Forever second fiddle: Neymar looks set to miss out on his destiny

Fashion and fragrances, cars and money, and the occasional game of football all have served as instruments of Neymar’s international success. But, now at 28 and without ever hitting the lofty heights expected of him, where does he go from here?

Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior began his career at his namesake club ‘Santos’ in the sea-port city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The speedy winger was quick to catch the eye after breaking into the first team at just 17 years old, bagging his first goal for the Alvinegro a week later against the city’s lesser club Mogi Mirim.

Boasting skilful performances and a goal-scoring prowess beyond his years, Neymar was quite the prospect. This rapidly led to something of an international cult following and more pro-editor, effects-laden YouTube compilations than you could shake a stick at.

It was only a matter of time before he would solidify the interest of some of the biggest teams in Europe…

Over the course of the prior two years, Santos representatives had strived to retain their starlet, at least – until the right offer came along. A deal was struck within the club’s camp in 2019 to hand their asset his first professional contract, therein ensuring that an optimal fee would one day be received on the player.

Neymar’s agent, Wagner Ribeiro, had managed to secure 40% of his client’s future sale in exchange for his signature, as well as a buyer for a stake in the youngster’s contract.

Before turning the tender age of 18 or having even made his debut, Neymar had struck millionaire status.

Based on nothing but academy performances and video clips, the Brazilian’s sizely reputation couldn’t have projected a greater contrast than the day he wondered onto a pitch to play against men for the first time.

A shirt two sizes too large draped loosely over his washboard frame as he entered the fray for the final 30 minutes of a 2-1 win against Oeste.

Fans were already chanting his name. It would be far from the last time either.

Return to 2011. Real Madrid and Barcelona were locking horns over the teenager, yet also remained in something of a standoff – a strange limbo.

The large drop-off in quality between La Liga and the Brazilian first division was recognised as cause for concern, as questions over Neymar’s adaptability to the league reared their heads.

Despite having already competed against a greater calibre of player on the international stage with Brazil, a Barcelona representative claimed he was not physically ready for the Spanish league. Weighing in at just under 65 kilos, it’s clear to see why.

Then, this happened:

Followed by this a year later:

A Puskas award winner with the first goal and runner-up with the second, alongside an award for South America’s best player in-between,  set the gears in motion for the two La Liga giants to make their moves.

In 2013, for a ‘believed’ sum of around €86.2 million, the Catalonians won the race and Neymar became a Barcelona player. His dream of playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernadez and Andres Iniesta was finally realised.

Despite Barcelona’s court summons and the years of controversy regarding the allocation of funds in the wake of his transfer, Neymar’s performances on the pitch proved his worth.

68 goals in 128 appearances would follow, along with the formation of what could only be described as football history’s most feared and talented front three – Messi, Suarez and Neymar; ‘MSN’ for short.

But there, was the issue.

Neymar, tipped for Ballon D’or success, would languish in the shadow of teammate Messi.

Regardless of his four campaigns of top performances and numbers, the Argentinian was always a step ahead.

Neymar was quickly left in the dust, his name falling further out of contention as the famed rivalry between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo rolled on year after year.

A third-placed finish in 2015 would prove to be Neymar’s peak in his goal to become the world’s best player during his time in Spain and so, in the summer of 2017, another move made headlines:

With the singular motivation of forging his own path to the top, a world-record transfer to Paris St. Germain would also see the attacker become the world’s best-paid player.

He looked set to take Ligue 1 by storm and, alongside veteran striker Edinson Cavani and French prodigy Kylian Mbappe, strode to the domestic treble in his first season in France.

Though, the years to come would show another side of the player.

During a 3-0 defeat to rivals Marseille, the winger fractured a metatarsal bone in his right foot; leading to surgery and further issues down the road. An injury-plagued spell has followed, seeing Neymar participate in only 52 games in the time since his costly transfer.

Furthermore, tension has built behind the scenes as Paris and their star continues to be frustrated by fitness setbacks and poor European campaigns. Despite their vast array of talent, the side has disappointingly only reached as far as the quarter-finals during Neymar’s time at the club.

An Instagram lash-out regarding match officials made news following the Parisians’ elimination from the Champions League in 2019, seeing the attacker suspended for three games. Shortly after, another clip made its way online of the player seemingly striking a fan following a dispute.

Criticisms and protests from fans of Paris have built, describing the Brazil captain as petulant and unfit to wear the club’s colours. His responses have hardly been those of a leader:

The final and greatest pitfall in this tale, however, is teammate Mbappe’s success.

Once again, wherever Neymar goes, he is outshone.

The world cup winning Frenchman has greatly enjoyed his time in the capital, so much so that Neymar has found himself missing out on the limelight he sought with his move from Barcelona.

The amalgamation of the PSG’s number 10’s injuries along with the success of the younger, highly performing Mbappe now means that O Joia‘s chances of claiming a top footballing prize are slipping from his grasp.

Following a failed move back to his previous club last summer, would another suit Neymar’s prospects? Or perhaps it’s time for the Brazilian to cash in on his status and take the route of other icons like David Beckham or Diego Maradona with a move to the MLS.

Now, in his prime, the showboating star must decide where his priorities lie else face the harsh reality of a career, so full of promise, unfulfilled.

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Jordan Yeardsley-Jones
Forever trying to understand newfangled football terminology - what is a trequartista anyway?
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