Mention Neymar’s name to people these days, and you’re likely to receive a response regarding the fundamentals of the transfer that took him to Barcelona. It’s unfortunate that it will often be the case, given the impact he had had since arriving from Santos.
The tax case surrounding the transfer is one thing, but the footballing aspects are an entirely different matter. Focus on the latter, and you can see the progression of Neymar into one of world football’s top stars. This was the substance behind Barcelona making the move for the player, intangibles aside, and whether it be Dh126 million (€30m), Dh209m (€50m), Dh293m (€70m) or Dh 418m (€100m), the player is rising above his price tag.
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The Brazilian’s development these past two seasons had been held together by an extraordinary humility from the star. And he is just that, a star in the purest form. He arrived at Barcelona dogged by suggestions his arrogance and persona would rub people up the wrong way, with many predicting clashes with Lionel Messi would be inevitable. It was also hinted at that he wouldn’t fit into the system and face similar issues to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez, Barca’s two big striking acquisitions before him.
Those concerns have not come to fruition.
Neymar hit the ground running, showing his dedication to integrating into the culture of the club. He immediately set about forming a relationship with Messi too, a key factor in any player making a successful move to the club these days. As Gerard Pique said, the Argentinean may not call the shots at the club, but he does grasp a great deal of power. Neymar and Messi have not become a destabilising partnership, far from it. The pair have prospered and it is becoming more apparent as the season goes on that while individually they are exceptional – together they can be unstoppable.
With an unselfish attitude to his work, Neymar has often been situated out on the left channel, showing all the flair and function he packed in Brazil but also adding awareness of his team responsibilities. With Messi this season cropping up deep as ever, and on the right, it has allowed Neymar to drift inside more frequently and offer a decisive presence with his pace and direct attitude. The 22-year-old loves nothing more than to drive at opponents, and make things happen. Pondering isn’t a word he knows. Neymar wants to change games, it’s in his make-up.
Que Deus nos abençoe e nos proteja pic.twitter.com/Tr1Npw4hW8
— Neymar Jr (@neymarjr) January 21, 2015
Change he has done too, quite literally. Without him in the team, even Messi can feel the heat. Barca are less of a threat, considerably so, without Neymar around. Messi appears burdened, and Luis Suarez becomes isolated. The team’s play is altogether more laborious, lacking that intensity Barca’s system requires to truly spin teams. Neymar brings that desire and tenacity in abundance. Camp Nou feels livelier in the stands when he’s on the field. His dribbling is something not seen since the days Ronaldinho swaggered through stadiums the length and breadth of Spain. Their new showman is present, and they know they will be entertained.
Neymar’s general level this season has surprised even his greatest admirers. Especially in terms of pure numbers. He’s already just one goal behind his entire total in La Liga last season, with the business end yet to come. The same can be said for the Champions League, in which he’s also just a single strike behind last season’s tally. Overall he now has 24 goals in 27 games, and this past weekend even managed to surpass the great Diego Maradona’s total of 38 goals in 58 games. Neymar hit his 39th Barcelona goal, and managed to do it in eight fewer games than the great El Diego.
While Neymar’s diamond is unquestionably still in need of some polishing, the potential many saw in Brazil is not only being fulfilled but exceeded. As Neymar sat and watched Messi, whom he described as his ‘best friend’ on and off the field this past week, miss out on the Ballon d’Or this past month – it must have also stirred the Brazilian to improve his own level.
In the next few years, he should be battling for a place on that podium, and with Messi at 27 and Cristiano at 30, the position of football’s next world superstar could soon be up for grabs Neymar right now, heads the queue.