Florentino Perez has always dreamed of signing him. After Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar is one of the great players of his generation (he’s closer in age to former team-mate Messi than current team-mate Kylian Mbappe after all). Real have been trying to sign Neymar for as long as memory serves, starting when he was still at Santos. Perez is still looking for a replacement for Ronaldo, and he hasn’t found a successor yet…
Neymar ticks every box for a Real Madrid player, being a natural born Galactico. He has exceptional talent, he is box office and sells shirts while ensuring a massive impact on various social networks. His value on the pitch is closely matched by his value off the pitch. On sporting, economic and marketing levels he ticks every single box. In many ways he is made for Real, about as perfect a Galactico as you could want.
Of course there are reasons why this wouldn’t happen, not least the colossal investment required to sign Neymar. Plus it’s not as if he has hidden his desire to one day return to Barcelona. Finally Real have already bet big on Eden Hazard and they are continually linked with Mbappe. But if Neymar’s career, and modern football in general, tells us anything it is never say never: Neymar could one day wear the white of Real.
Classic highlights, Brazil v Mexico London 2012 final - ft Neymar, Marcelo, Jiménez
Neymar in behind Karim Benzema with Hazard on the left and either Vinicius or Rodrygo wide right? That doesn’t sound too bad, going forward at least. Defensively it would leave the full-backs and central midfielders exposed, particularly on the left where Hazard doesn’t track back a lot. A midfield pairing of Casemiro and Federico Valverde would form a solid base but it’s hard to see this functioning consistently.
This option comes to mind given the way Neymar tends to play but then the big question is who plays on the right? Both Neymar and Hazard prefer playing on the left and forcing one of them to switch flanks may well lead to a negative impact on their performance. Plus whichever one you choose will know that they are the inferior player in the manager’s eyes. A risk not worth taking.
The chosen formation: 4-3-2-1, the Christmas tree
Le "sapin de Noël" du Real avec Neymar
Image credit: Eurosport
It is the best compromise, not only keeping a dense block but also giving total freedom of movement to Hazard and Neymar in terms of creation and finishing, two areas where they are both very potent.
Auxerre manager Jean-Marc Furlan's view
“It is true that Real have regained control of the middle of the pitch thanks to Casemiro and Valverde,” Auxerre Jean-Marc Furlan tells Eurosport France. “So in addition, it allows Neymar and Hazard to play freely, which would be interesting to see. With the Christmas tree it allows you to have better structure when recovering.”
This is a very specialised system and not easy for players to adapt to.
Auxerre manager Jean-Marc Furlan's view
“The Christmas tree; I tried it sometimes, it is very, very hard to bring to life,” says Furlan.
“It is absolutely essential, perhaps more than in other systems, that your players enjoy playing in that system.
“But that amounts to giving the offensive responsibilities to just two or three players.”
Neither Hazard nor Neymar have ever really played in this system which makes it a gamble, even more so when considering the potential outlay to bring Neymar in.
The final verdict
Neymar is a demanding superstar, and you have to treat him as such. Otherwise you risk exposing yourself to the sort of breakdown the Brazilian’s behaviour can lead to. Real Madrid need only look at the end of his Barcelona career to see that.
“When you have a player like Neymar, you have to build around him and his individual qualities,” summarises Furlan. “This is less the case with Ronaldo and Messi who are more capable of integrating into a general philosophy. Neymar, when you see him playing, the others have to adapt to his style.”
Zinedine Zidane has already proven his ability to adapt his formation to his players, which he would certainly have to do if he signed Neymar...