Barcelona announced this morning that after a transfer saga lasting some 18 months they have finally landed Brazilian international Neymar from Santos on a five-year deal that is expected to cost the Catalan club around €50 million (R615 million).
The 21-year-old was always expected to come to Barca when he eventually left his homeland, but rather than wait till his contract expired with the Brazilian club next year, the Spanish champions have sped up the operation as they try to rejuvenate a tired squad that suffered the club’s worst ever defeat in European competition when they were hammered 7-0 by eventual Champions League winners Bayern Munich in this year’s semi-finals.
Even at his tender age, Neymar has already shown glimpses of his brilliance on the big stage with 20 goals in 32 international appearances, whilst his incredible return of 156 goals in 256 games for Santos at such a young age has seem him inevitably compared to Pele.
However, it is the potential to combine with another of the all-time greats that Barca are interested in as they look for someone to ease the goalscoring and creative burden on Lionel Messi.
Barca’s reliance on Messi was particularly exposed in this season’s Champions League when the Argentine was called into action whilst clearly carrying a hamstring injury to get them across the line against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals.
Messi ended up playing only 75 minutes of the 180 in that tie. The period he was on the pitch Barca won 2-0, the time he was on the sidelines they lost 3-1.
Worse was to come for the Catalans, though, in the humiliation at the hands of Bayern. Again a hobbling Messi was forced into action in the first-leg as the Germans romped to a 4-0 victory, and with the four-time World Player of the Year consigned to the bench for the return, a Barca side devoid of creation and belief were again picked off 3-0.
In the two years Barca have won the Champions League in Messi’s stellar era, he has had significant support in the goalscoring charts.
In 2008/09 Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry combined for 62 goals to Messi’s 38. And in 2010/11, Pedro and David Villa contributed 55 to the Argentine’s 53.
Over the past two season Messi has reached the barely fathomable figure of 123 goals, whilst Cesc Fabregas comes closest with just 28.
Questions still remain over how Neymar will adapt to the European game. His effectiveness has been tempered in big Copa Libertadores and international fixtures when forced to play in reduced spaces, something which Barca are faced with on a weekly basis as they have to weave themselves through the parked bus in front of the opposition’s goal.
And there are also concerns over the Brazilian’s reliance on drawing soft free-kicks that tend to be given in the striker’s favour in his homeland.
However, unlike some other big money Barca signings in recent seasons such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fabregas, Neymar fits into the current Barca style and formation.
His ability to cut in from the left side will not only pose a goal threat and allow him to combine with Messi, but also allow the ever adventurous Jordi Alba to surge forward on the overlap.
And, arguably most importantly of all, despite questions over how their egos may collide, Neymar’s acquisition seems to have the green light from Messi.
“He is a great player, makes the difference and is very good in one against one situations,” he told reporters earlier this week.
“For us I suppose it would be a marvellous addition. He is a type of player that offers very different individual solutions to the rest.”
It is that variety that the bosses at the Camp Nou are hoping will reignite the spark in an attack that has faded into a one-man show over the past two years.
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