Neymar will be the best player in the world for Barcelona and Brazil – with improvement

In his weekly column, Diego Forlan acknowledges Neymar's flaws – but sees in the young Brazil and Barcelona star a player who will soon be the best in the world.

Neymar had 39 goals and seven assists across all competitions for Barcelona this year, and another two goals and assist for Brazil. Tobias Hase / DPA / AP
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Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column will be written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

Wind back a year and I’m in Brazil for my last games with Uruguay, my last World Cup. We travelled around the vast country but one thing was consistent everywhere, on billboards by the side of the road in Rio, on television screens in Fortaleza or airports in Sao Paulo – Neymar.

I didn’t play against him in that tournament but I saw his face everywhere. There wasn’t a product he didn’t seem to be advertising, the golden boy of Brazil football, the biggest star for the host nation with over 50 national team appearances and 40 goals by the age of 22.

Brazil has always produced great footballers but the same team has often had three or four standout attackers, like the 2002 World Cup winners with Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Ronaldo. They also had Cafu and Roberto Carlos.

Last year’s Brazil team had only one and everyone loved him.

Kids because he’s always smiling and because he does the tricks which they played on their computer games in real life.

Their parents because he was such a good player who seemed to lead a clean life. And Brazil’s players because he’s one of the best footballers in the world, their one true game changer. The World Cup ended with him being carried off the pitch injured as Brazil beat Colombia 2-1. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Neymar's back in South America after a brilliant season with Barcelona, when he was not only great individually but also combining with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, but his Copa America has ended badly against Colombia like the World Cup.

Brazil’s captain received a red card at the end of Brazil’s group game against Colombia after their first defeat in 12 games. Neymar got a yellow, then a red but he continued to abuse the referee. Sometimes you lose your head in a game, but it was silly for him to lose it after the match.

He’ll regret that. It was needless and his team will miss him for Saturday’s quarter-final against a very hard-to-beat Paraguay in Concepcion. Paraguay, who unlike Brazil, haven’t lost a game yet, have a superb defence and top strikers. They’re excellent at set pieces and, like every team who plays against Brazil, they’ll be highly motivated.

And Neymar will not take part in any further games Brazil play, the biggest ones in the Copa America. A Brazil side in transition will miss their best player in a great tournament.

Brazil’s players look to him in matches. They have never been a side which looks to one individual and they still have some exceptional players, but Neymar is their main man and Brazil without Neymar aren’t the same. The tournament is weaker without Neymar, the fans in Chile wanted to see him at his best, but he can’t complain.

Neymar is one of the best strikers in the world, playing in football’s best club team. He scores goals, he makes assists, he gets past players, he produces magic when he gets the ball.

I could continue to compliment him because Neymar has lived up to the hype. Other Brazilians who’ve gone to Europe haven’t always settled so quickly. Neymar has.

He knows he’s playing alongside the best in the world. He looks at Messi as someone he can learn from. Neymar is still a level below Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and those two are likely to remain the world’s best for a few more years, but he’s also nearly five years younger than Messi and seven younger than Ronaldo.

He’s going to get better and I suspect he’ll be the best in the world in a few years.

Not all of the outstanding footballers Brazil produces adapt well to Europe like Neymar. You don’t hear stories of him being out until 6am in a disco. He has discipline and you need that in Europe.

In Brazil, you are in a hotel before a game. In Europe, you are trusted to be at home. In Brazil you can get away with mistakes because there’s not the same competition, in Europe you’ll lose your place in a team.

Neymar lost the discipline which has brought him success to match his talent after the Colombia game. That’s one of the small areas in which he can improve if he wants to be Brazil’s first Ballon d’Or winner since Kaka eight years ago. There are other weaknesses.

When he did tricks against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final, he outraged his opponents who were 2-0 down and they reacted angrily. His coach Luis Enrique said “If I’d been an Athletic player I’m sure I’d have responded the same way, or worse” and I understand why.

That game was won, such tricks were not necessary from a good guy. Nobody would have said anything at 0-0, but not at 2-0 near the end of a cup final. You can’t do that if you want to be respected as a nice guy, which he is, and a professional.

He’s become one of the best players in the world and if he learns from his mistakes he can become the best in a few years.

Diego says:

I see Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan midfielder Cristian Rodriguez is being linked with Arabian Gulf League side Al Nasr. I’ve not spoken to him about this but he’s an excellent player who would do well in the UAE – very strong and quick with a good left foot. He runs around the pitch and covers a lot of ground, he helps the team defensively and can score goals too.

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