As Bayern Munich ended years of recent misses by lifting a fifth Champions League trophy at Wembley, Barcelona’s announcement over the acquisition of Brazil starlet Neymar from Santos almost mimicked the importance that naturally came along with Europe crowning a new “Kaiser”. The Blaugrana have sent a clear message towards the rest of the European elite that they mean business from the start of next term.
The Neymar story has been building from some time. Last Friday night, Santos announced that the club had received and accepted two offers for their young wonderkid, whose contract was set to expire next year. Rather than seeing their prized gem walk away, the board naturally felt that now was the right time to cash in on the Mohawk-sporting 21-year-old.
It was no secret that Neymar’s pursuers were Spanish duo Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both clubs have been long-term admirers of the forward, and in the case of the current La Liga holders, have spent the past two summers on his trail, but with little success.
Barcelona saw two bids rejected in recent weeks, with their final one being worth €28m, with an annual salary of €7m for the player. Real Madrid on the other hand, bettered this offer, offering Santos €35m and €11m for Neymar, which would make him the top man on their payroll.
In the end, Neymar chose the Cules over Los Merengues. Neymar will be a Barcelona player next season, and people have already begun imagining what it will be like for him to partner Lionel Messi in attack.
However, not everyone orbiting around the Catalan club see this as a match made in heaven. Johan Cruyff, whose unquestionable love for the club could not prevent him earning a few detractors, criticised the club’s move for the South American: “Two captains on the same boat cannot work. We should have learned from the past", he said.
The Dutch legend was spot on in his remark. Many big name players have been cast aside or relegated to a supporting role in order to allow Messi to show his true colours: Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa could not manage to steal the spotlight from the four-time Ballon d’Or winner. Will bringing another big name change that reality? Not many believe so.
The club view the arrival of Neymar an opportunity to shake off their dependence on Messi, even if the Argentine will remain their best asset for years to come. In their games without the Number 10 this season, Barcelona seemed another team. The clashes against Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and even Real Betis all point to this uncomfortable conclusion. Messi brings that “X” factor that few others do – except for Cristiano Ronaldo perhaps – and Barcelona want to add the most sought-after player outside of Europe in order to take some load off Messi’s shoulders.
When asked about Neymar, club assistant manager Jordi Roura was very clear. “He’s a spectacular player and any club would love to have him.” But is he the player Barcelona need?
The Blaugrana have managed 111 goals so far this league season and could very well reach 100 points by the time the term ends. Even with Alexis Sanchez and David Villa below their best, they were still the best attacking unit in Spain and in Europe’s top five league systems.
In truth, the €28m spent on Neymar could very well be used elsewhere. The Barcelona backline have been begging for a new player to partner Gerard Pique, as Carles Puyol’s remaining playing days are growing fewer and fewer.
If anything, the seven goals the team conceded against Bayern Munich in the Champions League are a clear indication of the need for a new centre-back. The club’s preferred choices of Mats Hummels and Thiago Silva might not be available, but there are many others out there that are more than worthy of donning the red and blue shirt.
Neymar is a special player, but nothing more yet. He is nowhere near Messi or Ronaldo’s class, and to place him on the same pedestal as these players would be criminal. Coming from Brazil at 21 years of age, he brings the usual baggage that has been attributed in such cases. He will need to mature overnight and learn a very strict club code. The chances of him pulling a “Robinho” and flopping cannot be overlooked.
Last but not least, will he be able to adapt to the club’s philosophy? Dubbed one of the world’s best, he may want to hold possession to show that he is just that. Imagine him next season holding the ball most of the time with his new team-mates begging for a pass. It will surely take time for Neymar to adapt.
Barcelona drew first blood in this year’s summer transfer market with a big coup, one that has left Real Madrid in an uneasy situation as they try to respond; such is the way in the Spanish system. Whether this move will prove to be a successful one is however open to debate.
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