Brazilian striker Neymar is officially joining Barcelona.
The 21-year old, the hottest property in Brazilian football, agreed to a five-year deal with the Spanish giants on Monday just two days after announcing that he decided to pick them over rivals Real Madrid (Real reportedly offered more for Neymar but the striker chose Barcelona because of his desire to play alongside Lionel Messi).
The time was right for Neymar to leave Santos for Europe.
In Brazil, his stock cannot get any higher at this point, having led Santos to the 2010 Brazilian Cup, the 2011 Copa Libertadores (which is the South America’s version of the UEFA Champions League), and three straight Sao Paulo state championships. Neymar has scored 138 goals in 230 matches with the club, the most goals scored since Pele – hence the comparisons. For Santos, they had to get something for him now as Neymar would’ve been free to join whichever club he wanted in 2014 when his contract with the club ended.
Professionally, it was also time to move to Europe where the competition is greater and where Neymar’s game can evolve and expand. Many have taken a wait-and-see approach with the talented youngster. It wasn’t too long ago that another 21-year old wunderkid joined a Spanish giant from Santos (Robinho to Madrid in 2005) and that didn’t work out as many expected. This is now Neymar’s time to prove the doubters wrong and to show the world that he is more than just a YouTube sensation. La Liga is the one league in Europe that allows players with the skills (and slight frame) of Neymar to display his abilities, rather than the more physical leagues like Italy’s Serie A or the English Premier League.
However I have to wonder if going to Barcelona is a wise move for him.
We have seen other South American forwards come directly to Barcelona with so much hype only for them to fail. Players such as Maxi Lopez and Javier Saviola (both of Argentina) immediately come to mind. We’ve already said what happened to Robinho when he joined Real Madrid. Look at the Brazilians that have had success in Catalonia. Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho all played for smaller European clubs before coming to Barcelona. It gave them time to adapt to a new continent, a new lifestyle and a new style of football, a luxury Neymar will not have.
A bigger issue remains how does Neymar fit in with Barcelona and in particular Lionel Messi. The Barcelona core of Messi, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta et al all came through their club’s youth system and have been playing together for years. Neymar is an outsider, many of whom (particularly strikers such as Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the past or David Villa currently) have struggled to fit into the Barca system.
Barcelona’s tiki-taka brand of football (continuous passing in order to gain majority of ball possession) is not what Neymar’s game is about. Neymar is more of a dribbler, willing to take on defenders than he is a passer. Barcelona’s system is also built to bring out the best of Messi, the best footballer on the planet, whose movement without the ball is one of his many great attributes. Neymar prefers having the ball come to him where he can work his magic. It should be pretty interesting to see how Neymar fits into Messi’s world.
Nobody knows how sure the impact that Neymar will have at Barcelona. As a football fan I hope he succeeds, but history shows that there are proof to the contrary.