On This Day In 2009, Neymar Made His Debut - But Has He Fulfilled His Potential?

He burst onto the scene with Santos, but has Neymar hit the heights we expected?
16:10, 07 Mar 2022

On this day in 2009, the world was introduced to Neymar. At the age of just 17, he came off the bench against Oeste in a Campeonato Paulista match. The teenage sensation had been talked about as a talented prospect, but finally he was given his chance to flaunt his obvious talents on the big stage. 

A week later, he had his first goal and the following season - he shot himself into the stratosphere. At just 18-years-old, he scored 42 times in 60 games as Santos won the Campeonato Paulista and the Copa do Brasil, and was the hottest property in world football. Not since Wayne Rooney in 2004 has a player of that age made such an impression on the sport, and with the European giants keeping tabs on him, a mega-move was seemingly just around the corner. 

At 21, he crossed the Atlantic and joined Barcelona, but has he truly fulfilled the potential he showed as a teenager? The utter frenzy around his talent as a teenager was almost unparalleled as Brazil pleaded for him to be taken to the 2010 World Cup. 

Dunga refused to pander to the population who got 14,000 fans to sign a petition, even though legendary duo Ronaldinho and Romario also showed support. Neymar would have to wait until 2014 to make his World Cup bow, and it was an unforgettable tournament. 

On home soil, Brazil were all set to win their sixth World Cup, inspired by their talismanic forward. He was on top form as the home nation made the quarter-finals but was then injured late on as Brazil progressed to the semis. An emotional team carried his shirt out for the national anthems against Germany and we all know how that one ended. A national embarrassment. 7-1.

Neymar may have shone internationally, but he is still trophyless on a personal level, if you do not count the Confederations Cup he won in 2013. Brazil won the Copa America in 2019, but Neymar was absent with an ankle injury and critics believed Tite’s side were much better off without him.

But Neymar has shone for his country. Only Pele (77) has scored more goals than him for Brazil (70), and he recently passed the great Ronaldo in the scoring charts. The only thing missing from his collection is a World Cup, but later this year he’ll get another attempt.

On a domestic level he has been sensational, but he isn’t popular.  The most expensive player of all time has been criticised for his play-acting and showboating throughout his career, and his move to PSG from Barcelona can only be considered a good one based on the demise of the Catalans - rather than the strength of the Parisians. 

Even then, until he wins a Champions League title with PSG, his move will never be fully justifiable to some. He won three league titles in France, but they are always tainted given the financial disparity in the league, and at Barcelona he was part of one of the greatest forward lines we have ever seen. 

In 2015, with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, he helped them to a treble, and this still remains the peak of his club career. Now reunited with Messi in Paris, this points to a major problem of his career from Neymar’s point of view. He isn’t Lionel Messi. The man who has dominated the sport for a decade, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, has set the bar so stupidly high, that the perspective of other elite players is somewhat distorted. 

Neymar wanted to win the Ballon d’Or at PSG and be crowned the best player in the world, but unless he wins a World Cup or the Champions League, that has little chance of happening. He has a chance to knock Real Madrid out of Europe this week and move one step closer to achieving his dream, but time is running out.

13 years on from his debut, the world's most expensive player has arguably fulfilled his potential - it's just that he has been overshadowed by two greats in the process. A World Cup win would change everything. 

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