May 26, 2013, 7:54 PM EDT
Happily, I was wrong about this future — speculation we were in for another summer of interminable Neymar gossip. Instead, the various entities with ownership stakes in Brazil’s biggest star decided to sell. Instead of trying to improve their negotiating stance by pursing an extension to Neymar’s Santos deal (which expired next year), the club and other investors paved the player’s route to Barcelona, even though the 21-year-old was willing to stay.
It made for an emotional scene today as Santos opened their Campeonato campaign against Flamengo at the country’s new national stadium in Brasilia. Before what was expected to be his final Santos appearance, Neymar was clearly emotional, a state the perhaps played into the team’s performance. The match produced the first 0-0 of the Brazilian weekend, Neymar allowed to see out the full 90 at a venue named after another Brazilian legend: the right-winger Garrincha.
It’s on the opposite flank where Neymar may make his mark for Barcelona, a team that desperately needs a second threat to offset their increased dependence on Lionel Messi. It’s not just that Barça’s attack has become increasingly centered on their Argentine dynamo, a process with extremes that became evident when Messi picked up an injury late in the Catalans’ Champions League campaign. Tito Vilanova team has lost all their Plan Bs. Whereas previous editions in this Barcelona run had Samuel Eto’o, Thierry Henry, and a year of Zlatan Ibrahimovic — players who were scoring goals independent of Messi’s play — now David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and Pedro Rodríguez are entirely dependent on Messi. Either through what Messi creates or the attention defense pay to him, Barcelona’s other goal scoring is a function of Plan A.
Of course, we’re speaking in relative terms. Barcelona has scored 111 goals in 37 La Liga games, so their attack isn’t exactly weak. By any reasonable, broad measure, it’s still prolific, but in big games, they’ve become easier to predict, their lack of variety allowing teams like Milan and Paris Saint-Germain to compete. Demurring into a deep, compact shape that declined to engage until the edge of Barcelona’s attacking third, Milan defeated Barça at home in Champions League’s Round of 16. PSG arguably outplayed Barcelona in the quarterfinals, while Bayern Munich were eventually able to counter the Catalans into embarrassment. Along the way it became apparent: Teams with the talent to compete at Europe’s highest level were having little trouble competing with Barcelona.
Barça needs a solution, particularly with defenses playing so deep, so tight that the influences of Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta are also being offset. In lieu of another experiment with a target striker, an exercise that’s unlikely in the wake of Ibrahimovic, Barcelona needs a player who can stretch defenses – somebody who can offer more of a threat than the mere width of Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba. Before suffering a broken leg in Yokohama in December 2011, Villa could have been that threat his ability to cut in from wide left and create goals a proven catalyst for the Spanish national team. Villa, however, has yet to regain his full place in the team, having scored only 15 all-competition goals this season.
Neymar has the potential to fill this void. If he lives up to his promise, the Brazilian will stretch opposing defenses, his skill on the ball giving Barça the type of one-on-one threat that can’t trusted to most right backs. Should teams decline to go out and play him, Neymar has the ability to pick his spots coming in or threaten with right-footed crosses from wide.
It’s a threat the team hasn’t had since Henry, whose second year in Barcelona produced 29 goals and 12 assists as a Plan B in Pep Guardiola’s attack. As he faded, Ibrahimovic left, and Messi gravitated toward a central role, Barcelona stopped utilizing this type of wide threat, their persistent winning ways perhaps obscuring the inevitable problem.
It may be a bit much to expect Neymar to replicate the numbers Henry produced in 2008-09, though he certainly has the talent. Still, there’s reason to doubt he can be so prolific, at least in the short-term. The jump to Europe presents unique challenges for every player, especially one leaving his country for the first time. Because of his early rise to stardom, Neymar’s been able to live a self-defining existence in Brazil, something that will change once he lands in Catalunya. Near-30-goal output is too much to ask for the coming season, which is not to say Neymar needs produce that much to be an immediate success.
On the field (or, on the chalkboard), Neymar seems a perfect fit – a player that allows Barcelona to regress to a most-balanced approach. Were they to persist as a vehicle Messi’s used to take on the world, Barcelona would face the same obstacles next season, and be equally troubled traversing them.
With the addition of a true Plan B (and what a Plan B, at that), Barcelona may be able to jumpstart its dynasty. Whether Neymar produces 30 goals or 15, as long as he scares opponents into accounting for him, he will have a huge impact on Barcelona’s success.
They still need to improve their defense, determine how to move forward with their coaching position, and improve their depth. But with the addition of a second legitimate threat, Barcelona may have solved their biggest problem – big time opposition having figured them out.
Sep 2, 2015, 9:57 PM EDT
The NBC Deadline Day show is here in podcast form.
Sep 2, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
A fraction of the transfer fee has made its way to the lower division team in France that helped mold Anthony Martial into the $55 million player he is today.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:18 PM EDT
Rog and Davo break down Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace and Swansea’s stylish win over Manchester United. Plus, a recap of transfer deadline day.
Sep 2, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
Tim Howard looked good for Everton last weekend, but the U.S. coach says it’s too close to the Mexico game to make a change.
Sep 2, 2015, 5:42 PM EDT
The former Chelsea defender is no longer listed on the team’s website and was left out of both the club’s domestic and European squads.
Sep 2, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT
The paperwork was late, and FIFA rejected the deal, but the two sides still wish for it to be completed.
Sep 2, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
The San Siro wanted Zlatan back, but he is happy in France.
Sep 2, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT
Villa had a very quiet Deadline Day, but they tried to make a splash.
Sep 2, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
After the match, Noble said it was a tackle that happens “10 times a game” and that he felt it didn’t even deserve a yellow card.
Sep 2, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
After finishing second in its group thanks to a 3-1 win over the Netherlands, Herzog’s Yanks toppled England’s U-20 team this summer. Now: the U-21s.
Spain’s Del Bosque says De Gea’s Euro spot in trouble without playing time; Speaks on Chelsea’s Costa
Sep 2, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT
“He needs to be professional and move on from this episode,” Del Bosque said of the Manchester United keeper.
Sep 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
Unified Germany hasn’t medaled since 1964 in Tokyo (Bronze). East Germany won gold in 1976.
Sep 2, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT
“The Financial Fair Play today is too complicated to be efficient,” said the Premier League’s longest-tenured manager. “There’s a need to simplify the process.”
Sep 2, 2015, 9:24 AM EDT
Bournemouth took a big hit on transfer deadine day, but it had nothing to do with sales or purchases.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:47 AM EDT
Let’s dig into the figures, at least in terms of the 20 Premier League clubs, including the controversial amount of players on loan from Chelsea.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:16 AM EDT
We’re just a few weeks away from further information on the strength of the cases against Sepp Blatter’s FIFA.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT
If both sides really wanted to make this transfer happen, they could have. Is it possible neither team wanted the deal to get done?
Sep 1, 2015, 9:37 PM EDT
Based on the Citizens’ form to start the season, it looks like money well spent.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:08 PM EDT
After spending just $20 million this summer on a goalkeeper and a teenager, Arsenal fans want to know what’s going on in the boardroom.
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- Manchester United confirm $55 million signing of teenage striker Anthony Martial 0
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