Neymar lit up the Confederations Cup and showed why Barcelona have spent £60m to sign him. Having decimated last summer’s European Championship finalists Spain and Italy, he showed that he can bring his intoxicating combination of sublime technique, savage pace, perfect balance, trickery, imagination and lethal finishing to games against the very best.
The tournament was critical for him in silencing certain doubters and showing the world his immense talent. Not many players in the world are able to do what Neymar can do. Right now, he is in the top ten players in the world, maybe the top five in sheer ability.
That’s great, excellent even. But can he become the best in the world? Barcelona and Brazil are the best teams to show that he can.
At the moment, Lionel Messi is the number one player in the world with the more destructive Cristiano Ronaldo not far behind. Then come the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Schweinsteiger, Bale and Lewandowski to name a few. At present, Neymar is on this secondary list. He hasn’t shown on the big stage consistently enough to be considered above them. However, in terms of pure skill, pure ability to do things with the ball that other players couldn’t dream of, only Messi and Iniesta are on his level.
What Neymar has to do, and what these world class players have done time and again, is prove that he can apply these stupendous talents game after game on the very biggest stages. This means the Champions League and the World Cup. If he lights those competitions up as he has the Confederations Cup, then he will rapidly move up the pecking order of the world’s elite talents. If it’s Messi and Iniesta he needs to learn from on how to do that, he couldn’t have picked a better place to land.
There was some conjecture that Messi and Neymar won’t be able to operate together, but that is nonsense. At Santos Neymar was by a long, long way the best player in the team, the best on the continent even and this meant he often tried to do things on his own. But at Barcelona he will be another star. He’ll be behind Messi, Iniesta and Xavi initially, but certainly has the talent to push to the front of the queue.
What he will have to prove, and this summer has gone some way towards helping that, is that he can play as part of a team. That he can demonstrate his game changing capability without losing tactical discipline was a key thing for him to show.
At Barcelona he will be playing on the left of the front three with Messi and then a variety of options on the right flank. In Brazil, he played on the left and roamed centrally. It’s how he scored all his goals and how he dramatically made the goal for Jo with his outrageous dragback. This is an area of the field that he is best suited to because he will have more space.
Not only that, but because behind him he has Jordi Alba raiding from left back, when he does move in field, Barcelona will still have natural width. What it means, is that he won’t have to change his game. He can play as he has been in Brazil and he’s done that with excellent effect so far.
Last season, at just 21, in all competitions Neymar was involved in 43 goals. The season before that, 35, before that, at just 18, it was 29 and when he was only 17, he was involved in 17 goals. That is a kind of consistency which is hard to find, and almost non-existent at that age. It’s comfortably ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead, his career numbers are comparable to Lionel Messi. In fact, in the season in which the Argentine was 21, Neymar actually out-duelled him in front of goal.
The comparison with Messi is the key one. He is the generational talent, widely considered to be one of the best players of all time, by some considered the best. It will be against his team-mate that Neymar will be compared for all their time together. Cristiano Ronaldo probably has another 4 years of performance at his current levels, but Messi could have another 7. Those 7 years will be critical as he and Neymar will be team-mates at Barcelona.
If Neymar plays to his potential, and there is every reason to think he can, then he has the talent to be the best player in the world. Comparing Messi and Neymar at the same stage of their careers, the Brazilian starlet is right on pace with his new illustrious team-mate.
He has an absurd amount of talent, and if he keeps improving at the rates that he has, then there is every reason to think he can become the best. If he gets himself a World Cup or two and Messi doesn’t, then he might well swing the case in his favour. After this summer’s performances, there is a reason to be confident that he can win his home World Cup. Either way, it’s going to be fun to watch.