Neymar: 10 Moments to Sum Up His 2012
Neymar's talents have long been known outside of Brazil, but he remains in his homeland and is still steadily improving his output with each passing year, reaching levels that few can claim to match.
The 20-year-old is linked with the great and good of European football, but is thus far resisting the temptation to move across the Atlantic. Thus far, he is reaping the financial and professional rewards of his decision to stay.
This year has seen the Santos youngster take another stride forward in his development, but also suffer disappointment in both the Olympic Games and the Copa Libertadores. Have those failures been outweighed by successes, though?
Let's take a look at 10 events that define Neymar's 2012 calendar year...
FIFA Puskas Award Success
Before Neymar had even returned from his short holidays following the 2011 Club World Cup, he was already making headlines worldwide after winning the FIFA Puskas award for the best goal of 2011.
The entire move for the goal, scored in July 2011, was phenomenal. From its origins on the left-flank, Neymar was simply untouchable. Flamengo's defenders simply could not get anywhere near the Brazilian star.
Everything that he excels at was present in this one attacking thrust. Vision, pace, trickery and a fine finish led to the then 19-year-old scoring a truly remarkable goal.
What sets Neymar apart from many of his colleagues is his ability to improvise. The trick to beat the defender at the edge of the area was yet another stunning example of this incredible clarity of thought while under pressure.
100th Senior Goal V Palmeiras
What better way to celebrate your 20th birthday than to score your 100th goal as a professional footballer?
Romário's claim to have scored 1000 times is often dismissed as inaccurate or fanciful, but Neymar can rightfully claim to have scored all his goals either in competitive club action, or with the Brazilian national side.
He achieved the remarkable feat on Feb. 5, 2012 with an unmarked header from a free-kick against Palmeiras in the Campeonato Paulista—a very simple finish for one who specialises in the extraordinary.
Since then, he has gone on to add more than 50 more to his tally this season alone.
Libertadores Hat-Trick V Internacional
Next up for Brazil's wunderkind was a first Copa Libertadores hat-trick against fellow Brazilian side Internacional, en-route to eight goals across the entire competition.
The Libertadores is renowned for its tight matches where even much lauded teams are forced to battle for their every success. Neymar, though, single-handedly picked apart the Internacional defence in this group-stage clash.
His first, a penalty, was dispatched with ease. The second, a wondrous wandering run from his own half was rounded off with a delicate chipped finish, while the third was a product of extreme pace and skill that, once more, sowed mass destruction.
It is not often a player scores two solo goals beginning in their own half of the pitch, but with Neymar it comes as little surprise. When at his inspired best, he can be nigh on impossible to handle.
World's Most Marketable Athlete
Neymar may still be playing in Brazil, but on May 18, 2012 it was announced that he was now ranked as the world's most marketable athlete by respected SportsPro magazine.
Lionel Messi can lack charisma off the pitch, while Cristiano Ronaldo can be regarded by some as arrogant. Neymar, though, has come to be regarded as a charming young man, combining good looks with his fashion conscious nature and cheeky public persona.
Brands have flocked to the man seen to be the next global star of football, and certainly the most marketable Brazilian since the rise of Ronaldo pre-France '98. With the World Cup to head to Brazil in 2014, no one wants to miss the opportunity to have Neymar's endorsement ahead of the tournament.
Tri-Campeão: State Championship Success
For the third time in their history, and for the first time without the help of the legendary Pelé, Santos completed a memorable third straight title success in the São Paulo state championship.
In 2013, Neymar will hope to guide Santos to a fourth straight title—a feat that has never been achieved in the tournament's history.
The 20-year-old was integral to the side's success once more, in a triumph that saw them overcoming eventual Club World Cup champions Corinthians and Copa Sudamericana champions São Paulo along the way.
Neymar finished as the tournament's top-scorer for the first time, scoring 20 goals in just 16 fixtures in the competition.
His best was predictably saved for the latter stages, scoring a sensational hat-trick in a semi-final success over São Paulo, before adding four more goals in the two-legged final encounter with Guarani.
For the third year in a row, he was crowned Player of the Tournament, having also previously won Young Player of the Tournament in his debut campaign back in 2009.
No Repeat of Pelé in Copa Libertadores
The stage was set for Neymar to write himself into the history books alongside his idol Pelé in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, having helped his side to their first title since O Rei's era in 2011.
With Pelé having won back-to-back Libertadores titles in 1962 and 1963, the expectation was that Neymar could do the same. Unfortunately, despite scoring his eighth goal of the tournament, he was helpless to prevent a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Corinthians at the semi-final stage.
That was enough, though, to see him crowned top-scorer in the competition for the first time.
There would be some sort of redemption for the young star in September, though, as Santos beat Universidad de Chile to win the Recopa Sudamericana, or South American Super Cup. The Santos forward was once more handed a Player of the Tournament trophy to add to his collection.
The Libertadores may not have gone to plan, but there was still the Olympic Games to come. Or, at least, that was the plan.
Neymar headed to London for the global gathering as part of a Brazil squad that was simply expected to return home with a gold medal. They reached the final, but were soundly beaten by an inspired Mexico side and Brazil's wait for Olympic gold continues.
Neymar's inability to guide his team to gold will hurt him. He carried the weight of a nation into the event, as he will at the World Cup in two years time, but could not produce the glittering form that has seen him carry Santos to titles almost single-handedly.
He will have a silver medal and three goals to take with him as a memory of the games, but will no doubt already be thinking about Rio de Janeiro in 2016. A shot at Olympic redemption awaits.
First International Hat-Trick
While his goalscoring may have remained consistent, there is no doubt that Neymar's performance levels did drop a little over the summer, as the weight of games played over the past two years took its toll.
However, once fully recovered from Olympic disappointment, Neymar was quickly back on song and added to his ever-growing list of achievements with a first international hat-trick in a 8-0 victory over China.
The standard of the opposition must be taken into account—this was barely a second string Chinese side—but Neymar still did not disappoint, in a year that he added nine goals to his international tally.
Despite accusations that he has not performed on the international stage, Neymar's record for Brazil now stands at 17 goals in 27 games. Now, to finally silence his doubters, he must arrive at the Confederations Cup on form before the main event in 2014.
Sending-off Against Grêmio
When Neymar was sent-off against Grêmio at the end of September, an almighty controversy blew up in the Brazilian media regarding the treatment of the young star by the country's referees.
Having been roughed up all game by his opponents, Neymar was given a bizarre booking in the first-half, before a tangle with former team-mate Pará earned him a straight red card for a suggested stamp.
After the game, an irate manager Muricy Ramalho launched into a full-on tirade against the official, insisting that Neymar would have to get out of Brazil should this type of treatment continue.
Neymar was been dismissed on several occasions in the past two seasons, including red cards for celebrating with a mask thrown from the crowd and also for sarcastic applause of the referee, both in 2011. In the same year, he was also fined for calling a referee “a thief” on Twitter.
This year, though, the arguments have not been against the youngster, who has appeared to mature. Instead, officials have been heavily criticised for both unfairly targeting him regarding simulation and failing to offer protection against over-zealous defenders.
A Glittering December
We have already reeled off a list of awards and achievements that Neymar has added to his honours roll in 2012, but more was set to follow.
Having netted 43 times in 47 games for Santos in 2012, Neymar was awarded his second Brazilian top-scorer prize following similar success in 2010 and, consequently, also featured in the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) Team of the Brasileirão.
A repeat nomination for the FIFA Puskas award will also see Neymar defend his Goal of the Year crown at the world governing body's annual Ballon d'Or gala, where he is also still in contention for a place in the FIFPro Team of the Year.
Brazil's Olympic Committee continued the Santos idol's month of coronations by naming Neymar the Best Brazilian Footballer of 2012, but the biggest title was yet to come.
Placar magazine, who host an annual Silver Ball event to honour the best players of the Brazilian championship, decided to crown Neymar as “hors concours”—the first time the award has been bestowed since Pelé was honoured in 1970.
The award recognises those who are playing on an entirely different level to their competition and, given the rarity of its awarding, it is symbolic of Neymar's elevated status in the Brazilian game.
At the event, former Barcelona star Ronaldinho summed up Neymar's achievement perfectly, telling the star: "You are indeed hors concours. In the language of football, the others are riding bicycles while you are on a motorcycle."