Neymar: Reviewing His Performance for Brazil Against England at Wembley
Simply put, Neymar was not very good at Wembley on Wednesday night. He was a far cry from his sublime best and, once more, will face questions from the wider European football audience over whether his abilities truly match his reputation.
Such questions are an understandable reaction to a one-off encounter—after all, first impressions count for a lot. There have also been several "next big thing" Brazilians who have failed to succeed.
It is also worth noting that Neymar, although he may well have disappointed on this occasion, is considered to be the country's brightest prospect by some distance—ahead of the likes of Oscar and Lucas Moura.
Both of those supposedly lesser players are currently plying their trade in the upper echelons of the European game. All three could still qualify to play for their club's under-21 sides. They are all remarkable talents.
Neymar's evening out at Wembley was defined in the first half. A couple of excellent Gary Cahill interventions denied him the chance to break clear, while he should have done far better at full-stretch from an Oscar cross with the goal gaping. He was, though, far from Brazil's worst performer on the night.
There were nice passing interchanges with Oscar, while his runs behind the defence in the early period of the match were a major threat. Glen Johnson was turned inside out by the Santos man at one point but, by his very high standards, it was sadly a disappointing night.
There has been a lot written about Neymar's flying start to the 2013 season and, in his five matches to date, he has contributed an impressive five goals and three assists to his Santos side. Besides that, he has also enthused fans with a collection of individual highlights that have quickly became sensations on YouTube.
He is a dream subject for the Brazilian media.
The truth is that, of the games he has played, only Bragantino and São Paulo have provided any serious opposition, and in those games he contributed two goals and two assists. Despite that, though, it has been clear that he is still somewhat feeling his way to match fitness and form.
In Brazil, though, he is good enough to overcome that issue.
Without wanting to excuse some lacklustre performances, it is worth noting that Brazil's most ineffective participants were all in a similar position.
Paulinho looked off the pace after just two appearances since the Club World Cup, Luis Fabiano has managed four games this year, while Ronaldinho has played just once—last weekend.
While the state championships will not be ideal preparation, these players will surely give a far better indication of their suitability when Brazil take on Italy and Russia next month.
For Neymar, a shot at European redemption awaits. He enjoyed a decent Olympic games, but was underwhelming at the final hurdle. There are still many who feel he has much to prove and he, as a proud athlete, will be determined to set the record straight.
Whether or not he chooses to move to European football ahead of the 2014 World Cup is up to him. There are arguments both for and against, but those who would advise him to switch will no doubt cite this week's game as an example.
Neymar has wowed crowds in South America with his fleet-footed destruction of teams both little and large, but many will remain unconvinced until he does likewise in a top-level European competition.
Brazil's league is improving and highly competitive, but it remains below the standard of England, Spain or Germany and cannot offer Champions League football—without doubt the highest level of club football. The horrendous Brazilian footballing calendar is another major reason in favour of an exit.
While my personal feeling that there is no rush to leave, there are worries that he is taking on too hectic a schedule—both on and off the pitch. It must be remembered, in all the deliberation taking place, that he is just 21 years old and father to a young child in his native São Paulo.
When Ronaldo was preparing to head to France '98, at a similar age, he could do so with the support of Romario, Bebeto, Edmundo and Dunga—to name just a few.
Neymar, on the other hand, is already expected to take on the role of a senior player for the Seleção and, on top of that, he has not received the more rounded footballing experiences that Ronaldo was privy to at the same age.
People should not rush to judge such a talent on a handful of showings, for he has already proved that the sky is the limit as far as potential is concerned. Frank Lampard, by means of comparison, did not arrive at Chelsea until he was 23.
Neymar can come across as cocky, but the truth is that we are dealing with a grounded individual who has outgrown his youthful off-field impudence and is currently being well guided by his father.
Despite dragging Santos to the Copa Libertadores title 18 months ago, his development since then has been considerable. He is now a more frequent goalscorer, a better creative player and an altogether more balanced individual.
With a further 18 months to pass until the World Cup, few who have tracked his development would doubt that he will take further giant leaps towards the game's elite in that period.
He needs major support from those around him, but he is arguably ahead of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in development at the same age. The cynicism of his hype is understandable, but Brazil have known they are dealing with a true once in a generation talent for quite some time.
A couple of blows to his confidence at this stage may do him much good in the long run, but the chances of him failing to reach the game's elite look minimal. Now, Neymar Jr., it is over to you to prove me right.
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