Barcelona: Why Neymar Will Not Succeed in European Football
In the past few seasons, a number of European clubs have been falling over themselves to sign a Brazilian wunderkind named Neymar.
In 2010, West Ham tried and failed. In 2011, the well-coiffed striker made his interest in moving to a club like Chelsea clear, as The Telegraph reports.
Yet in the past 12 months, it has been clear that the 21-year-old will sign for either Real Madrid or Barcelona. The Santos star had his pick of La Liga's top dogs, it seemed.
Many expected him to wait until the conclusion of the 2014 World Cup to bring his veritable skills to Europe, but on Monday morning, FC Barcelona announced on the official website that they had signed the exquisite forward on a five-year contract.
By all accounts, the Blaugrana should be very pleased with themselves. In Neymar, they have a player who has been scoring freely in Brazil since making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2009.
He was voted the best player of the Campeonato Paulista in the past three seasons and has twice been South American Footballer of the Year. In 2011, he won the FIFA Puskas Award for his phenomenal goals against Flamengo, and his goal against Internacional the following season earned him third place in the world's best goal competition.
At 21, he has guided Santos—the club where Pele cut his teeth—to victory in six competitions. With a very impressive 53 goals in 103 appearances for Santos, Neymar is clearly an exciting prospect.
During his final appearance for Santos on Sunday (a 0-0 draw with Flamengo), the young starlet was booed and jeered by opposing fans, as reported by The Guardian.
Perhaps in a few seasons, however, it will be the Nou Camp faithful booing their own player.
Neymar is expected to join Pele, Socrates, Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho among the all-time greats of Brazilian football. At one of the biggest European clubs in the world, he will now have a new stage to display the breathtaking skill that has filled countless YouTube clip compilations.
However, Neymar simply won't be given as much free reign to show off his precocious prowess. With all respect to Brazilian football, the Campeonato is played at a much slower tempo than the major European leagues. With a higher standard of opposition, he may find himself frustrated as he tries to dance past defenders in the manner to which he has become accustomed.
Will Neymar succeed in European football?
Will Neymar's star still shine when the play gets faster and the tackles get tougher? Based on his performance in Europe with Brazil, this is highly debatable.
Neymar may have amassed 20 goals in 32 senior Brazilian appearances, but he has shown a tendency to disappear in certain games in Europe. He was underwhelming in the opening stages and final of the 2012 Olympics (albeit the latter was against non-European opposition) and was very disappointing in Brazil's friendly loss to England in February.
There is also debate as to whether he is a good fit with Barcelona's tiki-taka approach.
As we all know, "pass and move" is the Barcelona groove. Neymar, on the other hand, is known to have an "individual" style of play, which revolves around dribbling, beating opponents, showboating and creating goalscoring opportunities.
Can Neymar fit into a system where the whole is emphasized so much more than the individual? Leo Messi is also partial to dribbling past an opponent, but the Argentinean will generally pass rather than attempt a 60-yard dash and shot. To fit into Barca's possession-led tactics, this Brazilian leopard will need to change its spots. And that might be difficult.
Ultimately, I hope Neymar succeeds in Spain. I hope he rises to become World Player of the Year.
But, in my opinion, the much more likely scenario is one mirroring the career of Robinho: a shining star at Santos whose star gradually fades as he spends more time in Europe.
Of course, in some ways, Neymar has already succeeded for Barcelona. The man who has 11 separate sponsors is already the world's most marketable athlete. Regardless of his performance on the pitch, he will probably justify his wages.
Yet the player known as the "human highlight reel" might not be the subject of quite so many YouTube compilations in the coming years.
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