Neymar and Messi will pair up for the 2013-14 season in what is looking like the most frightening attacking line-up in European football. But the much-hyped Brazilian has still has a lot to do, and his success is far from guaranteed.
The signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar is one of the biggest transfers of recent times. Not because of the size of the transfer fee – a deal of sub thirty million Euros is relatively modest in the current climate – but because of the reputation of the player, and the debate over whether he can do it at what is still Europe’s biggest club.
Neymar is a huge risk for Barcelona. A classic Brazilian street footballer, he is technically superior to all but the greatest players in the world, but his mentality is far from world class.
Neymar is a selfish player, focused on entertaining the crowd (and himself) with tricks, dribbles and elaborate technical executions at the expense of teamwork and efficiency. He is great to watch, but must surely be frustrating to play with.
One can’t help but wonder if, on the face of it, the floppy-haired playboy would have been better suited to the Galactico style of Real Madrid rather than the idealistic Catalonian side.
Madrid offered Santos – and Neymar – more money, but Barcelona’s representatives, with the help of Nike’s marketing team, pushed the deal through. The debate of on- versus off-field value will be raised. But, from a footballing sense, it is a slightly perplexing move.
Paul Macdonald of Goal.com described it perfectly:
“His selfishness in possession, his wastefulness in pursuit of self rather than team dynamic, is the antithesis of everything that Barcelona are.”
Many will question whether Neymar is right for Barcelona, let alone as the first signing of the summer. “Surely they need a defender and goalkeeper more than another forward” they say.
But this season Barcelona, on the European front at least, came unstuck. “Stop Messi and you stop Barcelona” cry the tactically-minded observers.
Certainly, Barcelona’s dependence on Messi will be eased by the attention-grabbing Brazilian number 11. From this perspective, and with Neymar and Messi as two of a fluid front three, it looks a good piece of business.
But Villanova will have his work cut out to fit Neymar into a selfless team who, even with Messi at the centre, rely on their ability to pass-and-move around the opposition more often than individual brilliance.
To suggest that Neymar’s style can’t work at Barcelona would be wrong, though.
Ronaldinho was the most exciting player on the planet during his mesmeric World Player of the Year seasons at Barcelona. ‘Dinho wowed the world with his no-look passes, stepovers, flick-flacks and other showboat moments that sent YouTube into meltdown.
But this was a team without Messi. The young Argentinian was developing, and learned a lot from Ronaldinho, but he wasn’t the finished article at this point. Ronaldinho famously – and rather modestly – referenced Messi in 2006 when he said “This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona.”.
Messi was able to pick up where Ronaldinho left off, and took it to another level. Neymar, 21, comes to Barcelona at a time when Messi, 24, is not ready to pass the baton but is just about to set off on yet another World Record attempt. This is not a handover, this is a partnership.
The key to whether Neymar becomes a success in Europe will be his willingness to adapt.
He must strengthen physically, although less so in Spain than if he’d ended up in the Premier League or Bundesliga. His lightweight style will be effective in La Liga, but less so in the Champions League.
He must become more team-oriented, and no one combines individual brilliance with ‘give-and-go’ teamwork better than Messi. There will be times to showboat, times to go alone and make a mockery of defenders, but he must learn to be selective and mature in his decision making.
Most of all, he must fit in with the Barcelona philosophy. He is no longer the biggest fish in the pond, at least in terms of ability. Neymar’s marketability will outweigh the Argentinian’s, and European fans will soon become accustomed to the man that will challenge Ronaldo as the face of Nike Football in Europe. But Neymar must adapt on the field and immerse himself in the team philosophy that has made the Catalans the most successful Spanish side in recent times.
If he can do this, then we may be looking at the two-horse race for the Ballon D’Or becoming a three-way fight. If not, it will be a case of a great talent, wasted.