Ex-Real Madrid attacker and manager Jorge Valdano has predicted we'll see Barcelona star Neymar win the Ballon d'Or and "doing a handstand" on the Zurich stage in the next three years.
Despite holding deep allegiances with Barcelona rivals Real, Valdano told Portuguese newspaper Record Neymar's "increasing dominance" was the main factor in his inevitable rise to Ballon d'Or glory, (h/t Goal's David Manuca):
It was interesting to see him as just an observer at the 2015 Ballon d'Or. Within three years we will see him on the stage lifting the trophy and doing a handstand. Neymar is increasingly dominating every year.
The first season he was just a servant of Messi, but in second he turned into his partner and now he has all the liberties because he feels like he's the best.
He projects the image of someone who is happy and on the pitch he prolongs this state of bliss. His football is enjoyed. It is artistic, because he can join his superior technique with his playful imagination. It is something original, beautiful and effective.
The Brazil forward finished third in the 2015 Ballon d'Or chase behind club team-mate Lionel Messi, who won the award, and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, who finished second for the fourth time in his career.
This was Neymar's first year making the three-man shortlist, but that didn't stop the 23-year-old detailing his disappointment at being dubbed the world's third-best player for 2015. Speaking to Spanish daily Marca, he confessed he believed he should have finished second to Barca partner Messi (h/t Irish Independent):
In all honesty, yes, I'd hoped to come second. I'm delighted to be here alongside two footballing greats. I hope to come back and for my team to keep winning. I don't want to be better than anyone else; I just want to better myself. Now I have to work a little bit more to be amongst the three finalists again.
I don't know if I'm at the same level as Messi or Cristiano. They are players who I really admire. I've watched them play since I was young and it's amazing for me to be here with them. I see Leo every day and I admire him as a player and an individual. He's really easy-going and a good friend. I follow Cristiano more on television. But they've both been coming here for eight or nine years and I want to be like them one day, trying to beat their own records.
It's widely believed the South American can reach those levels of individual brilliance, and after winning a European and domestic treble in just his second season with the Blaugrana, the future looks bright for Neymar.
The Independent's Jack De Menezes detailed why Neymar deserved to win the 2015 award outright, but Sky Sports Statto showed his figures, such as goals scored and assists made, to be the worst of the three:
Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto
2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or Result: 1) Messi 2) Ronaldo 3) Neymar #BallondOr https://t.co/RHNN0YHLo31/11/2016, 7:02:27 PM
While Valdano may be wide of the mark in claiming Neymar will do a handstand on the Ballon d'Or stage, his prediction for the winger to one day claim the award is far more realistic.
The Brazilian is in good hands with Messi and Luis Suarez at the Camp Nou, two of the world's in-form attackers.
It's been a fruitful first two-and-a-half years in Europe for Neymar, whom many thought might struggle to adapt following a move from Santos in 2013. Burnley midfielder and former Premier League bad boy Joey Barton once famously tweeted the Selecao sensation was only "brilliant on the old YouTube."
Needless to say the Barca upstart has now validated his credentials as a tried-and-tested world superstar. Real Madrid defender and Brazilian compatriot Marcelo agreed with Valdano's claims that Neymar will one day win the Ballon d'Or, per Manuca:
I think Messi and Cristiano are in a level above the other players and now Neymar proved he's in their level, it's a matter of time for him to win his own Ballon d'Or. But I would have liked to give the prize to Cristiano because I see him working hard every day. He was competing with two great players, Messi and Neymar.
Of course Barcelona's players wanted Neymar or Messi to win but I wanted Cristiano, because I see him working hard, he's my friend and I see his dedication daily.
The consensus among some appears to be that it's a matter of when, and not if, Neymar claims the top individual prize in the sport, but Barcelona's ongoing success will undoubtedly help that cause.
We can all look forward to the prospect of seeing any suited-up winner of the award perform a handstand in celebration, but just seeing his Neymar prediction come to fruition may be reward enough for Valdano.
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