When a young Neymar burst onto the football scene with Santos, pundits around the world knew there was a special player in the offing. He was fast, technically gifted and prolific. His skillset once led legendary Pele to bizarrely note that Neymar was better than Messi while still at Santos.
While many in the upper echelons of football have viewed that comment from Pele as masked jealousy towards a player who could genuinely be better than him, those comments carried an underlying message. The message was simple; Neymar’s ability to beat an opponent was at par if not better than Messi’s. Teenage Neymar had so many tricks up his sleeve that opponents started targeting the Brazilian maliciously for his ‘showboating.’
The concept of showboating has never been so pronounced after Ronaldinho as it was when the then Santos teenager graced the football pitch. Rabonas, nutmegs, shoulder faints, elasticos, rainbow flicks et cetera, Neymar had them all. It was safe to say he was football’s biggest entertainer after Ronaldinho.
With his star raising, national team duty calling and the iconic number 10 shirt bestowed upon him. It was time for Neymar to make the next step in his football development, and that step was to head North West to Europe to continue his football education. He landed a dream move to Barcelona to line up next to his FIFA World Club final’s opponents.
The move brought so much optimism for Neymar’s Brazilian fraternity and a mouthwatering prospect for football lovers with the chance of watching Neymar line up next to Messi guaranteed as well as next to an all-star midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. All went well as Neymar accepted his position as Messi’s understudy and Luis Suarez was drafted in to make a deadly trio dubbed MSN. The trio brought the treble to the Camp Nou while affording Neymar his first opportunity to finish in the top three of the Ballon d’Or. For many in the Neymar camp, this signified the beginning of the journey to the Ballon D’or for Brazil’s poster boy.
Five years since winning the treble and landing a podium finish at football’s most prestigious awards, Neymar is further from the prize than initially anticipated. With the Brazilian only one birthday from his 30th, what would have gone wrong for the former Santos winger? Firstly, the Brazilian’s move from Barcelona was ill-advised. Analysts have attributed this move to monetary attractions and an innate urge to be the main man.
While money is a big factor in transfers these days, it does not always correspond with success either on an individual or team level. Most times today, a player has to choose one. For Neymar, the prospect of earning nearly triple the amount he was pocketing at Barcelona made him take the deal hoping that other marquee PSG signings, an incredible amount of luck and hard work would make him win the champions league and Ballon d’Or.
Neymar’s urge to be the main man made it difficult to remain at the Camp Nou where Messi reigned supreme. While Messi afforded the Brazilian privileges arguably Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn’t like taking numerous free kicks and penalties, Neymar felt this was not enough. He needed more freedom on the field, more set piece responsibilities and more say in the dressing room. His move to Paris Saint Germain afforded him all these but at the expense of the Ballon d’Or.
While at the French capital, Neymar did not take long before pissing off his teammates, in a penalty incident during a match, he took the ball away from Edinson Cavani who was the designated penalty taker for the club. His actions split the dressing room with his Brazilian compatriots siding with him and the others remaining sidelined. Unai Emery could not do much about his new world record signing as he watched on helplessly.
While the penalty incident was an isolated incident in Neymar’s numerous free kick goals and stunning performances, it laid down a bad precedent. His teammates and a big section of the fans found his attitude wanting and his behavior cocky. Reports of fall outs with his coaches also didn’t help his course.
Three seasons into his PSG career, with his enormous talent, one would have expected Neymar to be on his way to cult hero status with widespread adoration from the PSG supporters. On the contrary, he was being booed after admitting to having tried to engineer a move back to his old club Barcelona where he had also left a bittersweet feeling among the fans.
While his continued interest in rejoining Barcelona irked his new fans, Neymar’s attitude has been called to question on more occasions than one. Some of his opponents have not had particularly kind words for him when he has been on the losing end or unable to dribble past one. His petulance and arrogance has often got the better of him and he has often been seen giving foul gestures or ignoring an opponent’s hand. While this behavior may not be completely narcissist, his ego and self-esteem have been too big for his own good.
Neymar has also been criticized for failing to keep fit especially towards the business end of the season. The Brazilian has always been crocked at the turn of the year when his team needs him to steer them beyond the last 16 in Europe. Conspiracy theorists have argued that the timing of his injuries has been suspect, especially given his birthday and that of his sister’s lie in February. Sources close to the footballer’s family reveal that Neymar rarely misses the sister’s birthday for anything in their native country. This has been much easier to achieve in a club Neymar has shown up to primarily collect a hefty paycheck. Surprisingly, this season, the Brazilian has somehow managed to be out of the treatment table for long periods around February and PSG have been rewarded with a place in the quarter final of the champions league.
Ultimately, the jury will be out on Neymar after he hangs his boots. For now, however, at 28 years of age, with arguably more football ability than Cristiano and better tricks than Messi, many expected a Ballon D’Or for him before the age of 28. How a player who has more international goals (57) than Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Zico trailing only Pele and Ronaldo De Lima still hasn’t finished first in the Ballon d’Or still surprises many as they have all been the best in the world at some point. It is also generally agreed that for all of Kaka’s brilliance, he was not as talented as Neymar yet his name is safely etched in Ballon d’Or history.
Observers have noted, though controversially, that Neymar’s athleticism and agility is slowly waning. Some have also remarked that his weight gain and physical sharpness isn’t at optimum range. Whether his mooted move back to the Camp Nou materializes or not remains to be seen and so will his impact in his second stint.
But what remains fundamental is that for a player of his endowment, a Ballon d’Or miss would be catastrophic and not because of any else’s fault majorly.
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukeSparrow3