Is Neymar’s Hype Getting Too Big?

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.

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar is one of the world's brightest talents.

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar is one of the world’s brightest talents.

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.

 

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Barcelona’s Messi-Dependency

In the two-legged semi-final against Bayern Munich, it has been downright painful watching Barcelona. That gilt edge that they’ve been known for playing with was dulled and the Bavarians dominated them for 180 minutes to the tune of an astounding 7-0. While I did predict something like this would happen to Barca, I didn’t think they would roll over as easily as they did when they decided to not play the world’s greatest player, Lionel Messi, showing their dependency on the Argentine.

It’s not often that you see the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta being hauled off, not because they are hurt or being rested but because they aren’t involved in the game. It seemed as if the entire machine failed to work properly without Messi in the fold. Of course, it also failed to work when Messi was on the field in the first-leg albeit with a bit of a knock.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

As strange as it sounds, a club with the world class talent that Barcelona has has developed a frightening dependency on one player. It’s the same knock against Tottenham and Gareth Bale, however, one would believe that Barca has the talent to overcome any dependency on any one player.

Tito Vilanova has a problem on his hands. He needs to find a way to break the dangerously strong link between Messi’s play and the success of the team. His side is good enough to beat anyone with or without Lionel Messi, but they should still be able to put the ball into the back of the net even with him sitting on the bench.

And that’s why I think it’s time for the Blaugrana to start filtering in the next crop of players and re-tooling their side. Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t think they should get away from what has gotten them to where they are, but I think they need to get players in who haven’t developed the tendency to look to Messi to bail them out of the difficult situations they find themselves in.

It’s time for Barcelona to see if players like Gerard Deulofeu, Cristian Tello and Jonathan Dos Santos have what it takes to continue to move this club in the right direction or if they need to bring in the likes of Neymar to get the club’s ambition and drive back to where it was under Pep Guardiola.

By no means is this a knock against the team’s talent. We all know that Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world on their day but that’s not the team that we’ve saw in the two legs against Bayern Munich.

We saw a club that was overmatched, outcoached, outplayed, out-everything and it has a lot to do with Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi.

Beginning of a New Golden Era for Bayern?

I’m aware that it may be jumping the gun to say that Bayern Munich will be at Wembley to play in this season’s Champions League final, but after the 4-0 shellacking they gave Barcelona yesterday, you have to believe that they’ll be making a return appearance to Europe’s biggest final. Couple that with the signing of one of the best young German stars, Mario Götze, and being linked with Robert Lewandowski today, both from their only title rival in Borussia Dortmund and we could be witnessing the birth of Europe’s newest juggernaut.

Jupp Heynckes has done an amazing job in his third stint at the club and has set Pep Guardiola up in a much better position than the one he inherited from Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona — if that’s even possible, as the Blaugrana  weren’t exactly starving for trophies when he got there.

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Mario Götze is set for a move to the Allianz Arena and will likely becoming a key piece of Europe’s new kings.

The amount on talent on Bayern Munich’s squad was clearly evident last night as they made use of their 37% possession with cutting attacks and superb finishing. You can argue that two of their goals shouldn’t have counted for a body check on Jordi Alba and a seemingly missed offside call but they could have easily gone on to score three or four more goals.

David Alaba is on his way to becoming one of the world’s elite fullbacks, Arjen Robben is a man reborn, Javi Martinez is proving that he was worth the trouble to sign him from Athletic Bilbao this past summer and those are just the players I want to tip off now. It doesn’t take a football pundit to know that they are stacked from top to Bayern Munich II.

The arrival of Mario Götze to the Allianz may be the straw that breaks the Bundesliga’s back. It’s the equivalent of Manchester City agreeing to sell Sergio Aguero to Manchester United and it carries the same connotations. Götze was the epitome of what Dortmund stands for. Joining the club at 9, he cut his teeth at the Westfalenstadion and now he’s moving up the big club (no disrespect to Dortmund).

The epic battle between Bayern and Dortmund that people were expecting when Dortmund capped their rise back to prominence with back-to-back Bundesliga titles has already been quashed by Die Roten’s dominating season, winning the league earlier than ever before and the loss of Götze and likely Lewandowski is going to set Dortmund back.

Surely, Bayern isn’t finished spending this summer. Uli Hoeneß‘s tax problems and Financial Fair Play won’t be able to stop this growing storm as long as they continue to reap the benefits of Bundesliga silverware and Champions League final appearances.

That Moment You Realize Barca Has No Chance Against Bayern

Tuesday, Barcelona and Bayern Munich will play the first leg of their semi-final Champions League tie and many are expecting it to be the better of the two semi-final matchups with Borussia Dortmund facing Barca’s rival, Real Madrid, the next day but I’m inclined to believe that the highly anticipated battle between Barca and the Bavarians will be a rout for the German champions.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is looking to repent for missing a penalty in last season's Champions League final.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is looking to repent for missing a penalty in last season’s Champions League final.

Bayern Munich have been on a tear since losing to Arsenal in the return leg of their Round of 16 matchup with the Gunners, scoring a staggering 32 goals in the eight games since — all wins. You know a team is playing on an entirely different level when they reel off nine goals against a mid-table top flight side. Imagine if Manchester United put nine past Michel Vorm and Swansea. People would be calling for Michael Landrup’s head.

However, the reason I believe Bayern outclasses Barcelona has nothing to do with FC Hollywood. No, I think Bayern Munich is better than Barcelona because Barcelona is getting too big for their britches. Their golden era which started under Guardiola and was supposed to continue under Vilanova is going to come to an end. Though, I’m sure they’ll continue to hold court over La Liga unless Real Madrid gets a quality manager to replace the Special One.

But I digress, watching Barca play used to be a thing of beauty as they knocked the ball around the pitch with effortless grace. It was so successful that managers in other countries blow up their own teams to attempt to play in the same vein as the Blaugrana. That being said, you have to remember that Pep himself said the only reason Barcelona used the tiki-taka play style under his guidance was because he won using it.

Now, you can see the cockiness in the way Barca’s players pass. How many times have you seen two players pass between each other multiple times without moving the ball forward, without gaining any advantage? It happens often at the Nou Camp.

It’s becoming ingrained in the fibers of the club all the way down to La Masia — players passing the ball because they feel they have or because they feel their are on a different level than their opponents. Instead of taking the most direct route to the goal, they attempt to walk it in with a myriad of passes that teams are slowly, but surely, learning to combat by simply putting eleven men behind the ball.

Those extra passes, that extra time on the ball is going to be their undoing against a team as clinical and as in form as Bayern Munich.

Besides, Bayern is on a mission. They know they should have won the Champions League last season in their home stadium against the underdog in Chelsea. Now, they are trying to pull of a likely treble as they have already locked up the Bundesliga, will likely win the DFB Pokal and should be the favorite to win the cup with the big ears should they get past Barca.

I understand, it’s hard to choke out the word overrated in the same sentence as Barcelona FC but I think it would do them justice right now. The odds makers have them as favorites, the pundits have them as favorites, but that scary good team from Munich doesn’t have them as favorites.

Pep’s trophy-winning magic might already be rubbing off on Die Roten.

Possible Summer Targets for Manchester City Pt. 2

Read part one here.

Edison Cavani

Edison Cavani is one of the most sought after players in Europe right now and that’s exactly why I think Manchester City should pass on making a move for the Uruguayan striker who currently plays for Napoli.

Napoli knows clubs what Cavani and they know a lot of those clubs have a lot of money so his price tag is outrageous. Don’t get me wrong, Cavani is a game changer, the type of striker that you put on the pitch and he immediately makes a difference. His ability to put the ball into the back of the net is on par with the best in the world and he is selfish enough to make chances from himself.

All that being said, City can get two or three quality players for the price Napoli is asking for Cavani. There are cheaper strikers out there.

Radamel Falcao

Falcao has been linked with every big money club in the world. It doesn’t help that some call him the best pure number 9 right now. Like Cavani, the problem with City pursuing Falcao is that it’s going to cost a pretty penny to get him to the Etihad. With Financial Fair Play on the horizon, the last thing City needs to do is break the bank to reinforce one of the strongest positions on their team.

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El Tigre will likely be leaving Atletico Madrid in the summer and Manchester City may be one of his landing spots.

The Colombian also known as El Tigre can do it all and do it all well. He’s garnered a reputation for leading his club to Europa League titles but Manchester City is aiming a little higher than winning the Europa League.

Falcao would be an instant improvement to any club, but City’s current striker situation does not demand they go out and spend €80 million on a forward even if the last forward we got from Atletico Madrid led us to a Premier League championships.

Jesus Navas

Jesus Navas, currently playing for Sevilla FC in La Liga, has been getting a lot of spin in the rumor mill recently, connecting him with a move to Manchester City. Again, this is a move that I don’t think City should make.

Don’t get me wrong, Navas is a great player and would do well for most clubs but I don’t know where he fits into City’s future plans with a player like Isco also likely to move from his club this summer. Navas will be 28 soon and the Blues need to look towards the future with their purchases.

Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez is another player who has recently begun to be linked with a move to the Etihad. The 24-year-old Chilean striker seems to be angling for a way out of the Nou Camp and clubs are lining up to get him.

Known for his speed, dribbling and creativity with the ball, he could wreak havoc on the most disciplined defenses as he has shown many times during his time with Barcelona. Pairing him with Sergio Aguero could be both positive and negative as the two players have very similar play styles.

However, if City were to go out and get a forward, Sanchez should be closer to the top of the list as he won’t cost an arm and a leg to get.

Christian Eriksen

I know Christian Eriksen has been linked with a move to the other side of Manchester more often than he has been with Manchester City, but damn it if there is a player City needs to break the bank on, it is him. The Ajax product recently put clubs on alert when he refused to sign a contract extension with the club, possibly angling for a move to England in the summer.

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Bringing Christian Eriksen to the Etihad could set Manchester City up for a long run at the top of the Premier League.

Roberto Mancini and the City technical staff got an up close look at how talented this guy is during City’s two games against Ajax in the group stage of this year’s Champions League. He’s already a great midfielder and he’s only 21 years old. Just take a look at the hundreds of highlight videos on YouTube.

Eriksen is creative enough to operate in David Silva’s stead or alongside the Spaniard. His ability to put corners into threatening positions would work wonders for players like Vincent Kompany, Micah Richards, Yaya Toure or Javi Garcia. The possibilities are endless.

Mauro Icardi

Sampdoria’s Mauro Icardi has been getting plenty of looks from Manchester City. The Argentine striker is the Serie A club’s leading scorer at the tender age of 20 years old. Roberto Mancini, who played for Sampdoria for 15 years, personally went down to Italy to watch him play. That has to account for something.

However, I think €13 million is a little too steep for a player this young.

Neymar

Come on… you knew he’d be here eventually. If a club has the cash, then they will be linked with potentially the next great player from Brazil. He’s been linked for years with a move to Barcelona but I think the right people could convince him that going to England would be better for his career.

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Neymar to Manchester City may be a pipe dream, but don’t rule it out until his transfer saga is over.

Like some of the other players on this list, there is no need to talk about how good Neymar really is. His skill with the ball at his feet is second to none and his clinical finishing makes you wonder how is it possible for someone so young to be so good.

Obviously, his price tag is high but with his contract running out Santos may be forced to sell him on before he leaves for free. I’m inclined to believe that his original 2014 timeline for a move to Europe will actually be the summer of 2013.

Marquinhos

Marquinhos has been making the headlines a lot for his near-flawless play for Roma this season. It’s not shocking for a new defender to come into a team and play well, but it is shocking for a player who is two months shy of his 19th birthday to be doing what Marquinhos has done.

His ability to read the game is better than some defenders ten years his senior. He’s the type of player that cleans up mistakes before they turn into goals, something that he has done on more than a few occasions this season. With Joleon Lescott possibly on his way out, Marquinhos can come in and give Manchester City two great young centerbacks to build for the future.

Jetro Willems

Jetro Willems has previously been linked with a move to Manchester United as they tabled a €10 million bid for the young Dutch left back, but I think the guys in blue should make a move for him this summer.

Sir Alex Ferguson called him the “next Patrice Evra.” Well, some called Matija Nastasic the “next Nemanja Vidic” so it’s only right that Manchester City gets another young player who has been compared to some old guy currently playing for the enemy.

Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney

The reason I put these two together is because it is highly unlikely that Manchester City could get either one of them.

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Is Wayne Rooney the next player to leave United for City? It’s not as unlikely as it sounds.

Gareth Bale has been linked with moves away from White Hart Lane for some time now, but I think that Luka Modric’s inability to settle in at Real Madrid has disenchanted him with the prospect of playing for Los Blancos. Recently, it’s been rumored that Bale intends to stay in England for at least another year.

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has also hit the rumor mill after being left out of United’s starting lineup against Real Madrid in their Champions League tie this past Tuesday. Rooney has been effectively replaced by Robin van Persie and the last time Fergie said he wouldn’t sell a player, Cristiano Ronaldo left for Madrid.

The Power of the Youth Academy

Today, I stumbled across an amazing article about AFC Ajax’s famed youth academy called Die Toekomst or The Future and it got me thinking about how much of an impact a world-class youth system has on a club. Any football fan worth his salt knows about La Masia in Barcelona, but not every club which churns out promising youngsters can hold on to them.

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Ajax’s star midfielder Christian Eriksen is one of the best, and most sought after, young talents in the world.

Ajax is a great example of a club that could be deemed a “selling club.” Just look at some of the players who have come through the talent factory in Amsterdam; Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Wesley Sneijder and Clarence Seedorf, Now, Christian Eriksen, their current star, is on the radar of bigger, more financial powerful clubs around Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eriksen in England this summer and he won’t be the only Ajax product flying the coop.

How about the Academy of Football at West Ham? Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand are all graduates of the Hammers’ academy but West Ham wasn’t able to hold onto them for too long once larger clubs caught a whiff of their talent.

It begs the question, what is more important? For a club to have a strong youth academy churning out promising talent or for a club to have the financial power to bring in world-class players who have already established themselves?

My answer is that you need both. We’re talking La Masia and Barcelona here. I don’t think anyone needs reminding of what happens at The Farmhouse but if you do, go take a look at who their alumni include.

I don’t think it’s feasible for a club’s supporters to expect the club to prosper solely off their academy unless that club has the financial backing to keep those players if they were to get into a bidding war. Had Southampton had the money to fend off vultures, their first team would include Gareth Bale, Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. Those three players are enough to turn the Saints into a mid-table club overnight.

While Barça favors their own youth products, bringing players up through the ranks allows them to splurge a little when they see players they want. Bringing in players like Alexis Sánchez and Alex Song are drops in the bucket of money when you have players willing to give you a break because all they know and love is Barcelona.

As biased as it may sound, I believe Manchester City went about building their club in the right way. You can’t expect immediate returns on your investment if you expect 18-20-year-old footballers to compete with players twice their age. Now that City has a championship winning side, they can change their focus to building for the future– and we all know they have the cash to fend off any bidding wars for players like Marcos Lopes, Razak Abdul, Jose Pozo or Denis Suarez.

I would love to see Ajax keep their young players and bring back their glory days.. It would make for very interesting matchups in the Champions League. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes, money is just too powerful.

[Article on Ajax’s youth system]