Neymar’s Nirvana And Ballon D’Or Dreams

Things are barely looking up for Barcelona at the moment. Following their midweek defeat at the hands of Celta Vigo, the Blaugranas' worst fears were realised, and they now have to lift themselves up in quick time for the visit of tiny Las Palmas on Saturday. While the club are currently heavily shrouded with negativity, there are quite a few positive things to talk about too.

Brazilian forward Neymar is a key component of Barcelona, forming one-third of the much raved-about MSN trident at the club. Now in his third year in Catalonia, the 23-year-old has already reached the pedestal of the world-class, an achievement that belies his age. Neymar was reflecting over his time at Barca to ESPN, and his words had connotations of ‘nirvana’ even.

In two seasons at the club, he has already won five trophies, although most of them were won last season under Luis Enrique’s management. Neymar compares his time at the club with the higher realms of Buddhist cosmology; the first season he defines by the word “learning,” while his second season, the trophy-laden season, assumes the definition of “realisation — to win the titles that I had always dreamed of and to make history with Barca.”

Following along the lines in the scriptures, learning and realisation leads to enlightenment and eventually nirvana, something which could somewhat be analogised by him winning the Ballon d’Or, the highest individual accolade in the sport for men. That Neymar harbours dreams of someday winning the coveted award is no surprise — every footballer does that — and he is actually closer to the elusive award than almost all the rest of them.

His work starts with reaching the podium, which he honestly accepts given the state of affairs with the Ballon d’Or in the recent past. His Barca team-mate Lionel Messi and rival from Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo have established a hegemony over the crown since 2008, and will continue to do so until age catches up with them. “I hope to continue doing my work and giving my all, to evolve each season so that I will be at least on the Ballon d’Or podium,” he said, with aim pretty much set on a podium finish for now.

Last season, Neymar finished as the top scorer in the Champions League and made it into the tournament’s Team of the Season. Not bad for someone in only his second season in Europe. Tipped for the biggest of things when he was collecting South American awards at will while at Santos, Neymar’s road to the top looks well-crafted, and to his advantage.

Many a player has been sidelined from the spotlight due to Messi and Ronaldo, but still only 23, Neymar has years ahead of him and will expectedly peak while Messi-Ronaldo turn into senior citizens of the game. That he is at the best club in the world further strengthens his claims, but as he himself says, it is only hard work that will evolve him into an era-defining footballer.

While nirvana and enlightenment are strong terms for him to be linked with during a difficult situation for his club, it is definitely a measure of what Neymar is capable of down the years, and like all players, his crave for the ultimate individual accolade is understandable, and unlike all other players, Neymar’s name on the Ballon d’Or is seemingly already etched. Only some more hard work, and then his just deserts.

But while it is like a cakewalk from the outside looking in, times couldn’t have been more difficult for the Brazilian and his team-mates. Neymar has even admitted to the difficulties Barcelona are facing at the moment, “It is more complicated because the moment you arrive at the top, it’s difficult to maintain it. Every team in the world wants to win against us and it’s more difficult all the time.”

Last season’s grandeur seems a far cry from their recent travails, and should Barcelona manage to have a glorious season like last time out, the role of Neymar will be of much greater significance than last term, and perhaps his proper shot at the Ballon d’Or will come about sooner than expected.

By Abhijit Bharali, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter here.