He’s not yet 20, he’s yet to make 100 domestic appearances for his club and he’s yet to make a considerable impact outside of his homeland; however, his wages are paid for, mostly, by his country’s bank and Post Office, he rakes in £150,000 in wages per week and he’s already accumulated the same amount of individual honours as his age in years, 19, including: the Brazilian Golden Boot, Player of the Copa Santander Libertadores and the South American Footballer of the Year Award.
But, unless he leaves Santos, Neymar can never be considered great.
In his defence is one Brazilian which, it seems, in his old age, is tarnishing his reputation in the face of a situation which challenges his right to ever claim he is the greatest their ever was: Pele.
More so than ever before in my life, I developed an admiration for those greats that came before me in witnessing a frail Muhammad Ali at his 70th birthday celebrations and how his career and legacy had affected so many; and whilst there are comparisons to be drawn between the similarly aged and talented Ali and Pele in their respective fields, the parallels run no further than their performances in their chosen arenas.
Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, is a poignant, modest figure; Pele, formerly, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, cuts a character deluded in bitterness and his comments have sparked a whirlwind of to-and-fro statements on the topic of football’s greatest player.
Pele, talking like he does indeed occupy football’s throne, “although we cannot talk of him as an heir because each player is different, Neymar has the ability to be better than me,” and of course in Brazil, Pele is O Rei, the King stated, rather unjustifiably, that Neymar is currently the best player in the world, “For me the two [Lionel Messi & Neymar] are technically very good, but Neymar is more complete because he shoots with both feet, and dribbles from both sides.”
However, the comparison not only subtly addresses one man’s delirium, but it also addresses a socio-economic gulf – which must and will be addressed by Brazil 2014 and Rio 2016 – in which Neymar cannot flourish into his full potential whilst on the South American continent.
The FIFA Club World Cup Final between Barcelona and Santos saw today’s Pele and Maradona go head-to-head, and judging by the score line, 4-0, the scorers, Messi – 2 & Neymar – 0 and the loser’s attempt at masking what was a wakeup call for Brazilian football, long living off of a success-rich history, “what matters is we got here going through many battles and challenges and got to be the second best team in the world,” the only greats here, were, as usual, Lionel Messi & Barcelona.
Yet, the conclusion reached from the visionary, exceptionally talented & deft touch possessing Neymar, couldn’t have been further from the truth: winning the Copa Libertadores did not come easily to Santos, in a competition that Brazil, along with Argentina, had dominated in the past 10 years, with 4 cup final wins.
However, Santos were the only Brazilian side to make it as far as the last 16 and their success, which ensured them a place in the Club World Cup, ultimately proved a distracting fate as their league form was to suffer as Ramalho prepared for an inevitable Cup final with Barcelona.
Now, with the hammering of Santos displaying the gap in quality between, essentially, South America and Europe, or at least their finest, it seems that for Neymar to ever be considered great, he must leave.
For the few harsh and most demanding of critics, Lionel Messi still has to deliver internationally: his club form is not replicated at international level and a look at the players surrounding him when he is in the blue and white of Argentina is enough to show you why.