Neymar's First Goal Highlights Barcelona's Rout of Thailand
In reality, the goal means nothing. Neymar's goal in the 11th minute of Wednesday's friendly versus Thailand was about as unmemorable as it comes.
It may have been Barcelona's first of the match—and Neymar's first with Barca—but it wasn't their last. The La Liga giant spent their evening abjectly destroying the Thai national team, do-si-do'ing around the ball across the Rajamangala National Stadium pitch like some weird 11-man form of Monkey in the Middle.
Barcelona would go on to win the match 7-1. They came in and did as expected. The crowd in Bangkok came out to see one of the world's most powerful giants take on their beloved national team but never expected a win. This was a match reminiscent of when NBA players tour the world over the summer and turn a foreign gymnasium into Rucker Park.
These fans came for the spectacle, and that's what they got.
Lionel Messi did his World's Best Player thing, scoring two goals and leaving mouths agape with what he can do with a soccer ball. Pedro sent a hat-trick's worth of goals to the back of the net, almost as if to send a "Hey, remember me?" message to the fans back in Spain. And even the home country got to put the ball into the net—even if it came on a controversial foul call that would cause riots had the game actually counted.
That said, it's hard not to come back to Neymar. His goal was easily the most exciting moment of the contest, one that sent social media into a tizzy.
In a summer where Gareth Bale, Real Madrid and Tottenham continue doing their world-record dance, as per the Mirror, and Cristiano Ronaldo's uncertain future stands to create a seismic shift regardless of result, Neymar's transfer represents a rare piece of actual news.
The 21-year-old wunderkind came over to Barcelona in one of the summer's earliest (and essentially forgone) conclusions. The La Liga giant purchased him from Santos, a mid-tier Brazilian club, for the ninth-highest fee in world football history at the time at €57 million ($74 million), according to Forbes. He subsequently signed a five-year deal with the club that most expect to take him directly into his prime and see him eventually take the place of Messi as Barca's top star.
While Neymar's signing was seen as a massive coup—especially for a May deal—his does not come without questions. One of the most creative players in the entire world when given space, Neymar is the type of player who thrives in one-on-one situations. The Brazilian national scored 29 goals over 31 total matches with his club and scored an additional 12 for his country.
Questioning Neymar's talent is akin to questioning the beauty of a spring bloom—it can't be done. What can be called into question is whether he was worth that high of a fee, and whether he can immediately contribute to a club with aspirations of winning the Champions League.
That question is a little murkier. At 5'9" and 141 pounds, Neymar is so slight he makes Ronaldo look like Terry Crews. An attacking partnership of he and Messi would be among the smallest in the world. And even if both possess excellent balance and low centers of gravity, Neymar's strength is a major concern. Brazilian clubs don't tend to bully in the same way as Spanish sides do. Messi grew up playing in a more physical environment, where he learned how to correctly control his body; Neymar didn't quite have that.
Nothing we've seen thus far proves anything one way or another. We're only able to grab the smallest of takeaways from these summer friendlies, ones that both sides take about as seriously as their post-goal celebrations. Neymar's appearances thus far with Barca have been mostly uneventful, his club pulling away in demolitions that make After Earth seem plausible.
Will Neymar be worth €57 million for Barcelona?
There were some who were disappointed that Neymar did not find the back of the net versus Santos on Friday, which some would have seen as a fitting capper to the scintillating forward's transfer. Barcelona won that match 8-0. Goals were being passed around like a stolen bottle of vodka at a high school party.
While Neymar recorded two assists, hit the post once and looked in fine form, the concentration was understandably on his lack of scoring. For his part, he never once seemed to waver in his self-belief.
“It’s really great to play with these players. Cesc, Xavi, my idol Messi, a genius. I didn’t score, but that will come," Neymar said, per Goal.com.
And Neymar was correct. His first goal was the icing on the cake of yet another dominant win for Barcelona, who open their season Aug. 18 at Camp Nou.
Still, some may even have been disappointed by Neymar's first goal. It wasn't a spectacular display of skill, with him weaving inside and out of defenders like a scene from Fast Six. His increased strength and balance were not on display, either. Messi set up Cesc Fabregas on the left side, who drew the defense and found Neymar in front of the goal. If there ever was a right-place-right-time goal in the sport's history, Neymar's was about it.
Spectacular goals are always bound to come with someone this talented. And it's already inevitable that Neymar will be a damn good soccer player from now until the rest of his life. Is he €57 million great? That's the question we'll spend the next year and possibly beyond trying to answer.
Just don't expect any inkling in a friendly. It's easy to get excited when you show off the shiny, brand-new car to the neighborhood for the first time. We're just going to have to wait until Barcelona actually has to pull Neymar out of the driveway before judging how he runs.
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