He Came, He Scored, He Left: What Legacy Does Neymar Leave At Barcelona?

2:44 | Soccer
Neymar Has a Few Reasons For His Surprising Move to PSG
Friday August 4th, 2017

On the 3rd June 2013, a skinny Brazilian gleefully beamed at hundreds of camera lenses as he casually kept a ball in the air. A chorus of crowd noise was remixed with the creating of the world media's back page photo. It was the first sign of a new era for Barcelona. 

At the time, £50m for a player from the Brazilian league was questioned by many but, then again, this wasn't any old player. When he arrived in Spain, Neymar had already scored 136 goals for Santos and 20 for the Brazilian national team at the age of 21. 

However, he wasn't there to be the star. In his first interview on the Nou Camp pitch, he said: "I'm here to help and to help (Lionel) Messi to continue to be the best player in the world."

With speculation flying about a potential clashing of horns between the Brazilian and the Argentinean, it was clear that Neymar knew his place. He may have been the main man at Santos and with the national team but, in Barcelona, there was only one crown, and it was Messi's. 

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Yet Neymar's first season was free of any stepping on toes, and the two superstars appeared to hit it off from day one. His supporting role was fulfilled modestly: he scored 15 goals and made 11 assists in the 2013/14 season, whilst Messi scored 35 times. 

The happy couple received their third musketeer in the summer of 2014, as Luis Suarez moved to Catalunya from Liverpool and resurrected the nostalgic social media acronym: MSN. The trio dominated football for the next 12 months, scoring 115 goals between them as Barcelona won the treble. 

They were the talk of world football and each member of MSN was seeing their stock rise considerably. Neymar was no different; his 39-goal haul in 2014/15 would have been legendary in its own right if not for Messi. 

Nonetheless, it wasn't all about goals. Whilst Messi was about technical genius and Suarez was the ultimate striker, Neymar was the entertainer. He played the game as if, well, it was just a game. He made the Nou Camp - Europe's biggest club stadium - look like a street cage in his hometown of Mogi de Cruzes. 

He identified a weak full-back and consciously toyed with them as the crowd cheered on; it was old-school entertainment. In a 2016 game against Celta Vigo, he pulled off a perfect rainbow flick in the centre of the pitch. Whilst maybe he wasn't always the most industrial or efficient of players, he ensured that his supporters got their value for money. 

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The 2015/16 season brought 31 more goals and another domestic double, but it was his achievements outside of Barcelona that now appear to be more significant. He was nominated for the of the Ballon d'Or - the dream trophy for Neymar - and came in third place behind Cristiano Ronaldo and, notably, Messi.

In the summer of 2016, on home soil, Neymar led the Brazilian team to their first ever Olympic gold in the Maracana Stadium. He ensured legendary status with a free-kick goal and the winning penalty in the final's shoot-out. He was one step closer to emulating the success of his heroes, especially Ronaldinho, his idol.

FABRICE COFFRINI/GettyImages

The 2016/17 season was a step backwards for everyone involved with Barcelona. Coach Luis Enrique was on the way out, the squad was underperforming, and rivals Real Madrid were winning on all fronts. Neymar was criticised heavily in the Catalan media for ineffective play and petulance, which culminated with a red card in a 2-0 defeat to Malaga. 

Then came PSG. 

No, not in that way. The Champions League round of 16 pitched the French side against Neymar's Barcelona. The first-leg was a brutal 4-0 demolition of the Spanish giants and at 87 minutes of the second-leg, Barca were 5-3 down on aggregate and out of Europe. That was before our protagonist stepped up to the plate. 

Two goals and an assist within six minutes sent Barcelona through and completed one of the best comebacks of all time. But it wasn't Messi, or Suarez, or Iniesta who had taken control; it was Neymar. For that night, but that night only, he was Camp Nou's main man.

Maybe that's where it clicked for Neymar, we're not to know, but it was clear that he had outgrown the supporting role. In another era, without Lionel Messi, Neymar would have been a Barcelona legend. His legacy would have been heroic, applauded and would have lasted a lifetime. 

Instead, he leaves Spain under a grey cloud. It is a cloud of abuse, accusations and disgrace. 

The positive memories are being erased from the minds of Barcelona fans as we speak, and the hero has quickly become the enemy. It's a sad end to a brilliant four years but, for now, it's time for the prince to become the king.

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