Neymar Jr
Rio de Janeiro - A seleção brasileira de futebol enfrenta a Alemanha, no Maracanã, em busca da medalha de ouro nas Olimpíadas Rio 2016 (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

Disappointment: Neymar Jr’s legacy

Neymar Junior. One of the most high-profile, skilful, talked about footballers in the world. Following another World Cup disappointment with pre-tournament favourites Brazil, what is Neymar’s legacy? Has he ever lived up to the expectations? Will he have a final chance at World Cup redemption?

The 30-year-old went into this World Cup in scintillating form, with 15 goals in 20 games this season for his club, PSG. Despite not scoring in the group stages of the World Cup, partially due to an injury he picked up in the opening game, Brazil were solid, as they topped a group containing Serbia, Switzerland, and Cameroon.

In the last-16 tie against South Korea, Neymar and his teammates looked to have discovered their flair. The dancing Brazilians cruised to a 4-1 victory, reasserting their label as tournament favourites, with Neymar opening his account for the competition.

The quarter finals placed Brazil against 2018 finalists Croatia. After a forgettable 90 minutes, Neymar’s brilliance broke the deadlock halfway through extra time. Given Croatia had posed almost no threat all game, it appeared this would be enough, but Croatia levelled late on to force penalties.

From the spot, Croatia were perfect, while Rodrygo and then Marquinhos both failed to score for Brazil. Croatia advanced, winning another World Cup penalty shootout. Brazil disappoint yet again on the world stage.

Interestingly, one man that did not take a penalty for Brazil was their talisman, Neymar. Brazil sent up 20-year-old Rodrygo to take their first penalty, who had a tame penalty saved. Surely, the experienced professional Neymar should have taken first, to settle the nerves among his younger teammates. Why wait to have the glory of the fifth penalty when your team may not even make it that far?

A seemingly selfish pursuit of glory summarises the career of Neymar, as well as his approach to this penalty shootout.

In 2013, Neymar left Santos in Brazil for Barcelona, forming a formidable trio alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The trio propelled Barcelona to a treble in 2015 and then a domestic double in 2016.

The World Cup was his chance to change the narrative

The turning point for Neymar and his relationship with Barcelona came in 2017 during one of the greatest comebacks in European football history. Barcelona overturned a 4-0 deficit against PSG, winning 6-1, with three late Barcelona goals, of which Neymar scored two. Neymar had inspired the comeback, but it was Messi who drew in the headlines. From this point, Neymar decided to leave to build his own legacy.

His choice for a new club? French giants Paris Saint-Germain, for the mouth-watering fee of €222 million. As he joined PSG in 2017, he was joined by then-18-year old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe, who has since established himself as one of the best players in the world.

So has he carved out his own legacy at PSG? Simply put, no. They have enjoyed domestic successes, but the Champions League has remained elusive, with dramatic collapses becoming a hallmark of PSG.

Is he at least the star of Paris? Again, no. That title would go to the man that also joined in 2017. As Mbappe threatened to leave for free in 2022, the club made an astronomical offer to keep him, which included a $100 million signing on fee. Alongside the eye-watering figures were political powers involved with the running of the club.

Mbappe is the star of French football and is quickly becoming the global star. Having signed Messi in 2021, Neymar has once again found himself being eclipsed by his teammates’ stardom.

Brazil is where Neymar gets the chance to be the talismanic figure. In 2014, injury derailed his campaign. In 2018, Brazil were going through transition as a side. In 2022, they were favourites. In all three tournaments, Brazil have disappointed and Neymar has been unable to carry his country through to the later rounds.

As a 30-year-old, he may well have another World Cup left in him, but this was his tournament to seize. His form was impressive. The current team is excellent. The depth within the Brazilian squad can only be rivalled by the French.

Neymar has once again disappointed on the global stage. He has a highlight reel to rival any of the greatest players. His big game impact is more comparable with Romelu Lukaku. The World Cup was his chance to change the narrative. Sadly, the tale of Neymar will remain one of disappointment.


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