Has Neymar been a success since joining Barça?

“Look at Neymar. He has a new haircut for every match, and boots with his name on them. And now look at Messi – he is his usual self.” An astute assessment from Barcelona manager at the time, Pep Guardiola, after his side beat a Santos side, spearheaded by Brazilian superstar Neymar, in the FIFA Club World Cup Final in 2011. There was never any doubt that Neymar, a player who has been blessed with fantastic technique, blistering pace, and a box of tricks that David Blaine would be proud of, would go far in the game. The question did remain though, whether his own self-image would get in the way of his promising early career. Could he adapt to the unknown territory of European Football, never mind join one of the most highly scrutinised and successful clubs in European football history?

You could fill a book listing the individual honours that Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior has earned so far at the tender age of 22. He won the 2011 South American Footballer of the Year aged 19, and again the following year. He won the FIFA Puskás Award for Goal of the Year in 2012, and played a key role in leading Santos to their first Continental Double for 48 years. It was no surprise that interest was mounting from across the Atlantic. It was a question of when, and not if, he would move on to bigger and better things.

After speculation for over three years, coming close to joining Chelsea in 2011 and 2012, and a late bid from Real Madrid, Neymar did finally make his next career step, signing for Barcelona for a reported €57m in May 2013.

With Barcelona effectively built around Messi, who plays through the middle, Neymar began the season playing as an Inside Forward on the Left Wing. After being given just under 30 minutes off the sub’s bench in the first league game of the season, he got his big chance earlier than expected in the first leg of the Supercopa. Messi was brought off at half time – Neymar brought on soon after. With the added freedom without Messi, Neymar was able to float infield, and scored a well directed header, low and beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois, which was ultimately the difference between the sides over the two legs. Neymar began to impress in the league, gaining confidence from the trust Tata Martino was showing in him. A four game streak of assists, including a goal and an assist against Real Madrid in the first Clásico of the season gave the Brazilian a great base from which to build.

Midst numerous injuries to Lionel Messi, Neymar had opportunities playing in the Central Striker role too. With all things considered, he performed well in the absence of Messi, especially carrying the burden of expectation that leading the line without the club talisman brought. His performances were good, but for some reason he wasn’t finding the back of the net as much as was expected of him.

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This trend continued into the Champions League. Despite averaging more shots and dribbles per game than in the league, Neymar somewhat struggled in front of goal. A memorable European night, and arguably Neymar’s best game in a Barcelona shirt, came in the Champions League group stage match against Celtic. A hat trick and an assist earning him the Man of the Match award in an impressive 6-1 victory. This somewhat tainted his overall stats though, with three of his four goals he scored all competition coming in this one game. Scoring yips aside, it is agreed that Neymar has performed well in his first taste of Champions League football this season.

Despite what had been a very good start to the season according to the league table, Barcelona manager Tata Martino had started to come under fire for what culés (Barcelona fans) saw was a blatant disregard for the traditions of the club – mainly with the change in playing style. This in turn ramped up the pressure on many of the Barcelona players too. As a potential consequence of his big money move, Neymar’s form at Barcelona was discussed, critiqued, and analysed week after week, game after game – something which Gareth Bale has also experienced at Real Madrid.

With the team struggling to please the fans, Neymar’s performance levels began to drop. It was like watching on rewind back to his early Santos days at times. Barça had a player who did not look motivated or hungry. He was letting the game pass him by. The relative freedom in the role that he was given was beginning to damage the team.

Running parallel to his performance drop though (not coincidentally, I feel), was a much greater issue that was bubbling to the surface. That was the debacle over his transfer fee.

The truth was, nobody really knew how much Neymar cost Barcelona. FCB announced upon making the signing that it had cost them €57m, but there was also confirmation of large amounts of money being paid to a company owned by Neymar’s father – up to a further €40m, with Santos only receiving €17.1m at the end of it all. Barça season ticket holder Jordi Cases lodged a complaint against the Barcelona President at the time, Sandro Rosell, alleging misappropriation of funds and a lack of transparency over the “hidden costs”.

Rosell went from making assurances that the Neymar transfer had been correctly handled, to resigning only days later, after learning that the issue would be taken to court. Consequently, Neymar and his father have been on the front and back page of every newspaper, and on the lips of every broadcaster and journalist since January. It is a given that a 22 year old, in his first year away from his home in Santos, still trying to adapt to the Catalan customs, and fit into a team with some of the best players of his generation, will be affected by such an affair.

Neymar’s first season should be looked upon as an initial bedding in period. I believe it is too premature to comment on how successful he has been thus far, simply due to how the season has panned out, with the managerial and boardroom problems. It is sometimes hard to look beyond current form, but it must be noted that Neymar has made match winning contributions, in the biggest of games, early in his FCB career. The high profile nature of his transfer from Brazil to Catalonia, coupled with the recently revealed baggage surrounding the complexities of the deal, means his performances have constantly been in the spotlight. Although it is true that more was expected, 15 Goals and 15 Assists is certainly not something you would brand a total failure.

All things considered, he is not doing too badly for a “YouTube Footballer”.

Has Neymar been a success since joining Barca?

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