Neymar: Can't Cope With Tight Marking or Grand Expectations
Brazilian 20-year-old superstar Neymar has long been courted by the European elite, and for the past year, he has been widely tipped to make the move up and across the Atlantic.
However, it seems a move to football's Holy Grail isn't something Neymar can cope with just yet—as proved most recently by his Olympic showing.
A common criticism of the forward is his inability to perform his best against bigger teams and tougher defences.
For Santos, Neymar has no trouble scoring hat tricks against the likes of Bolivar, but put him in tougher Copa Libertadores matches against teams like Velez Sarsfield and Corinthians, and he's nowhere to be seen.
The tighter marking often forces the Brazilian out onto the wing, and he hasn't yet worked out a way to emulate the likes of Pele and Lionel Messi and evade close man-markers.
And at the 2012 Olympics, Neymar translated his club form onto the international stage.
He scored three goals in the six games of the tournament, against Egypt, Belarus and Honduras. But when the moneymaker match came along, the supposedly prodigious talent was nowhere to be seen.
He was good in the semifinal against South Korea, but with the pressure on in the gold-medal match against Mexico at Wembley—with 86,162 people in attendance and tens of millions watching back home in Brazil—Neymar simply couldn't make a difference.
Is Neymar Ready For a Move to Europe?
The Brazilian superstar failed to cope with the close attention of the Mexican back line and often found himself crowded out with nowhere to go.
He failed to release the ball at the right times, and his mazy dribbles into pointless areas signified a lack of ideas and a real struggle to assert any authority on the match.
Besides the close marking, Neymar's mental state on the field of play in those high-pressure situations also signifies a lack of readiness for the big stage.
He spurned many great chances to score throughout the Olympic tournament—especially against New Zealand when he ballooned a tap-in well over the bar from no more than six yards out.
And in that final against Mexico, when he had finally found a pocket of space in the penalty area, having evaded his markers, he missed his—and his country's—golden opportunity.
New Chelsea boy Oscar dos Santos had bundled his way into the Mexican box and managed to hook the ball through to Neymar, with the goalkeeper as the only obstacle to a vital equaliser.
In a regular Brasileiro match, Neymar would've tucked away that chance with consummate ease against at least 15 of the league's 20 teams.
But when it really mattered and the hopes of a nation were on his shoulders, he crumbled, blazing his effort high into Wembley's east stands.
His recurring lack of composure on the grand stage cost his country a gold medal and no doubt cost his agent a lucrative fee from a big European transfer.
For Neymar proved he's yet to be able to hack the pressure at the top.
Should he make the switch to Real Madrid, Chelsea or FC Barcelona this summer, the domestic expectation on his shoulders would turn global.
A move to Chelsea would be the worst, with the highly physical nature and incredible competitiveness characteristic of the Premier League two enemies of Neymar's current game.
Considering he'd arrive at the club for a fee unassailably bigger than that of Eden Hazard, a Fernando Torres- or Andriy Shevchenko-like impact could be expected.
A switch to Spain would be the better option, not least of all because the culture, climate and general lifestyle bears similarity to Brazil.
La Liga would also suit his style better, with the time and space he'd get on the ball allowing him more license to dazzle and find the space to shoot.
However, playing as a striker for one of Spain's "Big Two" is the most highly demanding role in world football—the world expects goals game after game, no matter the opponent and no matter how tough the conditions are.
Forwards much more complete than Neymar—e.g. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Karim Benzema—have failed to deliver under the burden of being the main man for the world's richest, most watched and most popular football clubs (although Benzema is getting better).
In essence, Neymar simply isn't compatible with a European switch right now. If he moved this summer to one of the aforementioned teams, chances are that he'd get eaten alive.
But of course, this is a man who's only 20 and has unbridled potential.
The best move he could make in his career right now is to stay at Santos, take in more big domestic and continental matches and live with the national hype and media circus for another two years until it becomes something he craves and can't live without.
He's coping at a domestic level, but as proved most recently at the Olympics, he needs more time before being able to deal with it at a continental and international levels.
Come the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with two more successful and overhyped Santos seasons under his belt, Neymar will be as ready as he possibly can be for his biggest challenge yet—playing talisman on home soil in the quest to deliver the most prestigious prize in world football.
Whatever the outcome after that, only then will Neymar be ready to make the switch to Europe and take the hype wagon global.