An insight into the Brazilian superstar’s rise to the top
Futsal, Santos and Lima
It all started for the Brazilian sensation in the most populous city in the country, São Paulo. A childhood playing football on the streets seems to be a component of many Brazilian professionals' childhoods, and Neymar was no exception. The popular variation of 5-a-side football in Brazil is called futsal, and it helps develop quick thinking, technical ability and the ability to play out of tight spaces – all attributes which are reflected in Neymar's game today. It was from his futsal aptitude that Neymar's first coach and Santos FC legend, Lima, first heard of him. He was "amazed" by what he saw and couldn't help but wonder if Neymar could replicate that on an 11-a-side pitch. So, on the advice of Lima, Neymar was signed for the Santos youth team at the tender age of 11. Interestingly, Santos didn't have a team for his age category at the club, but after seeing Neymar play, Lima insisted that they create one to accommodate the player, so Zito, the director of Santos youth teams, agreed. Lima saw potential in Neymar and should be accredited with discovering the phenomenon and bringing him to Santos. He was a crucial figure in his development and the player himself called the coach "special" amongst other coaches he'd worked with.
Neymar against future employers Barcelona
Rise through Santos Youth and a Real Madrid Trial
Neymar joined the youth ranks of Santos in 2003 and flourished. In 2007, he flew to Spain to trial with Real Madrid after the Spanish giants caught wind of the Brazilian's tremendous progress at the Brazilian club. Due to Neymar Sr’s discontentment at the financial terms offered by Madrid, negotiations between the two parties fell through and the highly coveted teenager returned to Santos to continue his development. Who knows what could be if Neymar had joined Los Blancos as a teenager.
Santos First Team
Neymar made his professional debut on 7 March 2009 at only 17 years of age. In his first season, the flashy Brazilian scored 24 goals in 48 games. Many highlights of his career were made during his time in the Santos first team, including a decisive goal in a 2-1 win against Palmeiras, only a month after his debut; A 5 goal haul against Guarani in the qualifying stages of the Brazilian cup; winning the 2012 South American Footballer of the Year for the second consecutive year ahead of one Ronaldinho; winning the 2011 Puskás Award with a splendid solo goal against Flamengo. The goal perfectly encapsulated the essence of Neymar as a player – extravagant, yet supremely effective – as he sliced through the defence and delightfully chipped the ball over the keeper to finish off the brilliantly improvised move.
A Transfer Nearing
It was only a matter of time before Neymar completed a highly anticipated move to Europe. Several clubs came knocking, with Real Madrid(once again) and Chelsea very interested. However, Santos deemed their bids inadequate. A complication of the deal was that Neymar would be given 40% of any future transfer fee for the player if he were to be sold. It wasn't uncommon to have this clause in South American footballer's contracts as it was a way for the club to retain a player for a season or two longer. It would also mean that a club would have to pay a considerable fee to buy the player, and FC Barcelona was that club, paying a then club-record fee to bring the superstar to the Camp Nou. Neymar was seen as the player to take over the mantle from Lionel Messi, and he would play for a season with the Argentine before the arrival of Suarez.
Neymar and Messi celebrating a goal together
MSN, the Unstoppable Trio
To say that Leo Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez formed a formidable partnership would be a severe understatement. Best in the World? Much more suiting. Best in history? Quite possibly. Suarez's arrival from Liverpool in 2014 revamped the already successful Barca attack, which had been composed of Alexis Sanchez, Neymar and Messi. From 2014 to 2017, no team came close to FC Barcelona's output, with a staggering 270 goals scored between the trio alone. The 2014-15 season was arguably the most memorable, as Neymar won the Treble with Barca that season. A second nomination for the Puskás award for a stunner against Villarreal in 2015 was also another notable personal accolade added to the Brazilian’s already impressive résumé.
Paris, the Inescapable Prison
7 trophies later, including 2 La Ligas and the infamously elusive Champions League, Neymar turned his focus to Paris Saint Germain. A speculative move which entailed a €222 million price tag, a €313 million 5-year contract, it had an undeniable effect on the footballing world. The transfer market had become more inflated then it had ever been, with many players’ value doubling. But with a move of that magnitude and price, critics were sceptical about how Neymar would impact the Parisian side. A side which was always the front runner for the Ligue 1 and had only realistically brought in stars like Neymar and Mbappé to win the UEFA Champions League.
Neymar in the PSG Colours
Despite the expectations, Neymar was still the same Neymar we'd seen at Barcelona. Still flaunting the skills he'd routinely pull out at previous teams and scoring freely as ever, he made the French league look like an amateur one. To a certain degree, he was able to replicate the strike force he'd had at Barca, only this time with Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé, the latter who is, with little doubt, the greatest football prospect of the last decade. With Neymar averaging a goal or assist every 64 minutes in his 3 seasons at the le Parc des Princes, he is certainly still a world-beater, arguably on par with Messi and Ronaldo.
But it isn't that simple...
The fact that he plays in a league which isn't renowned for its level of competitiveness must be factored in when evaluating Neymar's statistics. Also, in terms of trophies, Neymar hasn't made a dramatic change to the PSG trophy cabinet. 3 Ligue 1s in 3 seasons is remarkable, but it is indifferent to what PSG had before that (apart from the season which preceded Neymar’s purchase, when Monaco was able to secure the league with a squad overflowing with talent). It was the Champions League that the Brazilian was brought in to get, but 0 trophies in 3 campaigns does raise questions about Neymar's overall influence at the club. Still, he has time to overturn the club's fate and maybe win the trophy within the two years remaining of his contract.
Neymar is on course to be Brazil's top scorer of all time, just 16 goals away from Pele's record of 77
Neymar is a brilliant player who has the potential to be a Ballon d'Or winner, as he has always been touted to become. Skills, intelligence and controversy, the footballing world is privileged to have him in its midst and it is exciting to see what will happen to the player who captures the imagination of millions around the world.