Despite having a difficult first season at Barcelona, the world expects from Neymar come the World Cup in his native Brazil. It is never easy for talented young Brazilian forwards, when they show early promise, the soccer-mad nation expect the player to go on and become a world beater. Some grasp the nettle and excel, like former Barcelona, Internazionale, Real Madrid and AC Milan striker, Ronaldo. Others fail to live up to their early promise, like Denilson, for whom Real Betis paid São Paulo a world record £21.5 million in 1998, only for him to fade into obscurity.
Neymar, aged just 19, was the recipient of the South American footballer of the year award and last year his impudent brilliance saw him rewarded with a big money move from Santos to Barcelona. Or so the world thought. Depending on where you read the story, Barcelona paid out something like €57 million for Neymar’s services, while some €40 million ended up at in the bank account of his father’s company. The Spanish courts also hit Barcelona with a fine for tax fraud.
Although it is likely the scandal had a negative impact on Neymar’s performances for Barça this season, he has also struggled to find his feet in in the Catalan giant’s Tiki-taka style of play. For those unfamiliar with the style, it is characterised by short passes and continuous off the ball movement while maintaining possession.
While Neymar has the qualities to make any team better, he has a desire to trick defenders and embarrass them with a nutmeg or by knocking the ball over their head. Such audacity is fun to watch, but when it does not come off the opposing team usually wins possession. That is in stark contrast to the style successive Barça managers have instilled in the players over the years.
Neymar’s other problem is teammate, Lionel Messi. When former Barça boss Pep Guardiola was trying to figure out a way to better Real Madrid, he came up with a solution that saw the entire team play to Messi’s strengths. What viewers see today is a side dedicated to creating space for the Argentine and giving him the ball. While that may work for the team in terms of results and for the more prosaic members of the team, it does not do much for the boy from Brazil’s efforts to stamp his own authority on matches. Two of the best players in the world fighting over the ball is not what fans of the Blaugrana expect.
So while Neymar has had a disappointing first season in La Liga, by his standards, the fans of the football world will want to see him forget it all for a month and show why the Spanish champions paid all that money for him. Soccer is like religion in Brazil and there are millions of fans who still have their doubts as to what he is truly capable of. The world expects from Neymar.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd