By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It is now three months since Brazil’s hottest young talent, Neymar, made the move from Santos to Catalan giants Barcelona for a transfer fee reportedly around the US$76 million mark. The move was not only of huge personal benefit to the 21-year-old and his career prospects, but arguably came at the perfect time for the Seleção – the Brazilian national team – to see their star develop.
It had been mooted that Neymar would stay with boyhood club Santos until after the 2014 World Cup, but in his last few months at the club, particularly against weak opposition in the São Paulo state championship, many felt that he had progressed as far as he could in his homeland. Furthermore, the prospect of Brazil’s superstar teaming up alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi, considered the best football (soccer) player in the world, was irresistible for fans regardless of their allegiance.
The much-publicized transfer to one of the biggest clubs on the planet was thus brought forward twelve months, and at the end of May Neymar played his final match for Santos. During the 0-0 draw with Flamengo in the opening round of the 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro, it was clear that the departure of a future legend would overshadow the on-pitch action.
With the European football season now one month old, assessments are already beginning on Neymar’s first handful of appearances. In five league matches he is yet to score, but he did net the winner in the Spanish Super Cup final against Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona have made a perfect start to the season and Neymar is in the unusual position of having to battle for his place in the starting line-up, with Chilean international Alexis Sanchez also in contention.
In his side’s 4-3-3 formation, Messi and Spanish forward Pedro are the nailed-on starters, leaving Neymar still to prove his worth not only to the coaching staff, but also to some of the world’s most obsessive fans, to whom such a price tag must be justified before they truly chant his name in the Camp Nou stadium.
European football journalist Marco Mugnaioli believes there is a lot more to come from Neymar and that he must get used to the idea of not being the side’s focal point. While he fulfills this role for the Selecão, at Barcelona that function rests with Lionel Messi. “I expected more goals from him. But it’s hard for him to play with Messi,” said Mugnaioli.
“The only goal he’s scored so far against Atletico [Madrid] was in a game when Messi wasn’t playing. It’s early days but I’m not convinced they can play in the same team. They both want to perform the same role.”
While it is true that Neymar will be forced to adapt far more than he has ever had to in his career to date, at only one month into a five year contract, time is on the youngster’s side.
Brazilian football writer Alvim Bellis believes that Neymar has made a good start to his Barcelona career, and that once he is settled in the world will see him at his best.
“Right now he is going through a phase of adaptation”, Bellis told The Rio Times. “He is settling in slowly, concerning himself more with playing for the team rather than being the outstanding performer. He’s going about things the right way. With time he’ll earn his place in the team. In general, it has been a good start.”
Encouraging news, then for Luiz Felipe Scolari and his Seleção as the side looks to win a sixth World Cup title on home soil in July 2014. How his star forward adapts and learns from life in the most successful club of recent years, could be the difference between national glory and abject failure.