It takes something special to wrestle the Ballon d’Or away from the relentless grip of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but in Neymar the rest of the footballing world can finally look to the arrival of the next generation.
Not since 2007 has a player whose surname is other than Messi or Ronaldo won the prestigious award that crowns the best player over the past 12 months – namely the Brazil midfielder Kaka – but the 2015 instalment could finally see that trend broken.
Having arrived at Barcelona in 2013 with an extraordinary expectation on his shoulders and a transfer fee that would soon be revealed as in excess of the £75m that Barcelona are believed to have paid for him, Neymar needed time to settle into the side and form an understanding with Messi before he would begin to flourish.
But the arrival of Luis Suarez looks to have helped Neymar develop, and when Messi was struck down with injury earlier this season it was the Brazilian who stepped up with a remarkable four goals against Rayo Vallecano and a further five goals in just three games that helped Barcelona rise to the top of La Liga as well as qualify from their Champions League group with ease.
So far this season, Neymar has notched 18 goals for his club in all competitions, and his 2015 record for club and country reads an impressive 42 goals in 57 matches, with all but one goal coming for the Catalan side.
Barcelona’s surge to the Spanish title last season was also largely down to the Brazilian superstar, as he embarked on an impressive run between 11 April and the 12 May that saw him score 11 goals in just 10 games, including a run of seven consecutive matches in which he found the back of the net. Neymar has grown in confidence, too, with the 23-year-old willing to showboat to the delight of his fans wherever possible – though his tricks infuriate his opponents in equal measure as the reaction from Athletic Bilbao’s squad last May demonstrated.
The one certain criticism of Neymar is he has failed to impress on the international stage, given he was sent-off and subsequently banned from Brazil’s ill-fated Copa America campaign last summer and he failed to find the back of the net in the Selecao’s two World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Peru last November, though he did score three goals in their five international friendlies in 2015.
However, that record should be taken with a pinch of salt given that Messi has a similar record of one Copa America goal and three in international friendlies and Ronaldo holding just three goals in his five appearances.
It’s also worth pointing out that Neymar has stood up in the most important matches for Barcelona, having scored in the Champions League final victory over Juventus – something not even Messi managed – while he also scored in the landslide El Clasico victory over Real Madrid last November as well as in the 2-1 win against Atletico Madrid towards the start of the season.
And after all, despite the sheer brilliance of Messi and Ronaldo, could either of them have finished like Neymar’s stunning over-the-head volley against Villarreal this season?