No doubt about it, Neymar’s star is rising and will continue to rise in La Liga, his first European tour of duty. The man rated recently as the most marketable in all of sports signed a lucrative contract of 11 years with Nike and just became the frontman for the leading online poker site, PokerStars.
On the pitch, his first season was one of adjustments next to the world’s biggest mega star on the football stage, one Argentinian Lionel Messi. The multiple time Ballon d’Or winner had struggled to adjust to his new teammate in some regards, having a relative down year for the all-time great.
Their second year together however was met with a greater degree of success, now being flanked by Luis Suarez to form a historic trifecta that ranks among the best, if not the outright best, attacking line ever.
Yet, for someone who could potentially be one of the biggest stars of his Barcelona side in team history, what does he have to gain and what does he risk by going to a new, more physical league?
The Premiership is primarily known for its physicality, but also for its lack of tolerance for acting as less fouls are given, as well as having a harsher media landscape with unforgiving fans. That could be a problem for Neymar, in fact when he began life in La Liga, he was told to put on weight by his club.
If a player does not live up to his price tag, he can certainly expect to hear it from all sides, perhaps most loudly from the home crowd. Theatrical gamesmanship – going down a bit too easily for the liking of spectators, referees, and managers alike – is arguably less tolerated than in the leagues of the its European counterparts, and many a European transfer has been skewered for their less convincing diving tendencies.
In order for Neymar to succeed, he will have to adapt to the different way the game is played. Once lambasted for his acting, he has been recognized for maturing this aspect of his game over time. It only figures he will learn to adapt to the different rule-calling, not unlike a certain Cristiano Ronaldo did under the tutelage of the esteemed Sir Alex Ferguson. Playing next to a physical frontline and midfield will help to compensate for the extra roughness and strength seen in this league, but a player with his savoir-faire again figures to ease in nicely to his new environs.
Small, but skilful, PFA Player of the Year Hazard is a perfect prototype for the kind of player Neymar can become to be successful in the league. The Chelsea attacking midfielder has found success thanks to his quick feet, his movement and his ability to find a pass which is often not seen by the average Joe. It does not hurt that he plays next to the likes of Nemanja Matic and Ramires, both physical specimens in their own right.
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Another player who played at FC Barcelona, the Mexican struggled to get a game with the Spanish side unlike Neymar. Yet, his similar style and role make him a good comparison for the young Brazilian. He has succeeded as the top goal scorer for Arsenal, where his speed, technique, skills and football knowledge have allowed him to flourish as part of the new movement for the Gunners future prospects.
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Small, not overpowering but skilful and from the same mold as Neymar, the Liverpool man provides a model for how to succeed as a player like this. He’s effective on the break thanks to his dynamism and the lightning pace he sets, perfect for the counterattacking teams Neymar might find himself on. Like Neymar, he often finds himself in good positions to receive the ball up front.
Although for the young Englishman, he could head the opposite way. Seeking a move away from Liverpool, it could be Spain on the horizon.
Potential Models for Underperforming
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The Newcastle man struggled with the newfound physicality to the point where he often did not manage to stay on his feet. He fell down and got pushed off ball too easily so that his management dropped him off the squad to get him to work on strength and the conditioning of his physical attributes. He’s been under constant scrutiny from fans and pundits alike. This represents a worse-case scenario for small, quick, skilful players that Neymar is not likely to reproduce.
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While the German national of Turkish origin started out well for Arsenal, he struggled with confidence down the stretch of the season. While he had some success at Real Madrid, his tapering off was perhaps partly attributable to his lacking physical attributes to compete against a rough back line of English defences.
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The attacker from Portugal did not show the kind of improvement Ronaldo did, despite being tipped to be the next sensation for their country. He quickly fell out of favour with Sir Alex Ferguson and the fans alike for his overall lacklustre performance, despite showing promise.
Potential Team Possibilities/Matches
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Chelsea remains a strong possibility for the Brazilian’s services, and with an accomplished coach in Mourinho who has succeeded in many different leagues, the respected manager is sure to find ways to implement Neymar successfully. He is known for his ability to get players to adapt to the ways of playing in the Premiership. Furthermore, he knows how referees officiate the game and can likely impart this knowledge on his potential newcomer.
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Both of these clubs have the requisite finances to get a deal done. David Silva was a success in Man City and serves as an example of what works as a talented, if slight-of-build attacker. The squad has Toure as physical presence in midfield, allowing for smaller attackers at the front to make up for a lack of strength. Having such a physical presence permits one to boss around defensive lines and gives a presence for flick-on passes.
Neymar and the Drive to Succeed
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Neymar enjoys new challenges, and so it is plausible that he might take this one on. It’s why he made the move over to Europe at such a young age in the first place. In fact, he’s continued to push himself to expand his career. His latest venture into poker proves that. And with a brain that ticks like a poker player, a move to one of England’s top clubs would certainly be no gamble.
A move to Manchester United, Manchester City, or Chelsea would simply illuminate his name even more in the world of football. Although with him on the cusp of an historic treble, we think he’s probably happy at Camp Nou for now.by