On Saturday afternoon, a European club, after an eternity of coquettish negotiation, finally agreed to terms with 21-year-old Brazilian forward Neymar.
FC Barcelona have reached an agreement with Santos for Neymar. The Brazilian player will join FC Barcelona for the next five seasons.— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 26, 2013
The move is incendiary to say the least. Despite today's all-German Champions League final, and despite Bayern Munich's victory/second straight appearance in the game, FC Barcelona are widely considered the strongest side in the world. That is, you could put them on a neutral field against any club on the globe—Bayern Munich included—and Vegas would probably make them the odds-on favorite.
So it hardly seems necessary for them to poach the top player in the Western Hemisphere, especially when you consider Neymar's idiosyncratic style. His is a game that relies on both pomp and circumstance—not showy, per se, since he's brutally efficient, but certainly a fan of the flair.
Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself:
On talent and talent alone, Neymar is a season-altering addition for Barcelona, an embarrassing haul of riches for the world's most opulent roster. But maybe, just maybe, his impact won't be as swift as it appears on first glance.
Shoehorning Neymar's brio into Barca's calculated attack will produce some inevitable growing pains. It just has to. If it doesn't, something will have gone horribly wrong. There is a way to fit Neymar's unique skill set into this formation, but that answer needs to come about organically—things need to go wrong before they go right.
For one thing, the young Brazilian needs to learn how to play with Lionel Messi. On first glance that doesn't seem too hard: Messi is, by all accounts—both firsthand and observatory—one of the best people to play with in the world. He always seems to be open, and he never seems to miss an open teammate—what more could anyone ask?
But Neymar is used to filling precisely that role. He's been the "Messi" on every team he's ever played on. He was the one dominating the ball, he was the one through whom the offense ran and he was the one tasked with getting his teammates involved. How will he adjust to having another man run the show? And how will that other man, Messi, react the first time Neymar waves him off and takes a defender on his own?
The answer, as I alluded to earlier, is simple: with time. In time, and only in time, the two diminutive scorers will learn where and when and how to play off one another. They'll learn the intricacies of one another's game and, being two of the most astute footballers in the world, figure the perfect way to amplify them.
At first, things may appear to be ugly. Neymar might have a rough go adjusting to La Liga, to the rigorous precision of Barcelona's attack—a far cry from the avant-garde, go-go-go attack his team employed at Santos. He'll need to readjust some nuances in his game—yes, even a game that good needs some tweaks—in order to become a better fit for his new team.
ESPN's Francesc Tomas, a longtime expert on all things Barcelona, weighed in with similar sentiments, preaching patience and adjustment for a 21-year-old beginning his first stint in Europe:
A word of caution, though: Although 21-year-old Neymar has scored 122 goals in his last 171 matches for Santos, and 19 in 31 matches for Brazil, he is likely to need a fair amount of time to adapt not only to the different demands of European football but also to the complex formation mechanisms at Barcelona.
Sure, great players eventually should be able to work together to enhance each other’s games, but such a process can take variable time according to the skills and willingness of the different individuals. ...
Patience would be a necessary virtue because insanely high expectations wouldn't help anybody. ... (Neymar's) main priority should be adapting to the team rather than trying to change already-successful routines in order to become the main attacking reference.
Make no mistake about it: Barcelona will be unstoppable in FIFA 14. Your clearly inferior friends will drive you insane by picking them, giving the ball to Messi and Neymar, beating you despite 40 percent possession and then bragging about how much better than you they are. These are things we cannot avoid.
But Barcelona will not be unstoppable in Real Life 2014. At least not yet. There's no way a well-oiled machine like the Blaugrana can adapt to such a massive force of entropy that quick.
If they're patient with their development of Neymar, however, and if they continue to grow as a team, there's a chance the 2015 version might be just as good as their pixelated counterpart.