FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 5 – Neymar
There were two main tasks awaiting Neymar upon signing for Barcelona. The first was to create a platform for himself to co-exist with Lionel Messi and the club's other superstars. The other was to prove that he could be the heir to Messi’s throne when the Argentine eventually calls it a day.
It’s safe to say Neymar has accomplished the first and is on track to completing the second, too. His progress over the last 12 months has been superb, with the Brazilian showing the humility to work in tandem with his team-mates but also the ability to lead the line when required. The skills and thrills are still there, but there’s also an essential understanding of his place within the collective.
He managed 31 goals in all competitions and deservedly secured a spot in the Ballon d’Or top three
Neymar is rarely greedy or selfish; instead he's always willing to lay on a pass for a team-mate and even contribute in the defensive phase of play. The fears that he would do neither have been comprehensively disproven.
Looking back, November 2015 was a key juncture in Neymar’s career at the Camp Nou. It was then that he produced his most scintillating form, which included a stunning goal against Villarreal. At the time, Neymar was probably the best player in the world - for once Messi had taken a back seat. It was unfortunate, then, that he faltered so badly down the final stretch of the season.
Despite that, he still managed 31 goals in all competitions and deservedly secured a spot in the Ballon d’Or top three. His downturn was perhaps a combination of fatigue and pressure catching up with him, or maybe he was saving himself for a busy summer back home.
It was Neymar who scored the winning penalty against Germany in the final
After missing out on the Copa America Centenario, Neymar returned to Brazil to compete in the Olympics in August. The Selecao were worthy winners, securing their first ever gold medal in the sport, and the tears that run down their star man's face showed how much it meant to him.
It was Neymar who scored the winning penalty against Germany in the final, with the 24-year-old immediately dropping to his knees as virtually everyone around him went wild. It was an emotional moment and one of the most significant in Neymar's career to date.
Barcelona recently acknowledged his development as a player and a person by tying him down to a whopping new contract which runs until 2021. By then you’d expect him to be the main draw at Camp Nou. The world better be warned that, despite everything Neymar has accomplished so far, there's much more still to come.
Vote for your favourite player of 2016 at ForzaFootball here. We'll reveal the results next week.