It’s hard to make a case for Neymar not having reached his full potential, but it’s also pretty easy to make a case too.
Having just turned 29 years old, the Brazilian superstar has agreed a new four-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain to extend his stay at the club until 2026 at least.
By that point, Neymar will be 34 years old and without a doubt on his way down on the trajectory of his career. He’s not the supreme super-athlete that Cristiano Ronaldo is – who turned 36 on the same day Neymar turned 29 – nor is he a player who doesn’t need to rely on his physical attributes like Lionel Messi does.
Neymar’s key attributes have always been his incredible skill, matched with electric pace, super agility and the technical quality to carry the ball past players with total ease. By the time he is 34, he’ll still be able to do those things but probably not to the same standard that we’ve come accustomed to.
What that means for most, is that Neymar has entered the final stretch of his career to make himself remembered as one of the best of his generation.
After joining Barcelona from Santos, Neymar shone. He scored 105 goals in 186 games for the Catalan giants and won every trophy available to him while becoming one third of arguably the greatest attacking trident the game has ever seen with Messi and Luis Suarez.
But when he left the Camp Nou for Paris aged 25, many questioned his ambition. To him it was clear – he wanted to be the main man in a successful team and didn’t feel like he could do that in the shadow of Messi in Spain.
He was right too, nobody can outshine the greatest player of all time at the club he has spent his entire career. To put into perspective how good Messi is at Barcelona just look at his goal record. He has scored 651 times for the club and sits top of the all time scoring charts. But he is so far ahead of everyone else that you’d have to add together the player’s tally from fourth place, third place and second place in those charts and then add 27 goals to match him.
Neymar’s decision to join a side who are financially strong enough to compete for all the major titles in Europe while making him the main man was easy to understand. They signed Kylian Mbappe alongside him and with Thomas Tuchel being brought in soon after, they were supposed to push on and become a dominant force.
But in a spell that has seen him constantly linked with a return to Spain due to unhappiness, as well as marred with injuries and underperforming in the Champions League question marks have been raised about whether or not the move was a success.
He’s won several trophies with the club, but PSG are supposed to win everything domestically. The money they have available to them, they are completely clear of everyone around them to be able to dominate the league and cup scene in France.
In Europe though, they’ve not been as good. They had failed to reach even the quarter-finals since Neymar joined the club until last season, when the adjusted run-in meant they made it all the way to the final.
The single leg format certainly helped them but Neymar was the standout performer until they came up against a formidable Bayern Munich side.
There was talk that the defeat could see the end of the project, with Neymar to return to Spain to get back to the top of the game. Instead though, he has committed himself to the project and huge money to finish what he started.
Having already won the Champions League, simply winning it once with PSG with the amount of investment they have put into the squad won’t be enough to cement his legacy.
With the World Cup around the corner now, winning it is the only way that he will be remembered in generations to come for the great player that he actually is.
The club trophies are great but are clouded by the fact he was playing alongside Messi, the entire reason he left the club to begin with. Without succeeding at PSG by winning the Champions League he will be deemed to have never reached that potential without him.
But internationally, to go down with the great Brazilians before him like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Zico, Pele and Romario he needs a World Cup title.
The Brazilian side is arguably the strongest it’s been during Neymar’s reign as the leader and the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar will be his final attempt at the biggest trophy in all of football.
His path to eternal greatness is now set with this new contract. Win the Champions League with PSG as the main man and then win the World Cup with Brazil and go down as the best Brazilian of this era. Simple.