Neymar spent his best years burdening pressure of an entirely different level, being dubbed the heir to their throne of football’s anomalies while he was barely even old enough to drive a car.
The mercurial Brazilian is one of the most polarising footballers to ever grace the game and for good reason. An obscenely talented footballer who was locked in a paradox he couldn’t escape, tasked with hitting a never-ending ceiling and meeting expectations that have proven truly one of a kind.
As fans, we’ll be immensely fortunate to witness a player half as talented as either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in our lifetime, let alone one who goes on to match or better their legacies – which is why the discourse around Neymar will always hurt just that little bit more.
Six years on from completing a world-record £200million transfer to PSG, which simultaneously blew up the transfer market and took Neymar’s already impossible to career to an even more difficult height, the 31-year-old has moved to Saudi Pro League outfit Al Hilal, with Les Parisiens ready to sweep their ‘Galactico era’ under the carpet, tail between their hideously wealthy legs, with Neymar hung out to dry.
It’s a desperately sad end to what was actually a joyous career, but could’ve and should’ve been remembered in much better regard.
Neymar deserves his flowers, and if his stint at PSG doesn’t make you believe so – despite him finishing up with 195 goal contributions in 173 games while never eclipsing 2000+ minutes in a season – then his regular absurdities in the form of sickening flair and skill at Barcelona ought to turn your head.
The rhetoric that Neymar’s achievements in Paris mean little to nothing because he did it in a ‘farmer’s league’ is absurd, especially with the jaw-dropping numbers he posted season after season.
The cycle was the same every year; show up, take the world by storm, dazzle in the Champions League group stages, but then become injured by the turn of the new year because every domestic side in Ligue 1 had resorted to kicking lumps out of him.
Combine that with the tireless criticism, it’s easy to see why he’s become disillusioned with it all at 31. That said, there was just something extra special about Neymar in the blue and red of Barcelona. It hit different.
Young, wild, free and yet to be exposed to the fickle world of football that would chew him up and spit him out, the tricky Brazilian honed his craft in one of football’s most menacing trios ever alongside Messi and Luis Suarez.
Despite being next to those two, though, he stuck out like a sore thumb – for all the right reasons.
In full tilt, the man slalomed around the field on a Champions League night like Henri Matisse’s paintbrush gliding around a blank canvas. Bayer Leverkusen felt the wrath of it in 2015.
Stop that Neymar. pic.twitter.com/RHaNbDq9ff
— Stop That Football (@stopthatfooty) May 5, 2023
Beauty for us. Art. Everything fun about elite-level football. Pure hell for defenders, though. Nightmare-inducing. It’s impossible to stop without resorting to fouls.
There truly were few greater sights in the beautiful game than watching the master that is Neymar strutting his stuff under those beaming Champions League floodlights.
When all eyes were on Messi to continue proving immortal and Luis Suarez to provide goals in absurd numbers, the Ronaldinho regen forced himself into the limelight with trickery that very few can possess alongside an obscene vision and ability to create goals.
Mr. Misunderstood. The kid so good that expectations went beyond the realms of possibility, leaving him with an impossible prophecy to fulfil, no matter how many ceilings he smashed and no matter how many times he tried to escape the shadow.
Football is a tough career, though, and for all of Neymar’s greatness, a move to Al Hilal is a seriously ugly stain on an already conflicting CV.
An outrageously talented yet bitterly mercurial footballer who was never good enough, despite being better than the rest.
By Mitch Wilks