If FIFA gave out a Ballon d’Or every month instead of once a year – and let's face it they could afford the gold – Neymar would have scooped October’s and be well on the way to winning November’s prize too.
“I’m the best player in the world… until January,” says Cristiano Ronaldo in the film story of his life. He will hand over that title to Leo Messi at the end of the year at FIFA’s next World Player gala. But right now Brazil coach Dunga is right when he said this week that currently there is no one better anywhere than Neymar. And the man who leads Brazil against Argentina tonight can have the Goal of the Month honours too.
His work of art against Villarreal on Sunday was one of those goals that no one in the stadium will forget. Match reporters restricted by deadline looked up from the match reports they were writing to see him score it, looked down, looked up again at the replay, but then only once down in the bowels of the Nou Camp waiting for manager press conferences and seeing the goal again and again were they really able to appreciate it.
He had started the move! With a header in his own half out to Suarez. He had glided from the halfway line to the edge of the area and he hadn’t just flipped the ball up over Jaume Costa and shot past Alphonse Aerola - he had done it all on the volley in three touches with a 180 degree turn.
Barcelona's Neymar (R) and Sergi Roberto celebrate a goal against Villarreal
Image credit: Reuters
In some respects wonder goals are not the most glorious thing about Neymar. We all expected as much for €87 million. More amazing has been the work ethic, the maturity, and the incredible level of consistency.
He leads his country into their World Cup qualifier in Buenos Aires having scored 11 goals in the first 11 games this season in the league. Last season he scored 10 in the first 11 games. He has already scored 15 Champions League goals for the club in just 26 appearances. It took Ronaldinho 35 matches to do the same.
He has already scored 183 goals in 317 games aged 23. At the same age neither Messi nor Ronaldo had reached such heights.
And ever since he filled his presentation speech in 2013 with numerous references to “being here to help Messi” and wanting to “learn from the best player in the world”, right up to Sunday’s decision to let Luis Suarez take Barcelona’s penalty – despite the fact that Neymar had scored the team’s last three – he has shown that for all the showboating he’s as much a team player as the most technically limited water carrier.
We love the showboating – seeing him challenged on YouTube by F2Freestylers to juggle random contents from a sports holdall, you’re almost disappointed when he pulls out relatively regular shaped items such as an orange, a pair of socks and a toilet roll. He keeps all three items up with at least 25 touches each.
It provokes memories of tales of Maradona’s first day at Barcelona when according to team-mate Marcos Alonso he kicked his rolled-up socks off the bench in the dressing room and did not 30 keepy-ups but 300 with them. Some tell that anecdote with added wow-factor – that he got changed into his kit while keeping the socks in the air.
What can never be embellished are the goals scored and trophies won. Neymar already has a league, a European Cup and a Copa del Rey to his name and 67 goals in 106 games for Barcelona.
These past six weeks has also given an insight into how he might fill the Messi void when Leo can no longer perform for Barcelona. Although in many ways that sparks a false debate. Messi is 28 not 38. Gianfranco Zola – of similar physical make-up and position on the pitch - played until he was 36. Even if Messi only goes on until he is 32 we have four more years of Neymar and Messi together.
The only thing that will prevent that happening is if he leaves. Barcelona want to raise his buy-out clause to €250m euros to put him out of the reach of the rest of Europe. It will cost them.
When negotiations to extend the current deal that runs out in 2018 are over Neymar will probably be on pay-parity with Ronaldo and Messi. In Ballons d’Or, wages and goals – the greatest individual rivalry in football needs to get used to having a third major player at the table.