Neymar, the Brazilian wonderkid who has already cemented himself as one of the world's top soccer players, announced last night that he is signing for FC Barcelona on a five-year deal. Brazilian club Santos accepted a $32 million bid from the Spanish giants for the player. It's one of the earliest bits of news in this year's summer transfer market, but no matter what happens, this deal will undoubtedly be one of the most talked about. Neymar, 21, is almost inarguably the single greatest prospect in the world right now, and the Santos striker may already be the best player Brazil has to offer. He'll be teaming up in Spain with Lionel Messi, who's the best player in the world and maybe already the best of all time.
This is obviously a game-changer for Barça. Though they won La Liga this season, Barcelona is no longer the unquestioned best team in the world as it had been for the last five years. Rivals Real Madrid, who also had a bid accepted for Neymar, have largely closed the gap between the two clubs. Other squads abroad—namely Champions League victors Bayern Munich—have already overtaken Barcelona. They're still one of the best teams in the world, but they've shown some cracks in their armor. Late this season, Messi pulled his hamstring and missed time. Many critics theorized that without the Argentine's prolific goalscoring, Barcelona were a shell of themselves, and it turned out to be true. They struggled to score goals, their defensive weaknesses were on full display, and they were annihilated by Bayern 7-0 over the two-legged Champions League semifinal.
If everything goes as planned, Neymar can change all that. The two-time defending South American Footballer of the Year has so far proven a ruthless scorer with unrivaled technical ability on the ball. He can play up front or on either wing, so he'll be one of the most devastating second options in the world. And if Messi is ever injured, Neymar will be expected to carry the load until the Barcelona talisman gets back.
Of course, that's if Neymar is as good as advertised. SportsPro magazine named him the most marketable player in the world last week, even over Messi, due to his age, charisma, and ability on the pitch. But at 5-foot-9, he's a smallish striker (though he dwarfs Messi), and he's wiry. He gets knocked around a bit, and dives besides.
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There's also the question of how much competition the kid's faced. He dominates the Brazilian league, but the style of play there is faster, looser, and free-flowing, which gives attacking players more time and space on the ball than they'd ostensibly have in Europe. His tendency to struggle or disappear at times for his national team have raised a few eyebrows. And all the best players are in Europe. The world's two best players, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, play in La Liga. There's no way of telling how he'll match up against the world's best in Spain and the Champions League.
But, but, but. Neymar has the potential, according to some, to surpass Messi as the best player on the planet. He's fully and fairly expected to occupy the title of third-best player in the world sooner than later. And though we won't know until next fall at the earliest, the Brazilian youngster just might already be there. He's primed to be the next world superstar, and this move to Europe has been years in the making. The whole world is watching to see just how good the Brazilian starlet can be.
If you haven't heard of Neymar, reassess your priorities. While you're doing so, check out one of his many highlight tapes. The kid's decent.
Photo Credit: Associated Press