- With the soccer world waiting for news of a possible Paris move, Neymar stepped into the spotlight and delivered pure magic for Barcelona against Juventus.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was a vibrant atmosphere in New Jersey, where almost 82,104 Barcelona and Juventus jerseys filled MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.
Before the match, the crowd, anxiously watching their heroes warm-up, would chant Messi’s name, hoping he would give them a wave or even smile, but the evening – filled with superstars and legends from both teams - belonged to Neymar.
As soon as the whistle blew, there was a a palpable feeling that the Brazilian, who’s name has been the cause of much speculation due to reports suggesting that he’s agreed to personal terms to join Paris Saint-Germain - wanted to so something special.
He didn’t disappoint. The Brazilian scored both goals in Barcelona's 2–1 win over Juventus here on Saturday, with each goal serving as a reminder of why PSG could be willing to pay so handsomely for his services.
Maybe it had nothing to do with the transfer rumors, and it was all about pleasing those who came for the evening to witness poetry in motion. Or maybe it was about silencing mindless conjecture, and that despite the noise, he was staying in Barcelona.
Whatever it was, Neymar took center stage and stole the evening from everyone else, including Messi.
It took 15 minutes to score, a tidy finish as he opened his body to go past the ageless Gianluigi Buffon. After scoring, the entire team ran with him to the corner flag, celebrating together in unison as if to say “Don’t leave us, we’re all in this together. Barcelona is your home.”
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde put those sentiments into very matter-of-fact statements after the match.
"We want him here," Valverde told reporters. "We know his value and what he brings to the locker room. We want him here."
Neymar's first goal may have been good, but his second was a gift of the soccer gods. After receiving a fantastic through ball just outside the box from Lionel Messi, danced by five players across the face of goal and made it two, as it was nothing.
"Neymar had a good game," Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri admitted after the game. "So did well as the front three for Barça."
One of Neymar’s most appealing attributes is how he attracts so much attention on the pitch – by the end of the first half, he had been fouled more times than anyone else. No matter where he goes, or what he does, the ex-Santos star needs the spotlight; he craves it. And just like a Hollywood A-lister, he almost always delivers.
Tonight, however, he only needed 45 minutes, as Valverde replaced the entire squad at halftime, and with that, Neymar’s night was done. Many were surely disappointed. The MetlLfe faithful wanted to see the hat trick, or at least another piece of magic. It was the same way we would think about Ronaldinho, who practically invented showboating in the modern game.
Many think that PSG’s astronomical contract offer (a reported $35 million per year, after tax) is absurd for just one player. Perhaps Neymar himself would be taking two steps back if he moves to a league that is not considered as technically advanced as La Liga. And in a year leading to the World Cup, form and competition is everything.
But only time will tell where he will end up, as ultimately you will never be able to please them all.
One thing is for certain, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, still only 25 years old with plenty more to offer, has the opportunity of becoming the biggest name in futbol.
On and off the pitch.