Let’s take the path of least resistance. Let’s say Brazil, the favorite, does win the World Cup. He glides without friction like God’s own air hockey puck, past his playoff demons and through the finals to claim the men’s sixth national championship.
How could this happen?
Brazil boasts two of the best goalkeepers in the world, a veteran defense and a beefy, energetic midfield, but the country’s smoothest path to the title would be to get a stellar performance from Neymar’s talisman. Brazil’s team of cunning wingers – Vinicius Junior, Rafinha, Anthony, Rodrigo, Gabriel Martinelli – have the talent to replay the tournament, but Neymar has scored more goals for his country than eight (!) other strikers combined. and has almost more appearances than all of them combined (121 for him versus 142 for eight of them). He is clearly Human. To win without him or with his problems would require a restructuring of the team right in the middle of the tournament. Possibly – Brazil won the World Cup in 1962 despite losing to damn Pele through injury in just the second game – but difficult.
To be clear, Neymar is currently not fighting. He sails into this tournament in amazing form. He is second in Ligue 1 goals (11) behind Paris Saint-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappé, second in league assists (9) behind teammate Lionel Messi, a total already higher than his recent three complete matches, albeit with injuries. suffers, seasons for PSG.
So it’s more likely that in this Brazilian maglev scenario, Neymar actually plays well. Maybe he will win the Silver Ball as the second best player in all of this. (Defeated finalists have a habit of taking the gold.) He scores four goals, which puts him ahead of Pelé as his country’s all-time leading scorer, and has three assists. He is leading his nation — archetypally the most football-crazed on the planet, synonymous with all that is good and right about the game — to its first world title in 20 years.
How would we feel about Neymar then?
Ten years ago, Neymar was the next big figure in football. He was named South American Player of the Year in 2011 when he was 19 years old. received the Puskas Prize for the most beautiful goal scored in the same year. He moved to Europe in 2013 to play with Messi at Barcelona and became his heir as the best player in the world.
But the reigns of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, like many of this generation of athletes, lasted much longer than history suggested. Now that this is finally coming to an appreciable end, Neymar finds himself surpassed by others: Mbappe and Erling Haaland, Mo Salah and Robert Lewandowski. The FIFA video game series tied Neymar to 11th in the worldth the best player when its latest edition was released earlier this year. Messi is still fifth; Ronaldo eighth. The Neymar era is over before it even began.
He had his best time in Paris, where he moved in 2017, taking Qatari side PSG occasionally to the Champions League semi-finals, but more often to a disappointing round of 16 exit. It rarely intersects with the main plots of the game. PSG either quietly and dully dominate France (four times out of five full seasons) or smugly and narrowly beat a rival in the season of its life (once, but also in the pre-Neymar season). He only once played more than 20 games in a season for PSG, only once provided double-digit assists and never surpassed the goalscoring record he achieved for Barcelona. He has curious habit of skipping key games during the Brazilian carnival period, which often coincides with either his own birthday or his sister’s. He became famous for his diving and persecution of referees, which football players are already known for. It drew criticism as at home as well as abroad for his attitude.
But he remains the centerpiece of the national team, demonstrating the creativity, goalscoring ability and set-piece that brings together Brazil’s collection of young strikers and fast wingers. They run to the passes he hits and win the penalties he converts and watch him try to beat a range of opposing teams with more success than anyone but the Messi name is not entitled to have.
Brazil have scored 40 goals and conceded just 5 goals in 17 World Cup qualifying games. Neymar scored eight and provided eight more assists for 40 percent of his team’s scoring despite only playing 10 of those games. It’s really dizzyingly good, even if four of those goals were penalties. If Brazil continues to score eight times more than they concede, they will have a good chance of winning the World Cup. If Neymar averages over 1.5 goals and assists per 90 minutes played, then I can’t wait to see another guy win this Ballon d’Or.
For Messi, winning the World Cup with Argentina will be the highlight of his career, the final bolstering of his legacy. Neymar’s resume would indicate that he won the World Cup with Brazil. The rest of his career, a period as an understudy at Barcelona, half-seasons played at low stakes in Paris, will be retroactively seen as leading up to this point. By winning this tournament, he will finally step out of the shadow of the two titans of the game, finally achieve something they haven’t done yet.
What then? Will Neymar make the world title the third greatest player of the past era, brushing aside contenders like Luis Suarez, Lewandowski and Luka Modric? It overtook its new junior successors for a time, such as Richard III but with fewer kills?
Sometime, maybe. Previously, the World Cup was the main creator of heritage. Pele’s career began at the 1958 World Cup and reached its apotheosis at another World Cup in 1970. Garrincha, the unstoppable Brazilian yo-yo dribbler, built his legacy in 1958, but especially in 1962 when he took over from Pelé’s injury and led his country to victory. championship for the second time in a row. FourFourTwo named Garrincha eleventh greatest player of all timeand not for what he achieved in his Botafogo club.
Neymar won’t get that kind of promotion. (At least not globally; Brazil will probably feel more strongly about it.) And it’s not just that the quality of the club game has surpassed that of the international game. This is because the balance of attention has shifted, or, more accurately, it has simply grown. The World Cup is still the biggest football scene – ask James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas or any player whose career has been irrevocably changed by playing in one tournament – but the rest of the drama is now more accessible. Everyone can watch any game. More importantly, everyone can see every highlight and every headline, good and bad, even if they don’t see the game. The show never stops. You don’t even have to watch it.
The weight of all this attention works against the possibility of overestimation. Neymar’s idea predates the human and has its own momentum. You didn’t even have to see him play to learn it: talented, irritable, rolling too much on the grass for almost any taste. Brazil may (or may not) win the World Cup, but even that won’t help Neymar’s tough situation. reputation.