Opinion, by Robbie Blakeley
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The scene was the immediate aftermath of the Campeonato Paulista final, the São Paulo state championship, in which Corinthians had just defeated Santos to lift the trophy. The reaction of the press was telling.
As Santos starlet Neymar left the field and was customarily surrounded by a throng of reporters, not one question asked for a reaction to the loss or an analysis of his own, apathetic by his own standards, performance.
Every single question fired at the 21-year-old was to do with a supposed transfer to Catalan club Barcelona, and whether Neymar had played his last game for Santos. The theme is not new.
He rebuffed the questions, claiming to be happy in Brazil and was set to stay at the club, presumably until after the 2014 World Cup, which has always been regarded as his cut-off point with Brazilian domestic football.
But the truth is Neymar needs toleave Santos as soon as possible for the benefit of his career. If a deal to move to Barcelona is on the cards during the European summer transfer window, he should grab it.
Neymar has already won the greatest trophy in the South American game, the Copa Libertadores. He is the new poster boy for the Seleção and is the country’s biggest hope at next year’s World Cup – enormous pressure on his young shoulders.
The world’s most powerful clubs – and ergo the best players – are established at Europe’s giants, be it Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich. Neymar is constantly lauded in the Brazilian press as the “third best player in the world”, behind Barça’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, a hopelessly romantic viewpoint considering the depth of the talent pool spread across the European stage.
The Santos striker is undoubtedly a player of exceptional talent; anyone who saw his solo goal against Internacional last year was treated to a spectacular piece of skill. But it is something he has failed to replicate on the international stage, most tellingly during last year’s Olympic Games in London.
If Neymar’s exit to Barcelona is a certainty, playing down the clock for the next year would be a futile exercise. Sport careers are short; an athlete is lucky to perform for twenty years and are only ever one horrific injury away from a premature curtailment.
Neymar’s loyalty to Santos should be lauded, but he has outgrown the club. The time is ripe for a new challenge and a season at one of Europe’s elite schools of football before leading his country on home soil in quest of World Cup glory is the perfect preparation.