Is Neymar overrated?

Craig Humpage 3 weeks ago
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After another disappointing exit from the UEFA Champions League, many are questioning the PSG and Brazil superstar

By Craig Humpage
Editor-in-Chief, Sporticos
Published on Monday 17 May 2021

It's tough to deny that Neymar has had an extraordinary career, full of success and achievement, but is he as good as he is made out to be? In the wake of PSG's latest European defeat, many have criticised the Brazilian star for his work rate and attitude and even questioned his ability. Is he overrated or is he wrongly maligned for the poor performance of his team in the latter stages of the Champions League? We use statistics and the good old "eye test" to decide.

Warning: The stats analysis here is very goal centric. If you are one of those who don't see him as a striker and think it's unfair to compare him to others on this metric, you are sure to hate this article.

Second Warning: This is an editorial, and by it's very nature quite an opinion-driven piece. By all means disagree, but the writer reserves the right to express their opinion, which does not necessarily reflect the views of the publication.

A Quick Retrospective

After bursting onto the scene as a teenager at Santos in his native Brazil, Neymar scored 107 goals in 177 appearances, winning several trophies along the way, including the Copa Libertadores - a first for Santos since 1963. Needless to say, his performances turned heads and he was quickly off to Barcelona to join fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in forming MSN, possibly the greatest front three of all time. Neymar shone in Catalonia, where he scored 68 goals in 123 games and won a bunch of trophies including a league, cup and Champions League treble. In 2017, PSG came calling and off Neymar went for £198m in what is still the most expensive transfer of all time. It was believed that this move would give the Brazilian the chance to step out of Lionel Messi's shadow and establish himself as the undisputed best player in the world, but has he flattered to deceive in France? Should he be in the discussion with the likes of Messi and Ronaldo?

Comparisons with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

Even today, with both certainly in the twilight of their illustrious careers, it is still difficult to have any discussion about the world's best players without including probably the two best to ever do it. How does Neymar compare to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo? Let's look at the number of goals and games for the three players:

Player Games Goals Average
Neymar Jr 435 262 0.6
Cristiano Ronaldo 893 674 0.75
Lionel Messi 777 671 0.86

Many people saw Neymar as the heir apparent to Messi and Ronaldo and expected him to push on at PSG and start hunting down their records. If we assume he plays at the top level until he's 35, which itself would be uncharacteristic as Brazilians often retire early, he'd need to score almost double the number of goals he's scored in the last 12 years over the next 6 years just to get close to where the other two are at right now. That's assuming that Messi will retire soon and at the age of 33 - how is it possible he is still so young?! - that's unlikely. So, in terms of goals, he's way off and his most prolific spell came in Brazil playing against much, much weaker defences.

One thing to clear up is that many will argue he's not an out-and-out striker. That could be a fine argument but if so it must also be applied to Messi and Ronaldo, at least until a couple of seasons ago. Ronaldo was a winger and support striker the vast majority of his career and only became a centre forward in the last few years. You could argue Messi is more of a spearhead now but again for the most part he is not a "striker" as we understand the word. All three of them appear in the advanced part of the pitch charged by their teams with scoring and assisting goals.

So, they are all great attacking players but there is a clear drop off here. Apart from four years at Barcelona, Neymar has played flat track bully in the Brazilian and French leagues against mediocre defenders and still produced numbers significantly lower than Ronaldo and Messi. You can only imagine the numbers the latter two would have if they had spent their careers there. Ronaldo in particular deserves credit for continuing to put up ridiculous numbers for Juventus at the age of 36 in the Italian Serie A, a league notorious for tactical excellence and defensive resilience. He also dominated at Man United in his early career in the toughest league in the world. Despite the endless excuses his fanboys will make up, numbers wise the Brazilian just doesn't match up to his two greatest peers.

He was touted as the future best player in the world when he left Barcelona to strike out on his own, but the reality is, in a mediocre league, as part of a project throwing money at endless players and giving him every possible platform to achieve, he hasn't won the Ballon d'Or and probably never will. There are too many players who are better than him.

Neymar at international level

When discussing the best players in the world, one of the more controversial topics is always international performance. You can't chose your country and you can't blame Robert Lewandowski for not winning a World Cup with Poland. It can however still be an interesting metric and this is one where Ronaldo certainly leads the pack. He's scored 103 goals in 173 appearances for the nation he captains, helping them to win the Euros and the UEFA Nations League along the way. Portugal may now be producing a litany of fantastic players but for large parts of his career, they were barely a top 10 outfit. Messi, on the other hand, has underperformed and achieved nothing for a far superior Argentina side boasting the likes of Javier Mascherano, Kun Aguero, and Angel Di Maria, scoring 71 goals in 142 appearances. Goals aren't everything and it's presence and leadership the Barcelona great has lacked on the big stage for his country.

Then there is Neymar. With Brazil, it's been disappointment after disappointment. He's scored 64 goals in 103 games, which actually gives him the best goals to games average of the three. But to win at international level, you need character. His leadership quality is polar opposite to CR7 who drags his team through games with pure grit. Neymar actually makes his teams worse by effectively reducing them to 10 men when in defensive scenarios. His attitude and work rate are so poor.

He can hardly be blamed for getting injured in their World Cup 2014 Quarter Final win over Colombia, and subsequent 7-1 hiding at the hands of Germany in the next round, but one way or another he has always failed to deliver. Then there was the last World Cup in 2018, when his hilarious play acting dive made him an global meme. He produced two goals, had no real effect, and Brazil crashed out in the quarters against Belgium. Such is Neymar's lack of impact for the Brazilian national team, some were pleased he was ruled out of their Copa America 2019 squad due to injury, a tournament they went on win as a much more cohesive and efficient team, not weighed down by Neymar's ego and lack of interest in running.

Is he even the best player at his club?

For a man so often referred to as "the best" or "one of the best" players in the world by the type of casual football fan which the European Super League project actually appealed to, the question must be asked: is he even the best player at PSG? At only 22 years of age, Mbappe already has a better goals to games average with 160 goals in 232 games. That's with playing his whole career in Ligue 1, which while mediocre compared to the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A, is still far more challenging than the Brazilian top flight, where Neymar racked up nearly half his goals. Again, if you believe he's a midfielder and goals analysis is irrelevant, it is safe to say this article isn't for you.

The French wonderkid, at the beginning of what should be a remarkable career, has already starred in a World Cup winning squad. In helping France win the 2018 World Cup, he scored four goals, became only the second teenager after Pele to score in a World Cup final, and picked up the Best Young Player Award. It could be argued that France had a marginally better squad than any which Neymar has played in for Brazil, but they are not light years ahead. If Neymar was a leader and not an individual, he could have led his country to great things.

Final Verdict: Is he overrated? Yes.

It is with a heavy heart that we must accept that Neymar is a good player but he is indeed overrated. By no metric should he be considered alongside the two goats Ronaldo and Messi, and when all is said and done he should be comfortably eclipsed by his PSG teammate Mbappe, Dortmund’s Haaland, and Man City’s Foden, among others. A good player? Certainly. Perhaps top 50 of all time? Sure. One of the very best to ever do it? No. He can bang in the goals when the going is good, he can bully weaker opposition, he can do a few tricks, but the truly greatest players carry their teams to big trophies, they know how to get it done when it counts, their teammates can look to them for inspiration.

PSG's latest European exit at the hands of Manchester City and his conduct during the match, acting like a spoiled child when things didn't go his way, may have finally woken many up to just how overrated Neymar is. His toxic body language influences those around him. With him at the club, there is very little doubt that France will not be welcoming home any UCL winners any time soon. He doesn't have the character to be "the man", which apparently was what he left Barcelona to become.

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