Neymar to Barcelona has finally happened. The 21-year-old Brazilian will be lining up alongside Lionel Messi next season, attempting to justify the extravagant hype that comes with his every mention.
Some think he's overrated; others that he can define his generation. The truth will come out as Neymar steps into La Liga and Champions League competition—intent on answering the question of whether Brazil's great hope can cut it amongst the game's elite.
The prospect is enough to wish the summer away. But before we get consumed with what's to come, let's take a look at Neymar's evolution from street baller to Barcelona.
Born Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, in February 1992, Neymar's talent was obvious from a very young age. He signed to Sao Paolo club Portuguesa Santista as a boy and developed his skills by playing futsal.
In this clip, an 11-year-old Neymar (wearing the red No. 10 shirt) leads Portuguesa Santista to a notable victory against Sao Paolo. As B/R's Chris Atkins points out, it was a performance that helped attract the attention of a bigger club in the form of Santos.
Neymar signed for Santos in 2003 and continued his development at the club forever linked to Pele's legend. At age 14, he earned the applause of Robinho when he scored in an exhibition match. Watch his calm finish in the clip below.
Neymar had to wait until 2009 to make his first-team debut for Santos. At 17 he appeared as a substitute against Oeste, helping his team to a 2-1 victory (read the B/R report here; watch the highlights of the match here).
Scrawnier and less the flamboyant hairstyle we've come to know him for, Neymar was already attracting the attention of the world's media. Billed at that point as, "the next Robinho," the precocious teenager would not look back.
His first goal for Santos arrived against Mogi Mirim on March 15 2009, and it was a beauty. Watch Neymar stoop to head home his team's third goal in a 3-0 win—the culmination of a fine passage of team play.
You might even call the goal Barcelona-esque.
The 2009 season ended with Neymar crowned the Campeonato Paulista's best young player. His international career was also underway thanks to a call-up to the Brazil Under-17 team.
Neymar wasn't going anywhere—not yet. The next season he was a fixture in the Santos team that won the Campeonato Paulista. He was named the league's best player and duly earned his first call-up to the Brazil senior team.
Neymar's debut for the Seleção came against the United States, and with it his first goal in the famous yellow and blue. Like his opener for Santos, it came with his head.
2011 would see Neymar scale new heights. Santos won the Campeonato Paulista and their first Copa Libertadores since the days of Pele (ESPN). Neymar was the catalyst and was rewarded with the title of South American Footballer of the Year.
By now, the transfer speculation was out of control. Santos said Neymar wasn't for sale, via ESPN, but that didn't stop claims he had all-but signed for Real Madrid, according to the Daily Mail. In September, the man himself said both Madrid and Barcelona were interested in his signature, per the Independent.
The summer passed, however, and nothing happened. Neymar remained at Santos and the rest of the world was left to drool at the goal that would win the 2011 Puskas Award—a singular statement of his genius that furthered the intense excitement around him.
Neymar's 2012 would see him win a silver medal with Brazil's Olympic team and cement his place as a regular on the international scene.
Santos won a third straight Campeonato Paulista and Neymar picked up a third straight best player award as their most influential asset. Neymar's consistent excellence for club and country validated the view he was destined for great things.
Said Pele of his young countryman, in an interview with Fox Sports, as quoted by NESN:
Technically, Neymar has more skills than (Lionel) Messi. He can go to the left and right, he can shoot with both legs and he heads the ball well. Messi has a lot of experience, his thoughts on the ball are quick. They are both excellent players.
Inside a year, the two "excellent players" would be on the same team. After two years of endless speculation, it was announced last week that Neymar will join Barcelona this summer and be part of Tito Vilanova's squad next season.
Barcelona made the news official through their website and the response was entirely predictable.
The next chapter of Neymar's sky-rocketing career is set to begin this summer. From there it's a season in La Liga and the Champions League, followed by the chance to sparkle at a home World Cup in June and July of 2014.
Expectancy looms as large as his talent. Over the next 12 months, we'll see if Neymar has the belief and composure to deliver on it. Based on what's come before, the safe bet is he does.
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