A decade on, it is easy to forget just how exciting and skillful Neymar was in his homeland/
Then football’s newest prodigy, he developed into the hottest young talent in the world. His ridiculous Puskas Award winning goal in 2011 shot him into the media spotlight and from there it seemed inevitable that he was bound for super-stardom.
In 2012, he scooped the South American Footballer of the Year award and stayed loyal to Santos until the age of 21, allowing him to develop into one of the world’s finest wingers. Pacy, comfortable on the ball and able to use both feet equally as well Neymar was a joy to watch at this time and it came as no surprise that by 2013, most of the top teams in Europe were chasing his signature.
Spanish giants Barcelona secured his signature ahead of historic rivals Real Madrid as they looked to move on from the Pep Guardiola era, a period of time that saw them crowned as one of the best club sides of all time. Joey Barton was left far from convinced about Barcelona’s latest signing, unsurprisingly, his tweet went viral as he gave his view on the lightweight winger.
The Blaugrana splashed out €57m for a player unproven in Europe, such was the talent and potential that the young Brazilian had. He found his feet in the first season and had an impressive home World Cup for his country before gelling with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in a frightening front three that romped to Champions League glory.
His showboating ability often annoyed spectators and fellow players but most were able to overlook that during this period due to his undeniable quality on the ball. Accusations of diving had also been rife throughout his career and he does go down easily but again, his football was speaking for itself and it was just part of his game.
Things were going well for the Brazilian superstar, very well in fact. His crowning glory and potentially the best game of his career was that seemingly impossible comeback against PSG in the Champions League, in which he dragged the side through in added time, first with a free-kick and then with a calm penalty.
Things changed that summer. Neymar has never been the most popular kid in the playground but his street cred took a serious hit as PSG paid his release clause and made him the most expensive player in the history of the game. £200m exchanged hands in a move that impacted football transfers forever and the winger went from mildly annoying to universally hated in a matter of weeks.
His attitude is frustrating, his theatrics are irritating and the amount of money he earns is ludicrous. But all of that does not change the fact that he is one of the most talented players in the world. He was bought by PSG to propel them to Champions League glory but they haven’t got close. He was tempted by the Paris move as he believed he could win the Ballon d’Or and flourish without Lionel Messi yet hasn’t finished in the Ball d’Or top three since his move to France. He was sold the dream of being PSG’s poster boy who would lead them to footballing glory, only for Kylian Mbappe to emerge and overtake him as not only their star man but the third best player in the world behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now Neymar’s PSG venture appears to be over. He has failed to turn up to pre-season training and could return to Barcelona with his tail between his legs. Talented, skillful and full of confidence, any side in the world would be lucky to have Neymar but that does not make him loveable by any stretch of the imagination.
Football’s most talented villain looks set to enter the next controversial chapter of his career, which on paper looks like a good move for him, but it is unlikely he will ever changed the public’s damning perception. Neymar could have been an all-time great but instead he simply epitomises everything that is wrong with modern football.