In his first season at Barcelona, there has been no escaping Neymar’s public profile through his selfies, tweets and big-money advertising campaigns. The message on the field hasn’t been quite so sustained.
The 22-year-old Brazilian, hyped as the heir to Pele, hasn’t made the anticipated impact on European football following a blockbuster move from Santos.
Neymar’s €57 million transfer last year quickly spoiled as the price tag grew to €100 million. That cost Barcelona president Sandro Rosell his job and put the Catalan club under investigation for tax fraud, leading to damaging public scrutiny against Neymar and his father-agent.
“I think too much is expected of Neymar,” said Daniel Alves, a team-mate for both Barcelona and Brazil and regular face in the selfies. “The abnormal thing would be a quick adaptation to European football. Football here is quicker and better organised. But the blows against him started with the talk about the contract.”
Neymar arrived at Barcelona followed by a repertoire of mesmerising skills and moves, dazzling goals, and a bright and brash personality. The best-paid athlete in Brazil has 10.1m followers on Twitter and more than 4.3m on Instragram, where he recently posted photos taken with superstar model Gisele Bundchen for Vogue magazine. Neymar was reportedly made the club’s highest earner ahead of four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, causing tension in the locker room and increasing expectations for the finicky fans.
There are questions over Neymar’s physique or if he’s being played out of position, but Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has been quick to squash such talk. “Neymar may be more comfortable on the left than the right, but Barcelona players are good enough to play in any position,” Martino said. “I try to bring all the players together in the best way. Neymar is comfortable playing in any three of the attacking positions.”
The public discussion over his contract and a reported €40m of the transfer going straight into his father’s bank account has had an effect, as Neymar lost his cool and attacked critics on social media earlier this year. “If you are not concentrated, then you need to find the way because we are at a crucial moment in the season,” Alves said ahead of tonight’s Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid. “Mentally, he seems fine, motivated. When people start talking stupidities about your father, it’s normal to get upset. But you have to separate your personal life and your work.”
In his first season at Barcelona, Neymar has scored 14 goals in 35 appearances. “Every day you have to show people more, every game you have to show what you can bring. If not, you get left behind,” Alves said. “Only the best are remembered.”