Brazil and Santos winger Neymar has been at the center of transfer speculation for the last few years. Some have said that his eventual move to Barcelona is one of football’s worst kept secrets and I’m inclined to agree with that statement. We all know that although only 21 years old, Neymar’s international fame has long outgrown the Campeonato Brasileiro and Santos.
Now that David Beckham, the last footballer who it could be argued was more famous for his underwear ads and marrying Posh Spice than his talent on the pitch, has retired, the door has been opened for Neymar to become the international superstar that the hype surrounding his move to Europe is leading him towards.
Don’t mistake this as a knock against Neymar’s playing ability. It is clear as day that with a continued push in the right direction, we’ll be talking about him for the next few decades for his ability on the ball, the flashy dribbles and the even fancier finishes that he has become known for in his surprisingly short senior career. Remember that it was only four years ago that he burst onto the scene. Even Santos knew he’d be something special when they paid 1 million reals to keep him at the club after he passed a trial with Real Madrid when he was 14.
The prospect of Neymar, who Pele described as the best player in the world, linking up with Lionel Messi is something that would create a media maelstrom around the world. How many football fans would pass up the opportunity to see those two on the same pitch playing together?
And this is when you have to ask yourself if Neymar is ready for the lofty expectations that will follow his move to whatever club gets his signature in the near future.
He is an easy player to market, as many Brazilian football stars are. They play with flair and style while making it seem like they are having the time of their life while doing it. Take a trip over to YouTube and look up Neymar’s celebrations after goals. He’s all you would expect of a 21-year-old professional footballer, not yet having the cynical attitude that comes as we grow older, until he nutmegs you on the way to another goal and it looks like he’s more seasoned than a player ten years older.
However, the burden of carrying the superstar tag has destroyed its fair share of rare talents. No one thinks Neymar is Messi’s heir apparent. In terms of age, they are contemporaries, only four years apart. With sports science these days, Neymar will be well into his 30s by the time Messi hangs them up. Instead, it is expected that Neymar will be on Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s level in terms of international appeal. Those players that even people who don’t watch football know about.
Mario Balotelli is a good example of what happens when a player gets too much fame and hype too quickly. He may have had his moments at Inter but his antics at Manchester City were more often than not well out of the realm of the excuse “Oh, it’s because he’s young.” Fortunately, Balotelli has performed extremely well since moving back to Italy.
There is similar risks in Neymar’s situation. You’re taking someone who is already quite rich and has shown he has a care-free attitude and bringing to football’s biggest stage in the world where you will give him more money and expect him to become ruthless in terms of winning games. No disrespect to Santos, but they aren’t winning as many matches as Barcelona nor do they currently have the winning attitude that the Catalan side has.
No one wants to see Neymar flame out before his time has come but as his hype grows everyday we have to admit that this is a real possibility. The hounds will be out if he moves to Barcelona and doesn’t finish second in scoring in La Liga to Lionel Messi.They’ll knock him if he takes longer than a game or two to acclimate himself to a new country, a new league and a new team. He’ll be under a microscope that not even Messi has had to experience.
I think we need to take a moment and remember that we are talking about a 21-year-old kid despite all the talent he has. At a better club, he will progress and likely cement himself as one of the game’s great but we have to let it happen naturally. So calm down, we have at least ten more years of him playing at the top.