Analysis of Neymar in 2020/21
Neymar has been in the headlines again this month for reasons other than football.
After facing off against Argentina in Copa America, the 29-year-old will surely have hoped to be writing the right type of history. Instead, Lionel Messi finally got his major international trophy, and Neymar was left to fill column inches in another way.
He’s now reached an amicable agreement with Barcelona over the disputed transfer he made to Paris St Germain in 2017, bringing a controversial couple of years to an end. For a player with such skill and ability, it is a crying shame he continues to be talked about for the wrong reasons. Should we be talking about him for footballing reasons though, and will he improve now the spectre of legal battles no longer looms large?
Neymar still doesn’t have an international trophy to his name, so that embarrassing 7-0 defeat against Germany in the 2014 World Cup remains a blot on his career. However, despite losing out to Messi in this year’s Copa America, he did put in a decent shift for Brazil. His nation bagged 12 goals during the tournament, the same as Argentina, and Neymar had a hand in five. He scored two, with Messi bagging four, and created three. Messi had a hand in nine of La Albiceleste’s 12 and deserves the plaudits. That shouldn’t deter Neymar though, who certainly gave a good account of himself on the field.
PSG certainly struggled in the Champions League, losing to Manchester United in the opening game and struggling past RB Leipzig in their second game. Luckily, Neymar came alive in their final three group games, scoring six in three, including a brace at Old Trafford to beat Manchester United, and a hattrick as Istanbul Basaksehir were thrashed 5-1. He also created two in a fine 3-2 win against Bayern Munich, gaining some revenge for the final defeat in 2020, but neither PSG nor Neymar turned up for their return to Manchester, where City beat them 4-1 on aggregate in a one-sided semi-final. Neymar showed glimpses of his talent, but the very best players turn up even when their teammates do not.
Neymar made more headlines this year when he claimed he wanted to become a poker professional after his playing career ended. He’ll have to be better at calculating poker odds than he is at calculating the best way to win trophies though, because his move to PSG hasn’t brought the success he might have hoped for. This season, his side folded before they could complete another quartet of titles, instead seeing Lille lift the trophy. Their Champions League push also failed, despite them being beaten finalists the season before. Yes, Neymar has won domestic trophies with PSG, but major success eludes him.
It was a thoroughly horrible season for the Brazilian, who spent much of it out injured. He only appeared for 1,503 minutes of the campaign, a total of 18 games. In that time, he scored nine goals, but that left him a long way behind the likes of teammate Mbappe and Lyon’s Memphis Depay. Interestingly, Neymar did score a goal every 157 minutes he played, more than Monaco’s Kevin Volland and Montpellier’s Gaetan Laborde, who finished joint fourth-highest scorers.
In terms of assists, it is known playmaking is by far his best trait, and yet that eluded him somewhat during the season. He created just five assists, far fewer than Depay (12), Dimitri Payet of Marseille (10) and Zinedine Ferhat of Nimes (10). Those numbers will be hugely disappointing for Neymar, although he was dealt a rough hand in terms of injuries in yet another stop/start season.
Before he focuses on life around the poker table, Neymar has a serious point to prove. PSG will feel last season was an unmitigated disaster, with a poor showing in the Champions League and losing out in the hunt for the Ligue 1 title. Many observers feel French football should be a one-horse race, and the likes of Neymar should be scoring for fun. The big question is now whether he can shrug off the controversy and expectation and provide value for money on the field before he shifts to the green felt of the poker tables.