When Neymar moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, so much changed. As obvious as that is to say about a transfer that broke the world record, it was not the only the ways of the market that changed. Indeed, it was the public perception of the Brazilian forward, too.
While the concerns about his tendency to play act have always been one of the most prominent conversations about the 29-year-old, the move to Paris took them up a level. Throw in his superstar status, question marks about the overall quality of Ligue, his knack of missing games around his sister’s birthday and the image of a petulant child is quite easily drawn up.
It may not be entirely fair, however. After all, Neymar is a man to have won eight league titles spanning across three different countries, as well as the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores. Pele’s all-time top scorer record for the Brazilian national team is in sight.
Granted, winning Ligue 1 with PSG may not be the most respected of sporting achievements but, still, he took the opportunity to leave the shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Back then, few could have imagined the level of mismanagement that led to the Argentine’s signing for the French giants.
When looking back to the 2020 Champions League final loss against Bayern Munich, his importance to the project (as grating as that word often is in a football context) is obvious. The easy narrative would be to suggest that PSG froze on their big occasion but, frankly, they did more than enough to at least take the game to extra time.
Where Kylian Mbappe struggled to get into the game, Neymar took the responsibility on himself. Constantly dropping back to get attacks moving for his side, the former Santos youngster – who rejected transfers to the likes of Chelsea for the good of his career as a prodigious talent – no attacking player on the pitch had more touches. Of course, Bayern ultimately won the game and that’s what is remembered. The idea that Neymar ‘bottled’ it on the big stage, however, is plainly wrong.
For Brazil, where the pressure on him is so great that the team collapsed in the most embarrassing of fashions in the semi-final of the 2014 World Cup after his injuries, Neymar has scored 7 goals in his 10 latest competitive appearances and recently asked what more he could do to earn respect.
Those exploits follow his hugely successful time at the Camp Nou, forming one of the most celebrated front threes in modern history alongside Messi and Luis Suarez, finishing as the top scorer in their Copa del Rey and Champions League triumphs.
So then, perhaps it is worth giving Neymar more respect. To have done so much for so many different teams before the age of 30 takes an awful lot of drive, hard work and dedication.
It’s important to remember, too, that neither Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo won a major international trophy before their 30s. Judging players on that isn’t always fair considering the relative rarity of them but it is proof that Neymar could yet add to his 2011 Copa America title.
One of few players who combine the kind of skill reserved for YouTube compilations backed by bizarre techno music with meaningful goals and assist, it’s time Neymar’s brilliance is recognised.
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