The "should he stay or should he go" debate has been raging virtually from the moment Neymar da Silva Santos Junior broke into the Santos first team as a prodigious 17-year-old four years ago, as well as being played out many times previously with a whole host of other Selecao stars in the making.
And in a football-mad country like Brazil, everyone has an opinion on the matter, whether they be a lifelong Santos supporter, the country’s Minister of Sport, the president even or that large collection of former Brazil internationals who spend their days in retirement passing judgement on such matters.
Oh, and there’s the player in question himself, who as far back as Oct 2011 proudly stated: “"We [Brazil players] do not have to leave Brazil for the world to see us.” (Via Goal.com)
In the intervening period, however, the 21-year-old has been advised on countless occasions that he must make the move across the Atlantic to test himself in the tougher environment of the European club game, whether from Ronaldo, Rivaldo (via Goal.com), Edu (via Omnisport), Pele or his club coach (via Reuters).
However, as yet the twinkle-toed playmaker has firmly stood his ground, steadfastly refusing to budge. That is until recently, when cracks in Neymar’s resistance have appeared, including this telling comment after he was sent off following a 3-1 league defeat to Ponte Preta earlier this month: “Football [in Brazil] is getting really boring, for the players, supporters and television viewers." (Via the Independent)
Now, in conjunction with recent rumours in the Spanish press (via Goal.com) indicating that La Liga giants Barcelona are keen to push through Neymar’s protracted transfer to Camp Nou this summer, as opposed to the originally planned date of after the 2014 World Cup, with the Catalans also believed to have sounded out Lionel Messi about such a change of heart, then maybe the Brazil international has been weighing up his future career options after all.
But let’s face it, so he should have been. Sure there are sound reasons to remain in his homeland, including the presence of his young son in Santos, and a sense of loyalty to his current employers and boyhood club, who gave him his first break in football and have supported him with a very generous financial package (via Forbes) that would be the match of anything he would receive with a European heavyweight.
And that is before we even mention the fact that Neymar is set to be the face of the 2014 World Cup finals, which are to be staged in Brazil for the first time since 1962.
However, with each new Goal of the Season contender that we see him score for Santos, and boy are there many, comes that nagging feeling that this prodigiously talented attacker has outgrown both Brazilian, and South American, football.
Neymar has won every individual award that there is to claim, and several times over, despite only being 21 years of age, while collectively he has led Santos to the 2011 Copa Libertadores title, the greatest club honour on the continent.
So what’s left for him to achieve domestically in Brazil? And more pertinently, is his all-round game really developing enough playing week in, week out in the Brasileirao Serie A?
Perhaps the questions that Neymar and his close coterie of advisers really need to be asking are: “What is the best decision for my long-term career and will that make me a better player in the future?” As opposed to: “What decision will inflate my bank balance and please Santos and Brazil fans the most?”
At present, as even the player himself alluded to in his post-match comments after seeing red earlier this month, there is a very real danger of Neymar doing lasting damage to his current reputation in the world game by stagnating in Sao Paulo and failing to take his game to the next level. And in turn, this could even affect his legacy in the game and how he will be viewed after he finally decides to hang up his boots.
And the reason why is that at this moment, the forward desperately needs to move his already eye-catching game on to the next level. And believe you me, there is most definitely more to come from this two-footed genius, much more, but only if he makes the move to Europe, and fast.
Otherwise fans, pundits and critics alike will soon start to treat off-colour cameos like the one we saw Neymar turn in for Brazil at Wembley earlier this month as being the norm, rather than the exception to the rule.
However, were the Brazil superstar to instead join Messi et al at Camp Nou this summer and bring to the European game just a smidgeon of the technical skills that we know he is capable of, and which he displays on a regular basis in South America, then the 21-year-old can enter next year’s World Cup on a high, reputation solidified as one of Planet Football’s greatest showmen and confidence soaring.
And, were he then to bring his A-game to the greatest show on earth and inspire Brazil to a sixth world title on home soil as the competition’s poster boy, well then watch out Messi.
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