It’s safe to say that this Brazilian wonderkid will not be playing in his home country for much longer. A dazzling display versus Scotland added to the renowned view that Neymar is one of the game’s finest prospects and will go on to be one of the game’s most heralded legends.
As Europe’s most elite clubs take their position for what will be a thrilling battle for his signature, I have decided to take the time to evaluate his strongest suitors and establish which club, and country even, would prove to be this young striker’s best option. Up first is the club he almost joined, Chelsea.
Chelsea’s season started brightly. Emphatic wins over the likes of Wigan, West Brom, etc. had sent messages of serious intent to the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal. They were not about to surrender the league title without a fight.
A few months later, everyone had been left speechless by the way Chelsea’s season had fizzled out. The controversial departure of Ray Wilkins seemed to be catastrophic for the club. Several key players lost form and performances on the pitch began to look worryingly lacklustre. Points were being dropped all over the place- uncharacteristic of a team who, at a point in time, scored goals for fun and boasted a fantastic defensive record. Clearly, something was very wrong behind the scenes.
Although results have started to trickle in of late, the arrival of Fernando Torres from Liverpool for a British record fee of 50 million pounds has had very little, if anything at all, to do with it. Of course, it is expected that such a sizable investment won’t be just cast to the side. Torres will be given time to recapture his true, deadly form. Who knows? The return to form and fitness of a certain Frank Lampard could prove to be key.
Torres aside, as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka continue to age and display erratic form in front of goal, one should really wonder whether Neymar is indeed needed at Chelsea to provide much needed spark, swagger and of course, goals- all of which the current Chelsea frontline desperately lacks.
Putting Chelsea’s on-field problems to the side just for a minute, let’s look at one major off-field problem- the future of Carlo Ancelotti. Speculation is rife concerning whether Ancelotti will still be at the helm come the start of next season. Roma are very strongly linked and the manager has reportedly professed his heartfelt desire to manage the problem-stricken club. There is indeed the possibility of a new manager taking charge of Chelsea for the start of next season.
Different managers have different effects on players, will have different tactical preferences and of course, different transfer targets to suit their tactical preferences. IF Ancelotti does end up leaving the club, it may very well be that Neymar won’t be a target for the club anymore. Hypothetically speaking, what if Chelsea’s new manager got Drogba playing back to his best (it’s been done before), got Anelka playing back to his best (it’s been done before) and gave Torres the confidence he needs to consistently find the back of the net? Daniel Sturridge has been a revelation at Bolton Wanderers. What if the club’s new manager has plans for him? Salomon Kalou has been rotting on the bench. Suppose the new manager has plans for him as well? How could Neymar possibly fit into that equation? Bear in mind please, that this is just a hypothesis.
Let’s assume now that Ancelotti stays. The arrival of Torres has seen the manager fiddle with a 4-4-2 at times. In the case of a striker like Torres, who likes to play off the shoulder of the last defender, the team needs to be built around him. He needs to be made the focal point of the attack. In Neymar’s case, his flexibility in terms of movement and style of play makes him easy to accommodate. In a 4-4-2, Neymar is very capable of operating on either flank as well as up top.
For the most part, he needs to be carried from a defensive standpoint, but he is still young enough to implement tracking back into his game. As was on display versus Scotland, Neymar likes to drop deep to get on the ball and play in team mates as he makes his way into the final third, meaning that the role of a second striker may suit him best. The first goal he scored in that game was as a result of him arriving late into the box. This is further evidence that the role of a second striker may be the right position for him. Over time, when he develops the tracking back aspect of his game, he may even be able to effectively play the role of an attacking midfielder.
Should Ancelotti revert to his usual 4-3-3, Neymar will be very effective on either side of the lone striker. He is capable of cutting in from the left to devastating effect. Should he be deployed on the right, his left foot is strong enough to get him by with relative ease. Thus, if he is forced onto his weaker foot, he shouldn’t have much of a problem. He possesses good vision and this, together with his other qualities, will inevitably make him transcend tactical instruction as he matures.
Tactics and technicality aside, there are two major concerns. One is the question of how Neymar would adapt to the physicality of the Barclays Premier League. We’ve seen a number of Brazilians come to the league and flop terribly, regardless of talent. Neymar is already slight in physique. He took several knocks versus Scotland yet still retained the composure to not only curl and finish his first goal with aplomb but to wrong-foot Allan McGregor and calmly slot home his second goal from the oft nerve-wracking penalty spot, in front of a big crowd on the national stage. We can conclude, then, that this young striker has mental fortitude. It’s not impossible for small players to succeed in the Premier League. After all, we have the examples of Michael Owen, Aaron Lennon, Jack Wilshere, David Silva and the list goes on.
As important as physique is in England, mental strength is just as important, more so for players who lack physique. A player with mental strength won’t writhe on the ground in an infantile manner after every knock he gets, allowing his concentration and influence on the game to wither. A player with great mental strength will shake it off, get back to the game and even go on to change it. Neymar did this to some extent versus Scotland and we can be confident that he can do it in England.
The other concern surrounds Chelsea’s inability to properly develop youngsters. We’re seeing that the likes of Gael Kakuta, Fabio Borini, Daniel Sturridge, Josh McEachran and other youths at the club are not being given much of an opportunity. Questions can be raised about the patience of Chelsea’s staff and the fact that they’d rather splash the cash on established talent rather than put time and faith in the young ones. The fact that John Terry is the only academy player at the club to have been such a success in recent times speaks volumes. If Chelsea cannot properly develop youngsters from in their own backyard, is it fair to assume that they will properly develop one they’ve bought?
Not to be disregarded is the fact that experience is needed in a squad. A lack thereof can result in the problems Arsenal experience. However, there has to be balance. There has to be room for the young ones to be given an opportunity, especially if the squad is as old as Chelsea’s. As hard as it is to believe, Neymar is still 19. He can have an immediate impact, yes, but he is not the finished article. Is Chelsea the right club to help him complete his development? Given their track record, one has to say, “No”.
Conclusion: Without doubt, Neymar can add many things to this lacklustre and aging Chelsea side and as established, he has a good chance of being able to adapt to the rigors of the Premier League. However, the future of Carlo Ancelotti at the club is a huge factor to this transfer going ahead. The roles that Drogba, Anelka, Kalou and Sturridge will have under Ancelotti, if the Italian stays, is also a factor. Those things aside, the fact that Chelsea is not the type of club for youngsters to properly develop is a huge deal-breaker. Hence, if Neymar wishes to go to England, he would be wise to go to another club.