Since his controversial departure in 2017, Neymar has been linked with a return to FC Barcelona and it may finally be happening. Okay, we’ve heard those words before but now that Paris Saint-Germain are looking to move on, there’s a realistic chance that the prodigal son returns.
In the six years since his departure, the Brazilian winger has evolved past being the flashy dribbling threat he was in Catalonia. Still, that doesn’t explain how Barcelona would incorporate Neymar. So how would the child of o jogo bonito fit into the plans of Las Blaugranes?
NEYMAR THE PLAYER:
When fully fit, Neymar is one of the biggest difference makers any team could have. He shines in all three phases of play but is at his best in the final third of the opponent’s pitch. At 31, he is one of the best dribblers in the world and still consistently beats his man. In addition, his ball-carrying is world class and even if he tends to dwell on it, it is a more than willing trade-off when you take into account his creativity.
At PSG, Neymar became one of the greatest offensive threats to ever play fútbol and in about 2000 minutes played last season, he still remains a king of creativity. Per Fbref.com, Neymar ranks in the 99th percentile for passes into the final third and passes into the penalty area, alongside being in the 96th percentile for passes that lead to a shot.
Further, he also ranks in the 99th percentile for assists. He manages to balance this output with good passing as well, where he is in the 86th percentile for pass completion percentage. In all, Neymar is still one of the best creative passers in the world, alongside being one of the best final-third threats in soccer.
NEYMAR ON THE PITCH:
Tactically, Neymar would fit in perfectly as the left winger, so that he could invert into the highest left two of Xavi’s 3–2–2–3 box formation. The left-hand side dynamics are well suited to this approach for when Neymar would invert, Balde would be there to overlap and retain width on the left.
In addition, the duo of Balde and Neymar on the left-hand side would instantly become one of the most dangerous attacks in Europe. Bringing that creativity to the left is a game-changer for Barcelona and would lift our attack to a new level but signing Neymar could also bring some problems in other phases of play.
THE QUESTION MARKS:
As alluded to, there are some issues in the overall team dynamics should FC Barcelona decide to add Neymar to the team. First, is that Xavi relies on a high press in order to win the ball and play in transition. He has spoken about this being one of the main principles in his philosophy and Neymar does not fit the mould of player that Xavi would want out of possession.
Ironically, Neymar is the inverse of what Xavi wants, due to Neymar not being a willing presser or runner out of possession. Having two liabilities (Lewandowski and Neymar) in the defensive phase will be difficult against similar-quality opposition and would require some changes to Xavi’s defensive principles.
Another potential issue with signing Neymar is his injury history. He is a player who often finds himself injured as a result of hard tackles or his body breaking down on him. In the last two seasons, Neymar has missed 33 games in total for PSG due to injuries. Expecting him to be healthy for an entire season is an unrealistic idea.
There are also some off-of-the-field issues with Neymar as well. He is someone that likes to enjoy life and at times those ideals contrast with the mentality of being a top-tier footballer. It is at no point wrong to want to enjoy the benefits of life but when it clashes with the coach’s strict regimen and Neymar’s own personal ideals, it becomes a problem and all parties suffer from it.
Finally, given that Barcelona is still plagued with financial issues on the administration side due to FFP, there is no guarantee that we would be able to register Neymar to play for us. The financial issues of the Catalan club are well known, however, at the time of writing, the club is still not over the necessary financial hurdles. This either means that Neymar would have to take a sizable pay cut or the grimmer reality of Barcelona being unable to afford Neymar at all.
Overall, Neymar is still a world-class player despite entering the final years of his peak. He is certainly a player that would help Barcelona in many phases of attacking play but also brings concerns about commitment, injuries and a bevvy of other tactical questions for Xavi to answer. Still, despite both the pros and the cons, there is no denying that the return of the prodigal son will bring warmth to the Barcelona fans of old and new.