A controversial transfer made the masses question his ambition. Injuries have taken a toll on his body. Now, he is one win away from immortality.
Child prodigies face immense pressure in their adolescence. Many of them crumble before they reach adulthood. Neymar relished in the attention and attracted more eyes to him with his hairstyles, flair and celebrations. When he was a teenager, many looked at him as the heir to Ronaldinho’s crown because they were both creative left wingers who could be the attacking fulcrums of their teams. He was also compared to Pele because they both started their careers at Santos. However, Neymar’s hero was someone else.
“My idol has always been Robinho. Since I was little, I’ve always loved everything he did. I always wanted to be like him,” said the two-time South American Footballer of the Year to DAZN in 2019.
Robinho also started his career at Santos and won five titles before taking the leap to Real Madrid. The move to Los Blancos might’ve been too early in his development because he never became the all-time great that people expected him to become. Neymar helped the Peixe to win six titles including the 2011 Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent to the Champions League. After four seasons with Santos, the 2011 FIFA Puskas Award winner also went to Spain, like his hero, but he chose El Clásico rivals Barcelona. Many considered him to be Lionel Messi’s successor and in 2014-15, they won the treble. The MSN front three of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar is one of the best attacking units the world has ever seen. After four years in Spain, the 2014-15 LaLiga Best World Player made a decision that changed his trajectory.
He decided to go to Paris Saint-Germain and orchestrated the move to France with his father, who is also his agent. They contacted PSG and notified them that the release clause in his contract was the expensive but attainable fee of €222 million. After the deal went through, many wondered if the Brazilian international cared more about clubbing than becoming a legend. They also suggested that individual accolades were Neymar’s focus instead of team success. He could not win the Ballon d’Or when the masses looked at him as Messi’s sidekick. Ligue 1 is a step down from LaLiga, so the only way he could attain the golden ball was if he led PSG to their first Champions League title.
“I left because I wanted a new challenge, the challenge to win and find something new, to find new tests. Barcelona is a club that has always fascinated me, and I still love it today. But at that time, I wanted to try something new and that’s why I decided to leave,” said the 2011 Copa Libertadores MVP to GOAL in 2019.
His time in Paris has been underwhelming even though he has won 10 trophies. In four seasons at the French capital, he has not featured in more than 20 league matches annually. In 2020, they made their first Champions League final in club history, but lost to Bayern Munich, 1-0. There were reports of Neymar trying to return to Barcelona, but the Catalans were not financially able to make a deal happen. This past season, Les Parisiens lost Ligue 1 to Lille but won the domestic cup double. In May, Neymar renewed his vows and signed a four-year contract extension that will last until 2025.
His time with his national team has also been hampered by injuries. In 2014, he wasn’t able to play when Germany embarrassed his homeland 7-1 in the semifinal of the World Cup in Brazil. The Seleção won the gold medal in the 2016 Olympics, but that is not considered a major achievement in international soccer. In 2019, Brazil won Copa America without their number 10, who missed the tournament because of an ankle ligament injury.
In this year’s Copa America, Neymar has been instrumental as the five-time World Cup winners have made the final once again. In five matches, he has two goals and three assists, which is second in the competition. In the semifinal against Peru, he nutmegged a defender then provided an assist for Lucas Paqueta’s goal. The play highlighted Neymar’s gifts as a soccer player. The technique, the bravery to take on a defender, the craftiness with his dribbling and the distribution to create a goal scoring opportunity.
At 29, he is at the height of his powers. With 10 more goals, he will surpass Pele and become his country’s all-time leading scorer. Winning a Copa America will solidify his place in Brazilian history, and he will have to defeat his former teammate, Messi, and his country’s biggest rival, Argentina, to do it.
Author: Dan Adu-Gyamfi