It was a move that had been coming for weeks, but I still couldn’t belive my eyes when it became official. The lethal Messi-Neymar-Suarez trio, which had contributed (goals and assists) to 537 (!!!) goals in their three seasons together, was splitting apart.
— PSG Officiel (@PSG_inside) August 3, 2017
The move means that Neymar’s career can head two ways. In one scenario, he’ll be remembered like Ronaldinho, magical with the ball at his feet. People will get nostalgic at the mere mention of his name at his career’s end. Or two, he’ll be remebered like Robinho, a wasted talent who’s regarded as such.
In choosing to leave Barcelona, Neymar was essentially saying that he didn’t want to go down the same route that Lionel Messi did. Messi was once in Neymar’s shoes. As a young Barcelona star, Leo was nurtured by one of the all-time greats: Ronaldinho. The thing with Messi, however, was that he became the main man of Barça at 22, and had four Ballon D’ors by the time he was 26.
It can be argued that there was evidence of the baton being passed from Messi to Neymar last season in terms of time in possession, but in terms of output, the disparity between the two was still significant. In the 2016-17′ La Liga season, Lionel Messi bagged 37 goals in 34 games, whilst Neymar scored only scored 13 in 30 games, despite playing a similar role, and being in possession more frequently than Leo.
Neymar did complete more dribbles than Messi, 166-119, but it can be argued that most of Neymar’s dribbles don’t lead to chances, as he’s known to take on defenders in his own half, while Messi tends to wait until the final third to take on defenders.
Staying on stats, the Squawka Score, which combines everything that a player does on the pitch, was 2,480 for Messi, and 1,570 for Neymar. It’s quite the disparity, but keep in mind that Neymar’s output is extraordinary if it’s not comapred to Messi’s. For instance, Cristiano Ronaldo only produced a 1,153 Squawka Score this season.
Now, it’s quite clear on the pitch, although less obvious this past season, that much of Neymar’s success is due to Messi. Not only was Messi Neymar’s top assist-man, (by far) he was also able to drag two center backs to the right wing, leaving Neymar isolated on the left flank with the opposition’s right back, a perfect scenario for a skiller like Neymar.
That brings us back to the point that I started the piece with, in that Neymar can be either Ronaldinho or Robinho. He’s not going to have the luxury of playing with the greatest player of all-time, nor the best striker in the world when in form, Luis Suárez. He’s the main man now. He’ll be the focal point for defenses. He’ll be getting defended now the way Messi has since he was 23.
If he delivers, and comes anywhere close to Messi production, he’ll be remembered for generations as an all-time great. If he fails to deliver, he’ll be regarded as just another product of Messi. Now, he has all of the tools around him. A world class striker in Edinson Cavani, a world class fullback in Dani Alves, and a world class playmaker in Marco Verratti. But he won’t have a Messi. And that could make all the difference…