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“Neymar is young though, and I can’t explain how special he will become. In the next two or three seasons he will become the best player”. These were the exact words of former Barcelona and Brazilian Legend, Ronaldinho in an interview with Daily Mail in February 2013. Seven years later, Neymar has not attained this feat yet though he has come quite close on several occasions. He is still described as a player who is yet to attain his full potential. Several coaches, teammates, sports journalists, and football legends such as Tite, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Alessandro Del Piero, Luiz Felipe Scolari among others have all tipped Neymar to become one of the greatest football players in the history of the sport and clinch the prestigious Ballon d'Or prize however the controversies surrounding Neymar over the past three years makes it seem unlikely he would be clinching the award anytime soon. So where did it all go wrong for Neymar? The answer to that question goes far back to the beginning of his career.
The reasons for Neymar's recent struggles goes far back to the beginning of his career
Rising through the ranks
Starting his career at the age of 11 at the Santos FC youth academy, Neymar quickly rose through the ranks and earned his professional debut on the 7th of March 2009 at the age of 17 in a 2-1 win over Oeste in the Campeonato Paulista. After an encouraging and confident display, he was giving more playing time in the subsequent months and a string of dazzling displays followed. He was constantly compared to Brazilian icons such as Robinho, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, and Romario due to his flamboyant dribbling ability, lightning pace, ability to combine well with teammates, vision, and finishing ability. He continued to wow and dazzle fans who were always eager to see him get on the ball as they expected something special from him and he often delivered.
Although he had been on the radar of European heavyweight clubs ever since his time at the Santos youth academy, interest in him reached an all-time high which led to several speculations and rumors about agreements being made for his purchase. European clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, and even West Ham were all linked to him at the time. However, it was not until the 27th of May, 2013 where an agreement was reached between Barcelona and Santos for the purchase of Neymar. Neymar left Santos having won two successive Campeonato Paulista championships, a Copado Brasil and the 2011 Copa Libertadores. He was a superstar in every respect due to his consistent performances on the pitch and his flamboyant lifestyle off it. He had been named the South American Footballer of the year in 2011 and 2012 and even winning a “Puskas” award for a breathtaking solo goal against Flamingo in the league, he had the world at his feet. Although his time at Santos was laced with controversies over his diving and his attitude, European heavyweight, Barcelona had their eyes set on a global superstar with no idea they were purchasing someone who had been dubbed a “monster”.
The only way is up
Presented at the Camp Nou in front of 56,500 fans which is a record turnout for the presentation of a Brazilian player, Neymar’s stint at Barcelona began. His first season saw him adapt to the tactical approach of Spanish football as he gradually began to find his rhythm as the season wore on although he had some struggles in front of goal as he did not manage to take the many chances that came his way and were quite inconsistent.
Although not without its controversies, Neymar’s four-year stint at Barcelona was particularly successful. After a first season riddled with inconsistencies and poor finishing, the remainder of his stay at Barcelona was no doubt a success. Linking up with fellow attackers, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi to wreak havoc on the opponent’s defenses, the trio formed one of the most formidable attacking tridents in football history which were dubbed MSN (Messi, Suarez, and Neymar) by several Spanish newspaper outlets. The trio combined scored a whopping sum of 122 goals in the 2014-2015 season, which was a record for the most goals scored by an attacking trio in Spanish football history and they broke the record the next season by scoring an astonishing number of 131 goals.
In 186 games, Neymar scored 105 goals and further assisted 41 more in his brief four-year stay at the club. He played a fundamental role in Barcelona’s 2014-2015 treble haul and also played a major role in winning the domestic double in the 2015-2016 season and the Copa Del Rey in the 2016-2017 season. He finished 3rd in the Ballon d’Or rankings just behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi twice. And he was constantly compared to them and said to be on the same level as the duo. Some sports journalists have been quick to point out that the famous comeback win over Paris Saint-German which was orchestrated by Neymar as a major factor regarding his decision to leave Barcelona as he felt he did not receive the props he deserved after that match which was arguably his best performance for Barcelona. Football outlets praised Messi after that famous win and it was said to be then that Neymar made up his mind not to play second fiddle to Messi.
The transfer window before the 2017-2018 season became heated when speculations began to go around about Neymar moving to Paris Saint-German. These speculations were not taken seriously at the time because Neymar had just signed a new contract with the Spanish giants. However, things took a turn when French and Catalan newspaper outlets stated that the deal was already in place. On the 3rd of August 2017, the announcement was made that Neymar’s legal representatives made a payment of 222 million euros to Barcelona which was equal to the release clause of his contract. This deal sent the whole of football into a frenzy and made Neymar the most expensive player ever in the history of the sport.
The costly alliance
Neymar’s interests and Paris Saint German’s interests were aligned, so why not give it a shot? That was the only logical explanation that could justify Paris Saint-German investing 222 million euros in a particular player. Neymar wanted to become the best football player on the planet and he could not do that while playing under Messi’s “shadow” at Barcelona and PSG were desperate for Champions League success and they knew that for Neymar to fulfill his dream to be the best player in the world he would have to lead them to Champions League glory or do extraordinarily well in the tournament. It’s a win-win or lose-lose situation for all parties involved, although the loss is greater on PSG because of the amount of money they invested.
This alliance has not panned out as well as both parties might have hoped so far. Despite Neymar’s brilliant performances and goals, the “most expensive player ever” tag has brought Neymar under a lot of scrutinies and due to this, the antics that have been present ever since his Santos days coupled with the added responsibilities that he was supposed to carry have all resulted to his every move being questioned. Every month, there was always one controversy after the other.
It all goes downhill from here
Neymar is no stranger to controversies as he had been involved in a lot ever since his days at Santos and Barcelona. At Paris Saint-German, the controversies were blown beyond proportion due to his “most expensive player ever” tag. Here are several controversies that Neymar has been caught up in since his move to PSG.
Neymar's life has become a reality show of some sorts similar to "Keeping up with the Kardashians"
Neymar has been notoriously renowned for play-acting whenever he is fouled ever since his Santos days to win free kicks or penalties. However, the 2018 world cup stunt he pulled took a big hit to his reputation. Neymar was mocked for his theatrics and play-acting at the 2018 World Cup and he was the subject of the widespread #NeymarChallenge Meme which was trending at the time due to antics. It all came to the fore during Brazil’s game against Mexico in which Brazil won 2-0 as he writhed in agony when he made the most of Miguel Layun stepping on his ankle as he rolled around on the turf of the pitch with his hand covering his eyes. Also, during the win against Costa Rica in the group stages, Neymar attempted to win a penalty by falling on the ground in the penalty area without contact being made by the defender. Video Assistant Referee review helped reverse the decision to award the penalty kick.
Although it is a point worthy of note that he was fouled 23 times over four games and was the most fouled player at the world cup before Brazil’s exit at the hands of Belgium on July 6, 2018. Eric Cantona stated that Neymar is a “great actor” and compared him to a “wheeled suitcase”, “You barely touch it and it turns round and round for hours”.
Tite, the Coach of Brazil, defended Neymar throughout the tournament. However, six years before the world cup incident he criticized Neymar’s theatrics as “a bad example for a kid, for my Son” when he coached Corinthians against Santos.
Ever since his time at Santos, Neymar’s flamboyant tricks and skills have at times sparked controversy. Many have maintained that his skills and tricks are disrespectful to opponents. One of such moments was the Copa Del Rey final of the 2014-2015 season where Athletic Bilbao captain, Andoni Iraola criticized Neymar’s use of the rainbow flick late in the game with a 3-1lead as unsportsmanlike. Neymar attempted a rainbow flick over Athletic Bilbao’s right back, Unai Bustinza which the Athletic Bilbao players took an exception to. Neymar’s excessive showboating has led to many players kicking him out of anger and frustration which has contributed to his injuries. Another case study of this was when he was booked after attempting a rainbow flick in the 5-0 victory over Montpellier earlier this year. The referee was not pleased with his excessive showboating and issued a warning to Neymar who did not agree with the decision of the referee.
Nowadays, Paris Saint-German fans are now accustomed to the sight of Neymar limping off the pitch. The Brazilian superstar has already missed over 53 matches for the Ligue 1 champions compared to the 29 games he missed during his 4-year stint at Barcelona. Most times, these injuries are a result of Neymar’s excessive showboating and dribbling which leads to him being kicked a lot.
Neymar has been sidelined during his birthday February 5 for the last three years and that period usually marks the beginning of the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. This means that Neymar has missed some important matches which have resulted in PSG being knocked out of the Champions League tournament. An example of this was in 2018, where Paris Saint-German failed to overcome a 3-1 deficit against Real Madrid in the last 16 with Neymar being out due to injury. In 2019, he also missed both legs of Paris Saint Germans Round of 16 defeat to Manchester United. He also missed out on the 2019 Copa America after suffering an ankle problem. If Neymar continues to miss important matches like this, he can kiss his chances of winning the Ballon d’Or goodbye.
Ever since his world-record move to Paris Saint-German, Neymar has always been on the news, and most times it has always been for the wrong reasons. He has been involved in so much controversial news which has been hard to keep track of. One of such incidents was when Neymar refused to allow his fellow PSG teammate, Cavani take a late penalty in an 8-0 rout over Dijon despite being on a hat trick. To further complicate matters, if the penalty had been converted by Cavani, the Centre Forward would have become Paris Saint German's all-time leading goal scorer. Another such controversy was when he punched a fan after losing the Coupe de France final to Rennes last year, he got suspended for 3 matches for his behavior.
CONSTANT BARCELONA RETURN SPECULATIONS
There have always been rumours and speculations linking Neymar to a move back to the Spanish giants ever since he moved to PSG. The rumours grew gained weight last year as it was reported that Neymar was trying to force a move back to Barcelona to be reunited with his former Spanish teammates. The deal later fell through and Neymar was booed continuously by home fans at the beginning of the season. Around the time of this publication, the speculations have surfaced again and it remains to be seen whether it would come to fruition this time.
Was moving to PSG such a big mistake?
Many have criticized Neymar's move to the Ligue 1 champions describing it a step down in his career, but is it really a big mistake? In my opinion it is not, it was a step up in his career, one that he had to be the one shouldering the responsibilities of the team just like Messi does at Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo does at Juventus. However, he has done a poor job of shouldering those responsibilities so far despite his undeniable talent.
A lot has been said about the lack of competition in French league and for this reason many have dubbed the league as a "farmer's league" due to its lack of competition. The uncompetitive atmosphere in the Ligue 1 has also been cited as one of the reasons why Neymar will not win the Ballon d'Or and Champions League with PSG and he has often been urged to leave PSG or go back to Spain in order make his dream become a reality. However a point worthy of note is that Juventus who have also been tagged as "farmers" have come quite close to winning the Champions League, losing two finals recently.
With the caliber of world Class Players at PSG such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler and others, PSG are always favourites to win the Champions League. If they manage not to do so, it would have nothing to the do with the competitiveness of the Ligue 1 but rather the mentality of the PSG players as it would mean they are not mentally prepared to play football at the highest level.
Road to redemption?
“Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo excluded, I have not seen another player today who has reached the exceptional level of Neymar when he has been at his peak mentally and physically. Not Hazard, not Griezmann, not Pogba”. These were the exact words of Tite while commenting on Neymar in an interview with France Football and not many would disagree with him. Neymar at his best is by far one of the best players that have ever graced a football pitch and it would be a shame to see someone as talented as he is ending his career without winning a ballon d’Or title. The factors hindering Neymar from achieving this has been shed light on and it would be nice to see him take a stand and cut them all out of his career. Neymar has not been on the Ballon d’Or shortlist for the past two years and many would consider that as “blasphemy” because just sitting down and watching Neymar play, you know that he is destined for greatness in football.
It remains yet to be seen whether he would return to Barcelona or continue with Paris Saint-German. It is either he returns to Barcelona and becomes a prodigal son that could not achieve greatness outside of Spain or he cuts out the façade and be the one that propels Paris Saint-German to their first-ever Champions League trophy. If he does, he surely has a chance of winning the coveted award.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Fawaz Akintunde
Fawaz Akintunde (author) from Lagos, Nigeria on June 17, 2020:
Thanks a lot for your comments. They mean a lot
Arikewuyo on June 12, 2020:
Very nice read... Cool compilations of everything revolving around Ney's career till date...
Adejare on June 12, 2020: