The greatest moments in Neymarâ€™s glorious career
For those who have followed Neymar from the very genesis of his stardom, it is possible to divide his professional career into distinct segments, separated by two World Cup appearances and two major transfers.
Each of those particles have been vital towards the team chemistry he has enjoyed at every club he has graced over the past ten years.
Santos – Early Trophy Creates Winning Mentality
Neymar was making waves years before theÂ breakthrough World Cup debut of 2014, which transformed him from rising star to the biggest name on the planet. The first great moment of his career was not long coming after moving up to the Santos first team in March 2009.
His first goal came a month later, but his first major trophy came the following year, taking the form of the 2010 Campeonato Paulista. The moment itself was the sum product of fourteen goals in the competition itself, but Neymarâ€™s ability to handle pressure had already become self-evident.
In tying the two-legged final 5-5 on aggregate, Santos won the trophy itself by virtue of having a superior league phase performance, lending extra value to Neymarâ€™s earlier goals. Though the SÃ©rie A title went to Fluminense in 2010, that year saw Neymar bag his first career hat-trick, smashing three past GoiÃ¡s inside the space of just eight minutes to turn a 1-1 draw into a 4-1 rout.
Brazil and Barca – Pen to Paper
To date, Neymarâ€™s greatest triumph as a Brazilian international remains the 2013 Confederations Cup. While it does not possess anything near the glory of the World Cup or Copa America, the FIFA CC, the calibre of opposition Brazil faced â€“ Italy, Uruguay and Spain â€“ lends extra credibility to what remains Neymarâ€™s only winners medal from a FIFA-sanctioned tournament.
However, the winning feeling did not leave the young Neymar, and stayed with him as he made the move of a lifetime.
For anyone to move to one of Europeâ€™s most elite clubs for a â‚¬86.2 million sum, the pressure is on like never before. Even many prime players in their mid to late twenties would do well to meet the stratospheric expectations such a deal creates, but for a 21-year old to make such a move successful requires unbelievable mental fortitude on top of God-given skill.
Signing on the dotted line, and instantly completing a move straight from Santos to the zenith of La Liga and European club competitions, should be one of Neymarâ€™s main flashpoints itself. However, it is what happens on the pitch after the signature that matters, and although he failed to hit double figures in his maiden La Liga season, there were signs of his lethal touch early on.
His most distinguished moment came against Celtic, as heÂ destroyed the Bhoys with a hat-trickÂ en-route to a 6-1 win.
Champions League Winner
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, Neymar was roundly considered â€˜one to watchâ€™, with Brazil natural favourites to bury the nationâ€™s most ancient curse and win the World Cup on home soil. Neymarâ€™s World Cup would be cut short by injury, but with that flashpoint preceded by goals against Croatia and Cameroon â€“ not to mention a winning penalty in a shootout against Chile â€“ the Barcelona starlet had proven himself worthy of the iconic canary yellow shirt.
The 2014/15 season was pure vintage for Neymar, who won the treble in only his second season as one of the Blaugranes. As they are in 2019/20, Barcelona have always been amongst the frontrunners to win theÂ Champions League, but it was his performances in the latter stages of the 2015 knockout phase that added further heroic gravitas to a rapidly-expanding legacy.
His brace against future club PSG in the quarter-finals was something to remember, but it would be for naught if the team showed any naivety towards semi-final opponents Bayern. A whole four years before Barcelona could find out just how â€˜dangerousâ€™ the possession of a 3-0 aggregate lead can be, the Catalan outfit took that lead to the Allianz Arena for the second leg of the 2015 Champions League semi-finals.
It is not often that a triumphant moment comes in the course of defeat, but Neymar â€“ as we all know â€“ is no ordinary player. Bayern put in a typical â€˜homeâ€™ performance, dominating from start to finish and scoring three times. However, another brace from Neynar ended all possibility of Barcelona being denied a showdown with Juventus.
For many who like a friendly debate on Neymarâ€™s greatness, that itself outranks the goal that sealed the Champions League title for Barcelona on 6 June 2015. After all, while it takes skill to extend a lead in a final against stern opposition, it takes a lot more in the way of bravery and ingenuity to keep your head while others around you are losing theirs.
PSG – A New Challenge
Though he became a PSG player for a price that sent reverberations around the world, some cynics expressed surprise that he did not choose a more competitive league than Ligue 1. Despite Monaco being the title holders at the time, PSG were almost odds-on to recapture the title even before Neymar signed.
Neymar was part of a sensational team thatÂ won the treble in 2017/18, although the Champions League trophy remained elusive. Albeit against much weaker opposition, Neymarâ€™s second hat-trick in a Champions League fixture is a standout moment, especially as it was his first Champions League hat-trick to contain a game-winning goal.
It was also in only PSGâ€™s 21st Ligue 1 game of the season that he bagged his first four-goal hat-trick for the Parisians so far. Coincidence or not, PSGâ€™s dominance of Ligue 1 has coincided with Neymarâ€™s arrival, and is highlighted with particular zeal by their league form at home.
Only One Ingredient Missing
Neymar is unquestionably one of the most enigmatic talents to arise in the 21stÂ century. As the worldâ€™s first Â£200m man, the Brazilian has shouldered extreme amounts of pressure to perform. However, this run-down of standout moments could be far richer still, especially with Neymar enduring endless frustration on the international stage, having recently missed out on Brazilâ€™s triumph at the 2019 Copa America.
As for his very future on the â€˜international stageâ€™, Neymar is at a far more advanced stage in his life at the top. Given the life expectancy of an attacking playerâ€™s legs in international football, the 2022 World Cup may well end up being Neymarâ€™s last chance to do as national heroes Pele, Dunga and Ronaldo did, and strike the winning goals on the highest stage.
He has already proven highly capable of poaching decisive goals, and with the surroundings and climate of Qatar being something of an equalising factor for all teams, 2022 could well be the year that Neymarâ€™s best, most unbeatable moment finally becomes reality.
Sources: theguardian.com / bbc.co.uk / bleacherreport.com