Barcelona and Real Madrid supporters will naturally disagree about the respective greatness of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The truth is that the footballing world is currently bearing witness to an era where two of the greatest players to ever play the sport feature on rival clubs. Watching the genius of these two legends competing in their prime is something that may not be replicated for some time again.
As the years go by, however, the uncomfortable reality that one day Father Time will help anoint a new number one is becoming ever present. Meanwhile, the major clubs around the world hope that they have that player in their squad when the Ballon d’Or finally gets awarded once again to a footballer not named Messi or Ronaldo. If the recent voting for the award is any indication, Barcelona could have their man in Neymar Jr., and they have done their due diligence to sign him to a new contract to keep him at the Camp Nou for the long term.
Neymar is on the verge of signing a new contract that is to keep him at the club until June 30, 2021. This is a breath of relief for Cules that may have believed the rumors that Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Manchester City were pushing hard to convince him to leave Spain, as well as Real Madrid trying to turn him into another defector to the nation’s capital.
The clash with Manchester City represented Neymar’s 150th appearance with the club. With the exception of a slight lack of form last season, the Brazilian has contributed a steady stream of goals and assists alongside Luis Suarez and Messi as one of the most potent offensive trios in history. Heading into the game against Pep Guardiola, Neymar had already scored 90 goals and added 46 assists for the Catalan club, and he is still a 24-year-old until February.
Hundreds of young players have been labeled as the heir to Messi, but being Brazilian, Neymar was naturally compared to Pele as the barometer of greatness. Since his move from Santos in 2013, he has won two La Liga titles and one Champions League trophy. His shining moment so far came in the Champions League Final against Juventus with the goal in stoppage time that sent the Blaugrana into a frenzy as it sealed the 3-1 win.
Neymar is exactly the kind of player that fits Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are tasked with moving the ball quickly and creating a rhythm that can lull a defense to sleep. Once the opposition thinks that they have adapted to the pace of the game, the ball is swung to Neymar, who uses his superior technical skills to slow the tempo and throw the opponent off balance or employs his devastating speed to go right at the teeth of the defense.
Neymar's trickery has frustrated opponents plenty, leading to numerous fouls per contest. He has received 30 yellow cards in three seasons during these altercations, but he has yet to collect a single red card.
Neymar has always said that his intention was to stay with Barcelona, and his new deal represents the next stage in his career where he goes from the young wingman to Messi to the club’s main figure as the Argentine superstar reaches his mid-30s. Neymar is being seen more and more as an ambassador of the club, and his lack of a La Masia education is slowly being forgotten as his love for his adopted club grows.
Fellow Brazilian attacker Andressa Alves, who recently signed with Barcelona’s women’s football team, has said how she could tell that his heart is in Catalonia. “He told me the city was very beautiful and that I would feel very well here,” Alves said, “He told me that he’s enjoying it here, adapted, and didn’t want to leave, that he will be here a long time, that he loves the club and the city.”
The extended contract will make it quite difficult for other clubs to activate his release clause and pry him away, even in the modern market with astronomical spending. In the first year of the new deal, his release clause will sit at €200 million. It will rise to €222 million in the second year and €250 million for the final three years.
With this kind of release clause, Barcelona have certainly shown who they want, and who frankly should, lead their club into the next decade of trophies.
Your opinions are valued. What do you think about Barcelona's intention to renew Neymar's contract? Do you see Neymar ever surpassing Messi's legacy at Barcelona? Tell me about your thoughts in the comments below.