How Barcelona can help Neymar's Brazil conquer Spain
The 2011 World Club Cup final between Barcelona and Santos was a great chance for Neymar to meet his prospective new team mates, as even though this match took place over a year and a half ago, it was evident then that Barcelona would probably be Neymar’s choice of club once the time came for his inevitable, almost necessary, move to Europe.
Even the match itself seemed like some kind of football conference to help Barcelona seal the deal.
The game turned out to be more of an exhibition match for the then European champions, and the result had repercussions for Brazilian football which would extend far beyond the eventual export of Neymar to Catalonia.
As the dust settled after Santos’s drubbing at the hands of Messi and company, Brazilian football realised it needed to borrow some of the Barca style, but at the same time, Barcelona also realised they might need some of the Brazilian flair which was encapsulated within Neymar. Their paths have been threatening to cross again ever since.
During the following year, Neymar continued to impress for Santos, and was so instrumental for his team that when he was playing they looked like they could win the Brazilian championship, but when he was away with the national team, which he was quite often, they looked like relegation candidates.
Neymar’s star continued to rise and his reputation was enhanced on a weekly basis. He adorned the front pages of a range of magazines, from the expected appearances on the front of World Soccer and Placar, to featuring in more diverse publications such as Time magazine, who boldly declared him “the next Pelé” without a hint of a question mark.
The highlights of his individual brilliance were coming thick and fast, and the grainy looking videos of this slight, mercurial figure in white swept across continents via social media and the innumerable football blogs which embellish modern media coverage of the sport. Each new sighting added to the almost mythical hype surrounding the player, who many people wouldn’t have seen play more than a few minutes of football.
This was a time when problems could have arisen for Neymar, and at the international level some of these potential cracks were beginning to show. Poor decision-making in the final third and a tendency to drift in and out of games led to knee-jerk reactions across the world, as pundits, fans and journalists, possibly seeing him play for the first time, dismissed the furore around him as hyperbole. He was deemed over-rated, but he’d merely been going through the (brilliant) motions in the Brazilian league, and needed a new challenge.
The summer of 2013 arrived with the Barcelona links growing stronger by the day and, despite the supposed interest from Real Madrid and the mixed signals coming from the player’s entourage, Neymar eventually joined Barcelona accompanied by an appropriate amount of pomp and ceremony.
This was the challenge Neymar needed, and the level headedness and maturity started during his official unveiling as a Barcelona player in which he handled himself professionally and with dignity, commenting: “I want to help Messi continue to be the greatest player in the world.”
Going into the Confederations Cup all eyes were on him yet again as he graced the troublesome new stadiums across Brazil, and played on home turf in front of the expectant gaze of viewers all around the world, and they weren’t disappointed.
Just three minutes into the tournament opener against Japan, the Estádio Nacional in Brasília erupted as Neymar effortlessly stroked a half volley into the top corner.
Despite the questionable dance he performed as part of his celebratory routine, it seemed like we were witnessing the emergence of a more responsible and altogether more mature version of Neymar. He went on to score in each of the following group games against Mexico and Italy, before scoring a goal just before half-time in a triumphant final against Spain, which gave Brazil the momentum to go forward to cup-winning glory in the second half.
His performance in this competition has had repercussions across the world of football, not just for Neymar the individual, but also for the team he represents. To beat Spain in a final at the Maracanã was seen as a seismic shift in power, and whether or not it’s wise to take such conclusions from this result against a tired Spain in a tournament of questionable significance, it was at least encouraging to see Neymar performing within a capable team unit rather than being its only hope.
Ahead of next year’s considerably more important cup competition, Scolari’s Brazil may have gelled just in time to build some solid foundations for the big one.
Neymar scooped the Golden Ball award which is given to the best player in the Confederations Cup, and this enhanced his reputation even further. An understanding of team play seems to have hit home, and whether this is down to the player himself or the improvement of those around him, he now seems to be linking up well with the team in general play, rather than trying to carry it.
From our starting point at the 2011 Club World Cup, this most recent crossing of paths between Brazil and Spain has taken us closer to the opposite end of the line. A resurgent Brazil have in their ranks the star player of his generation, and are seemingly cottoning on to the tactics required to neutralise Spain’s domination of the football. However, this journey can only be fully completed next year.
As we have seen, the Barcelona move is paying dividends for Brazil even though their number ten hasn’t yet played for his new club. His experience of new, challenging, and unpredictable surroundings has led to a change in his mentality, and the fact that he’s now one of many big fishes in an even bigger pond will give him the freedom to evolve as a footballer. Barcelona’s gain may well turn out to be Spain’s loss.
The Brazil national team and its expectant fans will also be hoping that after a year at Barcelona Neymar will be an even more complete player than he is now, and then maybe, just maybe…