With Neymar turning 26 on Monday and Cristiano Ronaldo also celebrating his 33rd birthday on February 5, we look at how the two birthday boys, as well as Lionel Messi, compare when they were all 26 years of age.
Here, we analyse three key areas specifically:
BALLON D’OR TITLES
Neymar is still waiting for the elusive prize after finishing third last year behind second-placed Messi and Ronaldo.
Barcelona legend Messi won his first Ballon d’Or crown at the age of just 22 in 2009 following a stellar 12 months which saw the Argentine maestro inspire Barcelona to a La Liga and Copa del Rey domestic double – and then of course he was instrumental during Blaugrana’s 2-0 Champions League victory over Man United in Rome.
Staggeringly, Messi netted his fourth world crown at the age of 25 in 2012 after a record-breaking year in front of goal which saw him score 91 times over the calendar period, breaking Gerd Muller’s record of 85 in the process, and helping the Spanish giants to the La Liga title.
Cristiano claimed his first Ballon d’Or at the age of 23 in 2008. The accolade came after a blistering 2007-08 season with Manchester United, which ended in him winning the Champions League in Moscow. Ronaldo’s stunning form in the first half of his last campaign at Old Trafford, culminating in another Premier League title (2008-09), also played a part. His move to Real Madrid then came that summer.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINS
While Messi was still very much coming of age as an 18-year-old during the 2005-06 season, technically, that’s when his first European Cup crown arrived, after Barcelona beat Arsenal 2-1 in Paris. He added another two European titles (09 and 11) before his 26th birthday – adding to the six La Liga trophies he had won.
Ronaldo obviously won the Champions League as a 23-year-old with United and Barcelona’s Neymar matched that feat at the same age in 2015, scoring in a 3-1 win over Juventus in the final.
While neither of the trio have a World Cup to their name, Neymar edges the goalscoring stakes when it comes to international football. The attacker has scored 53 strikes in 83 caps to date.
At the same age, Ronaldo had turned out 80 times for Portugal and netted 25 goals while Messi, in the exact same number of games just before he turned 26, had registered 35 goals.
Interestingly, since then, Ronaldo has gone onto score 44 more goals and Messi’s added another 54.
Neymar’s Confederations Cup win in 2013 is his biggest tangible trophy for Brazil while injury cruelly curtailed his brilliant 2014 World Cup campaign on home soil.
Argentine Messi (aged 20) won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games – one of which he says is his best in his trophy cabinet – while Ronaldo was a runner-up for Portugal in Euro 2004 as 19-year-old.
Big trophies on the international stage have yet to come for maestro Messi while Ronaldo had to wait a few more years to get his hands on Euro 2016.
PSG star Neymar is certainly in pole position in this category to usurp them both.
Manchester United and the footballing world will stand in solidarity on the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster this Tuesday.
On February 6, 1958, United’s plane crashed on a flight back from a European Cup tie away to Red Star Belgrade, a tragedy which resulted in 23 people losing their lives.
Sir Bobby Charlton and Harry Gregg survived and will be at Old Trafford on Tuesday afternoon for a ceremony marking 60 years since the disaster, alongside the families of current and former players, staff, media and friends.
United manager Jose Mourinho and captain Michael Carrick will lay wreaths on behalf of the club and players, with a minute’s silence to be held at 3.04pm – the time of the fatal crash in Munich.
The first team and under-23s will be at an event that will include readings from former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, club director Michael Edelson and the club’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
United fans have organised a memorial ceremony in Germany at the monument marking the disaster in Munich, where club ambassador Denis Irwin and senior executives will join around 2,000 United fans.
Our Munich Air Disaster commemorations continue on Tuesday 6 February with a service inside Old Trafford. All are welcome to attend. pic.twitter.com/P69EQC1GFK
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 4, 2018
A few surviving doctors and nurses involved in the treatment of manager Sir Matt Busby and his team will be in attendance, with the fans donating art to the hospital in an expression of gratitude for the treatment they provided.
The mayor of Munich and senior figures from the city’s Bundesliga side Bayern will also be present, while another event is also being held in Serbia.
Ahead of United’s under-19s playing FK Brodarac in the UEFA Youth League on Wednesday, academy boss Nicky Butt and his squad will meet with the British Embassy in Belgrade along with officials from Red Star.
Vladica Popovic played for Red Star against United in 1958 and will be at the reception hosted in the same hotel that Busby and his side used 60 years ago.
The under-19s and club officials will lay a wreath and observe a minute’s silence at 3.04pm at Partizan Stadium – the venue for the European Cup quarter-final between the clubs.
The commemorative events began at Old Trafford on Saturday as Huddersfield arrived in the Premier League.
Hundreds of fans congregated under the Munich plaque to pay their respects outside the ground, where there were readings, prayers and a rendition of the Flowers of Manchester.
When inside Old Trafford, fans received a commemorative pack containing a book telling the story of the disaster along with a complimentary programme and letter from Woodward.
We will never forget. pic.twitter.com/Bjo3QrvnmS
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 3, 2018
“(Munich) is forever woven into the fabric of this club’s history,” Woodward wrote in a letter to fans, who impeccably observed a minute’s silence ahead of a 2-0 win that Juan Mata dedicated to the victims of the Munich disaster and their families.
“Obviously it was a special game, a very sad memory,” he told MUTV.
“It was a thing that changed the history of the club and the club showed the passion and the energy that we all have in Manchester United.
“So, we pay respect to the victims and their families, and they will always be in our memories.
“It was a game to win for them and we did it.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Every weekend we scout one player under the age of 23 from around Europe and examine their performance to bring you an in-depth report.
This time, we head to Serie A to check out Turkish baby-faced assassin, Roma winger Cengiz Under as he sealed all three points with a winner against Verona.
Goals – 1
Assists – 0
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 1
Touches – 56
Passes – 34
Key passes – 3
Dribbles – 3
Crosses – 3
Roma have found a solution for their right-wing problems. With Stephan El Shaarawy struggling to make an impact in the position, Under is a candidate to take on the role full time.
Having switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1, Under built on the hardworking performances of his previous three starts and was a real menace on the counter.
His ability to cut inside sharper than drivers cheating traffic, had defenders second guessing and his ability to find Edin Dzeko on at least three occasions should have bore fruit with an assist to add to a stunning goal.
Under thundered his first strike for Giallorossi in the opening seconds – a microcosm for what he can offer as he cut inside onto his left, showed great feet before producing an end product.
A hardworking display hallmarked by a super strike.
Delivery – Proficient with either foot, the Turkish winger displayed a wide range of crosses. He picked out target man Dzeko with flat and floated accurate crosses, even intelligently using his head to find the striker in one instance.
Decision making – Under’s MO is obvious but effective. He wants to drive at defenders one v one, cut inside onto his left foot and swing in threatening crosses. His decision making, determination and timing was deeply impressive as he balanced between going direct and knowing when to release the ball.
One dimensional – While his strength is to cut inside onto that left foot, Under needs to add more weapons to his armoury. At times, he can be a little predictable once he shifts the ball onto his favoured foot so adding more variety will be key going forward.
1st min GOAL: Under shows great strength to snatch the ball off Rolando Aarons on the right side. He mishits the cross but Lorenzo Pellegrini picks up the clearance, feeds Under on the run and he shimmies the ball onto his left before letting fly with a bullet strike into the bottom corner.
6th min CROSS: Brilliant pick out from Under who does well to redirect a header from the right into the path of Edin Dzeko. The striker has space to manoeuvre the shot but blazes his effort over the bar. Should have done better.
15th min CROSS: Under sprints to the byline on his right foot, cuts back onto his favoured left to swing a dangerously deep ball into the box but Dzeko can only meekly strike the ball against goalkeeper Nicolas.
70th min SUBSTITUTED: Pellegrini’s sending off meant Under was brought off with Gerson his replacement.
A sensational finish which proved to be the winner and the relief of scoring his first Roma goal will hopefully provide a platform for confident performances going forward.
He’s still very raw and young of course but watching his talent unfold, you can’t help but feel there is a potential new star emerging from Italy.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com