Neymar's Game Must Evolve If He Makes Jump to European Football
Neymar this, Neymar that. He should go, he should stay. He'll be a great fit here, no, he'll be a better fit there. Is he ready for European football? Of course he's ready for European football!
Everywhere you turn these days, it seems the conversation turns to Neymar and, more importantly, the Brazilian starlet's next move.
It seems logical that the 21-year-old would make the jump to European football this summer, but it also seems prudent to point out that his game will need to evolve if he is to survive overseas.
But before we get to that, is it even likely that Neymar will leave Santos this summer?
According to the Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated), it's very likely:
Three teams are reportedly pushing to sign the nifty striker when the transfer window reopens—Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Santos last week reportedly rejected a €20 million ($26 million) offer from Barcelona officials who were in Brazil.
Santos is trying to sell Neymar as quickly as possible because in six months the player will be allowed to sign a pre-contract with any other club, and the Brazilian team will not get anything in return. Some say that has made the player's value drop compared to previous years because clubs know that Santos risks receiving nothing.
"When I extended my contract everybody praised me for sticking to my word and not leaving the country,'' Neymar said Monday. "Now people are saying that I'm a bad character because I'm staying. There is nothing finalized yet. We'll try to do this in a way that is good for everybody.''
Yeah, he's leaving this summer. Take it to the bank.
But he's going to have to make some adjustments when he lands across the pond. For one, no matter which league he chooses, the European game is far more physical than he's used to in Brazil. That is going to be a major adjustment, especially for a player fond of flopping and feigning injury.
If he tries to flop every time a defender puts a body on him, he'll draw a lot of yellow cards in a short period of time.
The level of competition will be much higher than he faced in Brazil as well. I actually don't think this is as big a deal as other people—he's a Brazilian international, so he's already faced top competition in his career—but he's going to find his margin of error drastically diminished.
Certain aspects of his game will need to be tweaked. If he thinks he'll be able to dance on the ball or face defenders one-on-one whenever he chooses, he has another thing coming. That's fine against the inferior competition of the Brasileirao, but it won't fly in La Liga or the Bundesliga.
Depending on where he lands, he may also need to face being the team's second option in the attack or even spending time on the bench. At Barcelona, he would have a place on the left wing, but the attack will always flow through Messi first, meaning Neymar wouldn't be able to drift centrally at will.
Plus, the Catalans like to play a methodical—some would argue, plodding—style of football that is based on maintaining possession through precise and clever passing. It could be argued Neymar is much more dangerous as a weapon on the counter-attack, streaming down the wings and beating defenders with his impeccable dribbling skills before positioning himself to score.
Would he grow impatient with Barcelona's style of play?
At Real Madrid, he could find himself playing a new role if Cristiano Ronaldo remains this summer. Ronaldo could play as a center forward or on the right side—Neymar could fulfill both of those roles as well—but it would be interesting to see how two players who like to be the forefront of their team's attack would coexist.
Where is Neymar the best fit?
And at Bayern Munich, Neymar could find himself in a logjam for playing time. Franck Ribery, Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze, Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Xherdan Shaqiri would all be available to play attacking midfielder roles, as well as having Mario Gomez, Mario Mandzukic and Claudio Pizarro available at forward.
It's possible that Neymar will descend upon Europe and instantly dominate, but it seems fair to assume there will be an adjustment period. How he handles that period—will he admit he needs to evolve, or will he become petulant and rely on old tricks that no longer work?—could very well define his career.
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