At only 23 he is already one of the top 3 players in the world. And the two ahead of him are plain aliens. While still in the shadows of those two monsters Neymar Jr. has grown tremendously during the past year. And while his potential is immense– the question remains: can he become bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi? Can Neymar’s legacy become greater than his legendary rivals?
LESS TALENTED? NOT SO SURE
I will argue that this will be a difficult task for the Brazilian but surely not an impossible one. First of all let’s try to establish what is meant by greatness. What makes a player truly legendary? Individual awards? Club titles? International titles? Statistics? Some might say “all of the above.” Building a great legacy also takes into account talent, charisma and behavior on and off the field. However, looking back at some of the greatest names in history, two criteria, in my opinion, stand above anything else: the number of Ballon d’or and the international titles – namely World Cups– garnered. At the end of the day that’s what people remember. Of course Champions League titles count but in the case of these three individuals, we can safely assume that they will win it multiple times. Also, the Ballon d’or compiles all of the achievements of each season and takes into account domestic titles, European titles, goals and so on.
LEO MESSI IS THE BEST PLAYER EVER
But let’s focus on the highest distinction for a minute, the Holy Grail, The Ballon d’or. On that category, while still young, Neymar Jr. is facing a tough competition. To put this in perspective, let’s remind ourselves that either Messi or Ronaldo, have won the past eight awards.
Cristiano Ronaldo became a three-time winner last year. At age 30, while still performing very well with Madrid, it seems unlikely to win this distinction once again. I personally consider CR7’s record high up to the Brazilian’s alley. At only 28, La Pulga (Messi) has already garnered 5 ballons d’or. No one has never done better and given his recent form (recently scoring his first hat trick in 10 months against Granada) nothing indicates that Messi is about to slow down.
Leo Messi is the best player ever. Period. He is the most talented and the most elegant. He can create, assist and score. Neymar has the advantage (and the curse) to play with Messi, which means that their performance will always be compared. But at the date of this article, Neymar is the best scorer of the Spanish championship. He is part of, arguably, one of the best attacking lines in history with Messi and Suarez. 2016 could very well be his year. But aside from his performance in club, Neymar truly shines in his national team of which he is already the captain.
WORLD CUPS MAKE LEGACIES
The seleção is undoubtedly Neymar’s best shot to build his own legacy. While both Messi and CR7 started their national career early, and total a great amount of selections, we could easily argue that both did not bring their “A game” when it was expected. None of them managed to garner a significant title for their country. And while other big names in football cannot shine internationally due to the relative “weakness” of their national squad this argument does not stand for Portugal, even less for Argentina. From my perspective a legendary player, in order to achieve the highest levels of greatness, MUST drive his entire national team. He must be the undisputed icon that leads a group to win a World Cup. Think Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Pelé. Those players had the ability to transcend themselves in big games and their impact was immediately perceivable on the entire squad. In my opinion, this is where Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo fall short and where Neymar’s opportunity lays.
Just taking the last World Cup as a point of reference, Neymar truly was the soul of the seleção. He took with great responsibility and maturity his role as a captain and as a team leader. And while Messi went further in the competition and was awarded the title of the best player of the tournament (Seriously? Anybody that knows anything about soccer is still wondering how that happened.) The Brazilian, even injured and unavailable for the humiliating semi-final against Germany, was the driving force of his team. This is the very quality that may take the Brazilian to heights never seen before, maybe even higher than what the Messi and Ronaldo have achieved so far. No doubt that a World Cup victory by Brazil would have a greater impact than any other country’s victory.
At only 23, Neymar already counts 69 selections and 46 goals. The latest World Cup gave us a very promising preview of his ability to transcend himself in big international games, which is the main weakness of both Messi and CR7. Given his amazing statistics at half season, the future will soon tell us if we were assisting at the beginning of the Neymar era.
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