Neymar has been disappointing with PSG this season and hopes to shine with Brazil to attempt a comeback at the 2022 World Cup and return to the Ballon d’Or race. But the specter of a new injury could delay his Seleçao reunion on the pitch.
The striker finished third in the prestigious individual award in 2015, then was demoted in the world hierarchy in 2017 after being promised to be the worthy successor to Kaka (2007), Ronaldinho (2005) and Ronaldo (1997, 2002), the last Brazilian Winner.
“I think he missed his Ballon d’Or chance. He might do a big World Cup, but I see him losing ground to rising stars like (Kylian) Mbappé or (Erling) Haaland,” summarizes Mauro Cezar Pereira , columnist for the Brazilian site Uol, together for AFP.
Aged 30, ‘Ney’ has just wrapped up his least successful season at individual level since arriving in Europe, with thirteen goals and eight assists in 28 games for the Parisian club. For the first time in his career he didn’t score a single goal in the Champions League.
Once again, the Brazilian no. 10 suffered from physical problems, most notably an ankle injury that saw him sidelined for thirteen games.
And while he expected a smile on his return to the selection for two friendlies against South Korea and Japan, he received a slap on the right foot in training on Wednesday – the very one that stayed off the field for a long time in 2018 and 2019 – raises fears of another absence.
In any case, the striker is uncertain for Thursday’s friendly against South Korea (1 p.m. Swiss time).
Last Chance World Cup?
But injuries don’t explain everything this year: during his five seasons at PSG, Neymar has averaged around 30 games at all times, but his total goals are on a downward curve, from 28 in 2017-2018 to just thirteen during the last practice session.
The Brazilian has not been in the top 10 of the Ballon d’Or rankings since his third place finish in 2017 and is unlikely to win it this year, while the reward will be awarded ahead of the start of the World Cup on October 17-2022. Is it already too late to dream of consecration?
“It will depend more on a possible coup with Brazil than on his performance at PSG. This year’s World Cup could be his last chance,” said Gustavo Hofman, who follows the Seleçao for ESPN.
In the squad, Neymar has presented more than correct stats this season with three goals and four assists in six games and rallies for the national team have been a ray of hope amid the Parisian gloom.
The game against Chile (4-0, a Neymar goal) at the mythical Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where he received a standing ovation at the end of March, came at the right time after boos from FC Parc des Princes, who won the Paris elimination in the Champions League against Real Madrid, the future European champions.
Neymar has fun with Brazil and gets along wonderfully with young talents like Paqueta, Vinicius, Raphinha and Antony. And unlike PSG, where Messi and especially Mbappé are also in the spotlight, nobody seems to be able to overshadow him in the selection.
Madrid’s Vinicius, scorer in Saturday’s C1 final against Liverpool (1-0), “was the best Brazilian player of last European season, but Neymar remains the ultimate reference for the Seleçao,” assures Gustavo Hofman.
For Mauro Cezar Pereira, that status could allow him to score points in the race for next season’s Ballon d’Or if he shines in Qatar. “The Brazilian team’s game is built around him, so when he’s fit he can make the difference,” he explained.
Criticized for his lifestyle and bling-bling style, “Ney” spread his displeasure in October by telling the DAZN platform that the 2022 World Cup could be his “last”.
But another statement from that interview, which went rather unnoticed, showed how motivated he was to shine in Qatar. “I will do whatever it takes to get there in great shape, I will do whatever it takes to win with my country and achieve my biggest dream since I was little. And I hope to get there,” he warned.
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