As we stand on the cusp of a new year, there is much to be excited about from a footballing perspective.
The vast majority of major European leagues are creeping towards exciting and unpredictable climaxes, the Champions League is well up for grabs, and after the domestic and European action is done, we have a World Cup to cure those summer blues.
One player likely to play a major part in the short-term destination of all of those trophies is Neymar.
2014 has long been cited as a massive year for the marvellously talented Brazilian. The general consensus was that he would remain in Brazil until after the World Cup in 2014. Then he would set of for Europe having secured the much coveted and long awaited hexa.
But after his £50 million move to Barcelona in the summer of 2013, Neymar finds himself with some domestic matters to attend to before bearing the weight of a nation’s expectations.
With history very much beckoning for this fine young player, it begs the question: What targets does he have to hit to be crowned Ballon D’or winner in a year's time?
In short, he’s going to need a huge year. Just look at Franck Ribery, who was influential in Bayern Munich’s five trophies in the calendar year; he still looks set to miss out to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Can Neymar do it? Here’s how he could be crowned the world’s best player come the conclusion of 2014.
Close The Gap on Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Others
It sounds pretty simple, but to be named as the best player in the world, you need to be one of the best players in the world! And at the moment, Neymar isn’t quite in that top bracket.
The two standout players are clearly Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, and playing in the same league as those two players, Neymar needs to start running up statistics that are comparable to both.
And it’s not just players from La Liga he needs to close the gap on. Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero are fast approaching that elite level, whilst Philipp Lahm is having a storming season at Bayern Munich.
These are players who perform consistently, excite crowds week after week and drag their teams to victories on a regular basis. We’ve seen glimpses of this from Neymar in Blaugrana colours, but he’ll be looking to add a level of consistency to his game akin to those aforementioned stars.
Fire Barcelona To Domestic and European Glory
At the time of writing, Barcelona are top of La Liga and in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Domestically, they look set to be chased all the way to the finishing line by both Atletico and Real Madrid. Granted, Barca still look the team to beat, but they face some tough games in the second half of the campaign; most notably away fixtures against both of the Madrid teams.
With questions still lingering over Messi’s injury, supporters of the Catalan club will be hoping for big performances from Neymar in these high-pressure, high-stakes encounters.
The same applies on the European front, too. Tata Martino’s side face a hugely difficult tie with Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League and they will need to be at their absolute best to overcome a powerful, progressive and downright brilliant City outfit.
Neymar will be key to their progression in this tie and, ultimately, whether or not Barca are lifting two major titles in May.
Inspire a Brazil Victory at the 2014 World Cup
With the exception of 2010, in which Messi was the outstanding candidate for his domestic heroics, the winner of the Ballon D’Or in a World Cup year typically corresponds with the standout player at the World Cup.
Fabio Cannavaro (2006), Ronaldo (2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998) all inspired their countries to World Cup wins and were duly awarded the title of world’s best player.
This is surely the key target if Neymar is to join that illustrious crop of players. To fire his country to a sixth World Cup triumph on home soil would surely catapult the Barcelona forward right into the reckoning for the Ballon D’Or crown.
We caught a glimpse of this last summer as Neymar ran amok with defences in the Confederations Cup. His performance in the final, in which he scored and led the Spanish a merry dance, will have only fuelled expectation ahead of what is already a hotly anticipated showpiece.
Carry That Form Into 2014/15 Season
And finally, if he achieves all of the previously mentioned accolades, Neymar must start the 2014/15 in similarly sparkling form.
He’ll be 22 years old at that juncture and, having played in a full league campaign as well as a World Cup, onlookers will be hoping to see improvements and heightened maturity within his game. Messi, for example, took his game up a level when he was 22 and won his first Ballon D’Or.
Neymar certainly is capable and seems to be learning quickly about the rigours of European football. But to eclipse Messi and Ronaldo, he needs to be performing at stratospheric levels on a weekly basis.
Plus, with the vote taking place in the fall of the year, recent performances will be fresh in the mind of the voters.