Exceptional Neymar on same level as Ronaldo, Messi – Zico
Neymar is exceptional and on the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo and his former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi, according to Brazil legend Zico.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward did not make the top 10 of the 2018 Ballon d'Or after struggling to make an impact at the World Cup having missed the end of the season with a fractured metatarsal.
Messi missed out on the podium for an award he and Ronaldo have won five times each, with the Portugal superstar beaten into second place by Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric.
Neymar has often featured as a number 10 for PSG under new coach Thomas Tuchel this term despite typically featuring on the wing during his career, a position Zico feels is his strongest role.
And Zico, now a director at Kashima Antlers having starred for Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s, feels Neymar should be considered on a par with Messi and Ronaldo.
"Neymar doesn't play in this role [as a 10]," Zico said to Omnisport. "He is a wing player, and always has been. They [clubs] give him a number 10 because there is a big meaning in life of a great name of the Brazilian team.
"Maybe, the only one that went out of this was Romario, a born striker that had the option for 11. But, every forward from every club chose the number 10 because it was the big representing of the great name of the club. The clubs themselves made a point of it.
"So, the number 10 jersey had a weight, not only in the national team, but in Brazil. The big reference. He was the team's star, so he received the number 10.
"I think Neymar has this situation, [it is] obvious he has more pressure. Every great player is more outstanding in the victory, but has more pressure in defeats. But he is an exceptional player. He has a talent like few in world football. I put him at the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi."
Flash and Batman pic.twitter.com/pDRoEypIwW— Neymar Jr (@neymarjr) January 1, 2019
While Neymar is Brazil's current talisman, he has often appeared to struggle under the weight of expectation placed on his shoulders wearing the number 10 shirt for his country.
"It is not the jersey of the Brazilian team, it is Pele's jersey," Zico added. "The biggest player of the world's football history! This is the problem.
"The pressure is this: everybody thinks that who wears this shirt has to do what Pele has done! It's a cowardice with any player!
"The problem is – do not get carried away by this, or try to compare to this. The problem is letting people know that you play different, in another way and with different characteristics."