One of the longer-running transfer rumours of the football world could be soon to reach its conclusion, with the news that Santos had accepted two offers for star forward Neymar, with the clubs thought to be Real Madrid and Barcelona.
According to reports from Sky Sports, Santos' vice-president Odilio Rodrigues stated that Neymar already has a "gentleman's agreement" in place to join Barcelona, though the player's representatives said there was no hurry and both proposals would be looked at.
Even so, it seems to indicate that a potential move is heavily weighted in favour of the Camp Nou side—raising the intriguing possibility of the Catalan team pairing Brazil's biggest young star Neymar with the best player in the world, Argentinean Leo Messi.
All media in Brazil 'strongly' agree that there's no doubt Neymar will choose Barça, it will be before the game against Flamengo.— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) May 25, 2013
Mundo Deportivo says Scolari prefers that Neymar is presented as a Barça player in the 1st week of June so he concentrate on the FiFA Ccup.— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) May 25, 2013
One of the negotiators says that a final deal on the transfer of Neymar is very well advanced and that it could be finalized tonight [folha]— barcastuff (@barcastuff) May 24, 2013
The big question for all interested watching parties is, can Neymar and Messi play together? If so, how good can they become?
Neymar's Role, Messi's Goals
For the past couple of seasons, Leo Messi has operated in a free-roaming, central role in the Barcelona attack, the now oft-referred-to "False 9" position.
Supporting him are usually two wide forwards, with the likes of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez competing for the place on the right, and David Villa and Cristian Tello on the left.
Neymar can of course function as a central attacker, and in time this may be the position he wishes to take up more permanent residence in, but it is likely that he will be given the opportunity to initially take his place in the team from the left side of the attack, as he has done so well for club and country on many occasions.
Fitting the two skillful attackers into the same starting XI shouldn't be any problem at all for Tito Vilanova (the same can't be said for David Villa)—but there are more pertinent questions to answer.
Tiki-Taka and Creativity
Barcelona's approach to possession football has won them many friends and admirers, and more importantly, a bucketload of trophies. Pass, pass, pass and pass again; the players' confidence in the system and their own abilities often becomes exactly the greatest weapon they have. Eventually, a defender will make a mistake, and then comes the killer pass and the chance on goal.
Within this system, Barcelona have three or four players who offer that something different: the dribbling of Leo Messi, of course, the power and pace of the driving runs from Jordi Alba and Dani Alves, and the breaking from deep of Gerard Pique or the direct goal threat of Villa.
Neymar would be another string to their bow in terms of unpredictability, mixing approaches up in the final third and giving defenders more than just Messi's movement to worry about.
However, there would be all eyes on the Brazilian to see if he was able to cope with the expectation that he doesn't have to create a chance on goal every time he receives the ball. This is a team with patience, with expectation, with repetition ingrained on their footballing consciousness.
Barcelona do not expect, need or want to manage to work a shot on goal every time they approach the penalty area. Instead they want to work the ball wide again, move in the channels, pass infield, look for the runner and, eventually, find an even better moment to work the goalkeeper with a shot.
Can Neymar do that? Can he live with not having to be the one who unlocks the door every time he's in possession?
Egos, Learning Curves and the FIFA World Cup
Neymar is a huge commercial fish in an expanding, but still comparatively prohibitive in size, pond.
Moving to La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona and all that comes with it will bring plenty of attention, both good and bad. The Spanish media in particular can be rather partisan with their opinions, so a good performance could be made into an excellent one and a poor display could be blamed on his transfer fee, his nationality, decision to join Barça over Real or even his hairstyle.
He will come face to face with players who have won World Cups, league titles and other major trophies in abundance, and he will no longer be the main man at the club.
All these back-and-forth factors will push and pull his self-esteem and confidence all over the place, all the while with him being expected to be a match-winner within the team setting.
His mentality will have to prove every bit as positive and resilient as his talent on the football pitch, and he will have to hit the ground running.
For Neymar, arguably the most important near-future prize (after his impending transfer) will be the FIFA World Cup, to be held next year in his home country of Brazil. He cannot afford to have a poor domestic campaign and arrive "home" as the poster boy for his country's success, but without the confidence and form to do so.
All told, there will be a huge amount of pressure on this one individual—perhaps exactly the reason why Barcelona and Real Madrid are making their moves so early in the summer, so as to give him the maximum time to settle down before the season starts.
Neymar and Messi
In terms of on-the-ball ability, it is difficult to imagine a pairing in the European game with more poise, balance, skill on the ball and goals in their game than these two.
They could be absolutely phenomenal.
If they hit it off as a pairing, if Neymar is willing to put in the work to learn how his new teammates function, if he can show his best form against defences who will put him under so much more pressure than some Brazilian defences did...
...then, Barcelona would likely have it cracked. It's a lot of ifs though, and undoubtedly there will be bumpy moments along the way.
For Messi's part, his irresistible goalscoring will surely continue provided he is given the chance to fully recuperate from his end-of-season injuries, and having another creative force alongside him who can also contribute to the goal tally could even take his game up another level.
Can opponents manage to subdue Messi and keep Neymar under wraps? It's a big task, and if focus is kept on one, it could allow the other to run riot.
Skeptics of the move will point to how the likes of the hugely hyped Robinho fared when making his move from Brazil to Spain, but there are certainly plenty of indications that Neymar could be a success at Barcelona.
And if Neymar and Messi are both happy and confident, and can find a good rhythm between each other...European defenders, beware.
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