The list of statistics is endless. 54 goals in only 102 appearances for his club side Santos, already 17 goals for the Brazilian National Side, a Copa Libertadores win, the South American Footballer of the Year Award for the past two years, and a Fifa “Puskas Award” for goal of the year to boot. And he’s only just turned 21.
Comparisons to the greatest that have graced that game have been hurled at the young Brazilian from all angles, with comparisons to ranging from Leo Messi, to George Best. There is also the small matter of the undisputed King of Football Pele (sorry Mr Blatter) saying personally that Neymar is currently the “best player in the world”- hailing him as a “more complete player than Messi”.
With this in mind then it is only natural that I was rather fascinated at the prospect of watching one of the (if not the) brightest beacons of the future of football do his business against England this past Wednesday. The only problem was that he failed to deliver the goods.
Neymar’s greatest contributions to the game were two misses, one inexplicable from the rebound after Joe Hart’s fantastic penalty save- the other somehow even more so, as Neymar slid in to balloon over from four yards out with the goal gaping.
This is not the first time that Neymar has failed to live up to his billing as star of the show. If we cast our minds back 7 or 8 months back to the Olympic Football- despite his three goals Neymar never took the tournament by the scruff of the neck as we were told he would do, and his flashes of brilliance were sporadic to say the least.
The growth and the status of the Sao Paulo born hitman was sky-rocketed since 2010. He is the World’s 13th most wealthy footballer and has been rated by SportsPro Magazine as the most marketable footballer out there today. He has been pinned up as the poster boy of Brazil’s home 2014 World Cup, and the name of Neymar is become a world-wide household name.
Neymar has become the centre of one of the most long drawn transfer battles out there today- and it looks like its a straight fight between Real Madrid and Barcelona to sign the £50million rated attacker. But the question is this: On what premise has Neymar become such a massive deal?
The answer is, I am not totally sure. Everyone will have seen the clips of the mohawked maverick slaloming his way through defences and dazzling unfortunate full backs in the Brazilian Premier League for Santos- but Neymar is still relatively fresh faced when it comes being tested a truly competitive level (with all due respect to the vastly improving Brazilian League). The highest status competition that Neymar has played in is the Copa America with Brazil- with no World Cup experience. How can teams pay £50million or more on a player that has never played in a really very prestigious and competitive league or competition?
On top of this whilst the stats speak for themselves- his performances are nevertheless sporadic in nature. His technical ball skill and electric pace or undeniable. His effectiveness on the game however, can sometimes come into question; all the more since he has become a marked man by wary opposition defenders. The truth is that whenever I have seen Neymar play he seems to have the mentality of a 10 year old playing on a Sunday in the sense that as soon as things go against him- he can become quite petty.
I think my argument was summed up beautifully by the England game on Wednesday. Flashes of real skill- but his influence was scuppered by a very average England defence (it seems his tactic of cutting his noticeable mohawk didn’t make it any harder for defenders to track him down). In reaction to the game Joey Barton tweeted:
Neymar was playing against Cahill and Smalling, no disrespect to them but they are hardly Beckenbauer and Baresi….and he never got a kick. I refuse to believe the hype.
I don’t agree with Joey Barton on many things, but I think his assessment was honest and fair. Neymar is undoubtedly an incredibly talented young footballer- but then again wasn’t Robinho when he left Brazil? I think it is too early to classify Neymar as one of the worlds best- when he has not yet even been given a chance to play on the stage where he can be the worlds best.
I am not saying that Neymar will not become a world-class player- in fact I believe quite the opposite. But we need to be careful we do not paint the picture of something that’s not. Neymar is one hell of a player. But he is not one of the world’s best yet, regardless of his talent and potential, and I think it is high time that we stopped talking about him as though he is.