with his finely calibrated left foot. Worryingly for his employers, he has been here before. Last season, with Monaco, he scored ten goals in the run-up to Christmas but just four afterwards.
The player himself, who inherited the no 10 shirt left vacant when Stéphane Sessegnon moved to Sunderland, attributes his current bluntness in front of goal to tighter marking. "More and more, the opposition do everything to neutralise me," he told L'Equipe earlier this week. "I try to get away from their very tight marking but it's not always easy. Sometimes I even have two players on me."
Suspicions abound, however, that Nenê is struggling to come to terms with the realisation that he may never pull on the famous yellow and green of his country. He had made no secret of his desperate hope to receive a call-up for Brazil's friendly against France last week. Seleção coach Mano Menezes, however, chose not to select him, explaining that, with the 2014 World Cup his prime objective, there would be little sense in awarding a first cap to a player who will turn 30 in July.
As Nenê broods, the Parc des Princes looks on with increasing concern. Paris have gone two games without a win or a goal and fallen seven points behind leaders Lille. If Nenê cannot shake himself out of his seasonal slumber in the weeks ahead, PSG's season may not recover. Tom Williams twitter.com/tomwfootball