In February, leading Brazilian football magazine Placar ran a glossy issue to celebrate the first decade in the game of Neymar. The 74-page eulogy recounted the 27-year-old’s career, listed his 574 games for country and club and dedicated a two-page spread to his supposed conquests off the field. Above all, the magazine asserted that the Paris Saint-Germain superstar is the best Brazilian football player since Pelé.
Placar’s claim ignited the debate about the place of Neymar in the pantheon of Brazilian football gods. While some argued in favor of Neymar, others – the vast majority of fans – ridiculed the idea. Statistics suggest that he rates among the very best in the Brazilian shirt. In 99 matches for his country, Neymar has scored up to 61 goals, a tally which ranks him third on the list of Brazil’s all-time top footballers (between Ronaldo, with 62 goals, and Romario, with 55 goals).
Neymar thus has Ronaldo well in his sights. There are tangible differences between Ronaldo and Romario. Ronaldo propelled Brazil to a fifth world title and top the scoring charts with 8 goals at the 2002 World Cup. Eight years earlier, Romario had dragged Brazil to a fourth star along with his attacking partner Bebeto at the 1994 World Cup. The former’s third acceleration was unmatchable and the later’s exploitation of space in the box unrivaled. They were both selected the best player in the world during their careers.
Neymar’s national team career has taken different ways since debuting against the USA in 2010 as a Santos-styled Brazil under head coach Mano Menezes defeated their host in New Jersey. Injuries truncated his Brazil career – in the quarter-final of the 2014 World Cup, before the 2018 tournament and before last summer’s Copa America on home soil. In total, Neymar has only won the 2013 Confederations Cup and then the 2016 Olympic Games, competitions of little standing in the international game.