I’ve made my opinions on Neymar perfectly clear over the past few months, much to the disgust of his loyal Brazilian following. There’s been a decent amount of coverage on the matter too, so rather than allow it to descend further out of control I’ll try and stem my thoughts here and set the record straight.
First of all, let’s backtrack so I can flesh out the 140 characters Twitter restricts me to. Comparing him to a number of the World’s greats having had no exposure to the European game is absurd. Just last season he was playing in the Brazilian Serie A and although some of the World’s best began here, all ultimately moved to test themselves against the world’s elite – Europe. And that’s the reason the jury’s still out.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he lined up against England in both friendlies this year, despite displaying glimpses in the latter, he wasted too many opportunities and held onto the ball far too long. Prior to this, I’d seen some of his impressive individual goals, but again, until he could prove his worth against sterner opposition, I wasn’t buying all these cries of ‘the next Pele’. It just didn’t add up.
A fair argument
A couple of weeks back, a friend and I from Prozone endured an intense conversation regarding the matter. He reluctantly agreed with my stance on Neymar pre-Confederations Cup, but struggled to grasp why I still wasn’t convinced, despite scoring a few decent goals and finally showing some worth again Spain. I told him, just like I mentioned on Twitter ‘if he makes me eat my own words, so be it’. And that’s when he decided to dig around for data on Neymar, he was adamant he’d provide a fair argument in Neymar’s favour. And I welcomed this.
The hard facts
When analysing a player or club, comparing them like-for-like is the simplest method. However, as Neymar played in Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, we first need to understand how the league compares to Champions League average. The benefit of comparing him against the Champions League as opposed to La Liga – where he’ll be playing this next season – allows us determine the standard across Europe’s best. As ultimately, this is where he’ll be intensely scrutinised.
Prozone told me:
Passing style: the data paints a picture of a marginally more considered approach by teams in the Champions League compared to the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A. Fewer passes are directed forwards, resulting in a higher pass success % and more individual possessions per game.
Possession outputs: there is a – perhaps surprisingly – a general tendency for more crosses in Brazil and fewer dribbles. However, dribble success is higher in the Serie A
Goal production: Despite the different styles of play, both achieve similar levels of shots per game. The quality of chances is slightly higher in the Champions League (more shots inside the box) and more goals result from open play scenarios.
Upon reflection, with the exception of passes and individual possessions, there’s doesn’t appear to be much variance between the Brazilian Serie A and Champions League average. However, it could be argued that Neymar may have to adapt to a slightly slower style of play, as a result of a more considered approach play, but he may enjoy more clear-cut opportunities to score. And with 54 goals in 103 appearances for Santos to his name, I can begin to build a clearer understanding of how he fits in with Barca’s setup. Although the data clearly compares playing outposts, it’s difficult to analyse and compare overall playing quality. So whilst he’s impressed on an individual level, standard is ultimately better in Europe.
Prozone helped me understand the comparisons between of the Brazilian league and Champions League, we’ll now do the same the player and the Champions League average.
Prozone told me:
Shooting: Neymar had an outstanding season in 2012, outshooting and outscoring the average UCL attacker. Even when using comparable opportunities – shots inside the box – Neymar is shown to be a deadly attacker.
Possession: Neymar surprisingly takes on defenders less regularly than the UCL average, but enjoys ample time in possession with 3 touches on average in possession. He may have less time on the ball in the Champions League.
Distribution: Neymar’s lower pass completion is largely explained by the fact he plays more difficult forward passes more regularly.
The data not only supports Prozone’s initial quest to provide a fair argument in favour of Neymar, but it helps me better understand why the hype surrounding the Brazilian exists. It’s clear he’s enjoyed plenty of success in Brazil and whilst you’d argue the overall quality of the Champions League vs Campeonato Brasileiro Série A is greater, his outputs suggest he is significantly above average.
There’s no denying the data helps propel Neymar in a positive light, he’s a proven goal scorer in Brazil, and he also bagged a few decent goals during the Confederations Cup, none more memorable than the one against Spain. He was also instrumental in Fred’s winner against Uraguay in the semi’s, it seems Brazil has become somewhat reliant on him. However, on the few occasions I’ve seen him, he’s been particular underwhelming and others around me agree. For that reason, the publicity surrounding him seems overhyped. He’s shown impressive glimpses during the Confederations Cup against varied competition, but nowhere near enough consistency or quality as the two other current footballing greats; Messi or Ronaldo.
I can’t really argue with the data provided, as it helps me understand the type of player he is and what can be expected from him, but he’ll ultimately face the real test in Europe next season. There’s also the small matter of pairing him up with Messi. Although the data suggests he dribbles less than the Champions League average, like Messi, he enjoys carrying the ball and this could well affect Barca’s tip-tap playing style. But you’d expect Barca to have analysed this before splashing out £48.6m.
Ultimately any player that receives such media attention, signs for one of the biggest clubs in the World and carries such a hefty price tag deserves to be scruntinised. And whilst the data helps supports the headlines he’s received, until he proves himself for Barca and in Europe, then I’m still unconvinced.
What are you thoughts? Do you think he’ll merit his price tag? Let me know below.