Gareth Bale vs Neymar - Comparing their career trajectories in La Liga
Summer 2013: After being humiliated in the 2012-13 Champions League semi-finals by Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively, Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona set about working their way back to the summit of European football, as both of them added huge marquee signings to their already affluent squads.
Over the course of the close season, Barcelona finally landed long-term target Neymar from Santos whilst Real Madrid smashed the world transfer fee record to bring Welsh wizard Gareth Bale to the Bernabeu from Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.
Naturally, football fans across the globe have closely followed the progress of these two superstars, celebrating their triumphs and scrutinising their failings in a way that only soccer supporters can. But how have their respective careers evolved since rocking up on Spanish shores. Here's our comprehensive rundown:
Bale’s initial impact much more positive
Both arrivals were met with massive fanfare as they were unveiled in front of thousands at their respective new homes and, perhaps inevitably, a naturally high level of expectations surrounded the two superstars from day one.
Unfortunately, both players endured difficult starts to life in Spain. Injury troubles limited Bale to just five full matches from the opening 16, whilst Neymar's start to 2013/14 was hindered by a hectic summer of action for both Santos and Brazil, for whom he starred at the Confederations Cup.
Each player improved as the season progressed, but it was Bale who really hit top gear in the second half of the campaign. The Los Blancos star's impact was easily measurable by a phenomenal winning goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, before he wrote his place in history with the Decima-winning header in the Champions League final against city rivals Atletico Madrid.
Despite commanding a world record fee, some would argue that Bale had already proved his worth: 15 goals and 12 assists in the league, along with two memorable Cup moments signalled a terrific first campaign. With every symbolic heart celebration, the Bernabeu's love for the Welshman grew. Sadly, the adulation wouldn't last.
Meanwhile, Neymar's return of nine goals and eight assists from 19 La Liga starts was steady if not spectacular. His second season at the Camp Nou would be crucial.