Players that can replace Neymar at Barcelona - Absolutely Nobody.
Barcelona's coffers are overfull, and options aplenty. But a harsh reality slowly dawns upon the Blaugrana faithful.
The football world seems to be just about recovering from the seismic events that have unfolded over the last week. While most followers of the beautiful game were placing their bets on who’d be the first £100 million man, Neymar reminds us all that he’s here to break the norm. Just under £200 million has been spent on one man, and football shall never be the same.
A lot has been said and written about the historic transfer, so let’s move on from it - if we ever can - and look at what’s next for Barcelona.
Phillipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Deli Alli, and a host of other names have been linked with the Blaugrana to replace the departed Brazilian. And with the eye-watering check Barca received from Qatar, they could even bring Emile Heskey back from retirement. Small issue though - there is only one Neymar, and he’s off.
Don’t be mistaken, the Brazilian is far from perfect. Confidence in his skill is dangerously close to arrogance, and some quarters feel he’s already on the wrong side. Unnecessary showboating (read: A Rainbow late into the 2015 Copa del Rey final) has sparked brawls, with manager and teammates strongly downplaying the antic. A Porsche Panamera that a teenage Neymar won from his dad in a bet has been seized by Brazilian IRS. Now most would straighten up after such incidents, but then again, Neymar isn’t like most men.
As Xavi pulled Neymar to safety from that Copa del Rey final incident, a smirk was quite evident on the Brazilian’s face. Speaking after the match, an unapologetic Neymar casually stated that he doesn’t intend to change. And what about that sweet car that was taken away? Well, he went on to buy a sweeter Ferrari instead and post a picture with it on his party-heavy Instagram feed. Smooth.
Like him or hate him, you can’t deny that Neymar knows how to stand out. In addition to a remarkable footballing ability, it’s this character that’s seen his star rise with every passing game. It’s his ability to rile opponents, that inspires team-mates to rise with him. Rewind to that unforgettable March night when Barca beat PSG 6-1 at a delirious Nou Camp, and you’ll know just what I’m talking about.
His name echoed through the favelas of Brazil during the 2014 World Cup, and he lived up to the hype as he found the net 4 times in the tournament. Sadly, he had his Cup cut short with an injury suffered during the quarter final. A fractured vertebra, a broken country, and what followed is a Brazilian nightmare.
But the pain of the World Cup saw Neymar return more determined than ever. He played a pivotal role in Barcelona’s historic season of 2014-15 when they won the treble - scoring 39 goals and assisting 11 in all competitions.
Fast forward to 2016 and a 24-year-old Neymar is awarded the captain’s arm band for Brazil during the Olympics in Rio. Pressure? Didn’t seem like he knew what that is. He scored a 25-yard beauty in the final and converted the winning penalty that sent a packed Maracana into raptures. Tears of agony from 2014 were now tears of pride. This guy’s got heart.
His numbers further validate his greatness. He knows where the back of the net is, averaging 30 goals a season for Barcelona since 2014-15. He’s got the prowess over the pass, recording the most assists in Spain last season (21). And remember what i said about riling opponents? Since his move to Spain, he’s been fouled 431 times - more than any player in Europe’s top 5 leagues in that while - and won 15 penalties in the process, second only to Cristiano Ronaldo (17).
He is a fine footballer, a relentless fighter, and a close friend as proven by farewell messages from his former Barca colleagues. The Catalan scouts sure have their work cut out for them. Fortunately for them, there’s a host of options to choose from out there. But unfortunately for them, there is only one Neymar Jr.