Can Neymar become Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona?
There’s been a lot of recent speculation about the future of Neymar. A new contract offer has been on the table since the Champions League final last season but has yet to be signed, giving rise to the notion that the Brazilian might leave Barcelona.
That was until the player and his father were hauled up before the Spanish courts in the past week concerning the nature of his transfer from Santos to Barcelona.
During those court proceedings, Neymar Sr. noted that one club had already made an offer to him for Neymar’s signature and it met the €190m buyout clause currently on the player’s head.
However, in the same breath Neymar Sr. also advised that his son had no desire to accept the offer and wished to stay at Barca for many more years, something the Luis Suarez expressed he expected to happen in the wake of an astonishing 7-0 semi-final first leg victory over Valencia in the Copa del Rey.
With this in mind, the likelihood is that he’ll sign after the conclusion of this particular La Liga campaign and before flying off to represent Brazil, as captain, in the Copa America.
Once the contract is signed, sealed and delivered – music to the ears of all Barca fans – the wunderkind can then get down to the business of usurping the best in the business.
Messi is the best in the word for a reason
Lionel Messi is still the barometer by which every other player measures themselves. Forget the trophies and trinkets that come on an almost weekly basis to the Argentinian in recognition of his work, Messi is one of, if not the hardest worker in the team.
Goalscorer, assister, number 10, false nine, winger. He plays them all with equal aplomb. It has been said many times previously that we will never see his like again.
But Neymar will want to get somewhere close to that consistent level of excellence, if not surpass it – if that’s possible.
His first season in Blaugrana saw an youngster who was reticent, almost uncomfortable with the levels of close physical attention he received. Someone who was, if not entirely void of confidence, then certainly nowhere close to the player who’d been on show at Santos.
The 2014/15 campaign was where he really came of age and the way that he dovetailed beautifully with Messi and then with Luis Suarez was a joy to behold.
He has become a wonderfully astute reader of Barcelona’s game and his runs are often timed to perfection, receiving balls in behind or over the top with swiss-like precision. Either that or a slaloming run from a slightly deeper standpoint, at pace, that often renders the covering defender moribund.
Take him down in full flight and it’s a yellow at best. Allow him to slip by and goodnight Vienna. There haven’t been too many occasions over the last couple of seasons where Neymar has wasted a goalscoring chance when presented to him.
Even the showboating has taken a back seat which is perhaps the biggest sign of a maturity from the player. Trying a rainbow flick in last season’s Spanish Cup final drew criticism from captain Xavi and others within the four walls at home, let alone a pretty disgruntled Athletic Bilbao side.
There’s simply no need for him to showcase this area of his game because he is more than capable of beating 99 percent of his opponents without it.
Neymar stepped up in Messi’s absence this season
Indeed, it was a surprise to many that he came third, rather than second to Messi in the Ballon d’Or. It appears to be just a matter of time before he goes on to claim his first “world’s best” crown.
When Messi was injured for two months this season, it was Neymar who stepped forward and kept things ticking along to the extent where his colleague wasn’t really missed. It was the first time that “Messi-dependance” had truly seemed to have been overcome.
The secret appears to be to found somewhere in the “just let them play” dictate. These players are so good that each know where to be when to be there, who to find with a pass, when to play the pass.
At the time of writing, “MSN” have scored 80 goals already between them this season and Neymar has played a full part. Suarez has hit incredible form too, to further his own claims as the best centre-forward in the world, but the Brazilian’s contribution cannot be ignored.
As the team evolves over the next few seasons we could see Neymar play the more central role that he enjoys for his country. Sat slightly deeper behind two strikers, poacher turned gamekeeper if you will.
His skill set and manipulation of the ball is so advanced and his feet so quick that wherever he is placed on the pitch – as per Messi too – Neymar can be a danger to the opposition.
Usher him down the line and he will ruin you for pace. Show him inside and he’ll take the fastest and least circuitous route, leaving bodies in his wake.
There’s already some certainty that he will be the fulcrum of a future Blaugrana once Messi heads home to Argentina and hangs up his boots.