As he celebrates his 30th birthday, Neymar has proven that he is more than just a teen sensation during gilded spells with Barcelona and Paris.
UEFA.com polishes its shrine to the brilliant Brazilian.
what they say
“He can be whatever he wants to be – everything is open for him. He’s quick, skilful and excels one-on-one. He has everything.”
Lionel Messi, Paris forward
“I like Neymar a lot. He is a bit like me. Can he be Messi’s heir? Yes, he has everything he needs to become as strong as him.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United forward
“People see him doing tricks and dribbles and think he is only trying to enjoy himself, that he’s selfish and only thinks about himself. But when you share a dressing room with him you realize that it’s not the case. He’s a very kind person; he is interested in others.”
Kylian Mbappe, Paris forward
“When I am asked about Messi and Cristiano, I say that Neymar is the best for me. It is not just for his goals, but for the ease with which he plays and the confidence he has.”
Roberto Carlos, former Brazil and Real Madrid defender
“It’s so easy with Neymar because you don’t need to do too much. He’s very open to work. He’s very humble, he listens and always accepts all the instructions in a very good way. Brazilian players have something special inside. They love to play football because it’s like a dance.
Mauricio PochettinoParis coach
International: 116 appearances, 70 goals
UEFA club competition: 73 appearances, 41 goals
European domestic competition: 242 appearances, 154 goals
Claims to fame
• Neymar visited Real Madrid as a teenaged Santos trainee, long before he joined their arch-rivals Barcelona. Following a subsequent first-team breakthrough at 17, West Ham and Chelsea made unsuccessful attempts to bring the prodigy to Europe.
• Scored in the two-legged final as Santos lifted the 2011 Copa Libertadores – the first time they had won the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League since Pelé spearheaded their 1963 triumph.
• In 2012 Santos great Pelé said Neymar – then 20 – was a better player than Messi: “There’s always this Maradona comparison, saying he’s better than Pelé. Now some are saying Messi is better than Pelé. Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which isn’t yet.”
• A 56,500 crowd came to greet Neymar at the Camp Nou when he signed for Barcelona in June 2013. Messi liked the look of him too: “He is still very young and joyful. He lives happily: a kid without malice.”
• Scored and set up the winner in his first Clásico – a 2-1 success against Madrid on 26 October 2013.
• After failing to find the net in his first five UEFA Champions League games, he hit a hat-trick in his sixth: a 6-1 thrashing of Celtic on 11 December 2013.
• Became the first man to score in both Copa Libertadores and UEFA Champions League final victories, getting the third in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Juventus in 2015. Was joint-top scorer in that competition with ten goals, level with Messi and Ronaldo.
• Struck 39 times as Barcelona’s Messi, Suárez and Neymar (aka ‘MSN’) front three scored a Spanish-record combined total of 122 goals in 2014/15. However, 2015/16 brought his best League tally: 24.
• Reached 100 goals for Barcelona in his 177th match – a 3-1 win against Granada on 2 April 2017.
• Moving to Paris, Neymar became the most expensive player ever. “We want to help Neymar become the best player in the world,” said then-coach Unai Emery.
• Supplied a goal and an assist on his debut, a 3-0 success at Guingamp on 13 August 2017. Lucas Deaux did not enjoy marking him. “I’ll struggle to sleep,” he said afterwards. “I have never seen a player like this before.”
• The Eiffel Tower was lit up in Neymar’s honor before his home debut on 20 August, and Neymar did not disappoint, scoring twice and producing an outrageous piece of skill in a 6-2 mauling of Toulouse.
• Ended 2017/18, his first Paris season, with 28 goals from 30 games – and a domestic treble. Won Ligue 1 in both his subsequent seasons at Paris, picking up a second treble in 2019/20.
• Helped Paris to reach their first UEFA Champions League final in 2019/20, though they lost 1-0 to Bayern in the decider.
• Scored his third UEFA Champions League hat-trick against in December 2020, against İstanbul Başakşehir, to move on to 20 goals in the competition for Paris. He became the first player to score 20 goals for two clubs in the competition (21 for Barcelona, 20 for Paris).
• Those goals took him to 41 in UEFA club competitions, overtaking Sonny Anderson’s Brazilian-record tally of 40. Those 41 goals meant he also became Brazil’s all-time top UEFA Champions League scorer.
• His final two goals in 2021 were in a 3-2 win away to Bordeaux in Ligue 1 and took his career total at club and international level to 400.
• Then-Brazil coach Dunga ignored a 14,000-signature petition by choosing not to take the uncapped Neymar to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The 18-year-old later made his point by scoring on his debut in a 2-0 friendly win against the United States in August 2010.
• Suffered a cracked vertebra in the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup on home soil, thus missing the 7-1 semi-final defeat by Germany – perhaps the most devastating loss in Brazilian football.
• Struck the fastest goal in Olympic football history, just 14 seconds into Brazil’s 6-0 defeat of Honduras in the 2016 quarter-finals in Rio, the hosts going on to win the tournament.
• Became the seventh player to earn a century of Brazil caps, a 1-1 friendly draw against Senegal in October 2019 for his 100th appearance. Cafu (142), Roberto Carlos (125), Dani Alves (105), Lúcio (105), Claudio Taffarel (101) and Robinho (100) all beat him to the 100 mark.
• Scored twice and had four assists as Brazil reached the 2021 Copa América final. Neymar was named in the Team of the Tournament as a result but Tite’s side were beaten 1-0 by rivals Argentina in the decider.
What you might not know
• Neymar has loads of tattoos, some of which celebrate his family: his sister Rafaella’s face is tattoed on his arm, his son’s name Davi Lucca on his calf. Following Brazil’s football triumph at the Olympics, he got Rio 2016 emblazoned on his arm.
• A restaurant in Vincennes, near Paris, created a ‘Neymar Burger’ in his honour. Ingredients: steak, potatoes, bacon, cheddar, sauce, tomatoes, salad, onions and a side order of French fries.
• Has a sideline in acting, appearing opposite Samuel L Jackson in 2017’s XXX: The Return of Xander Cage after a series of walk-on parts in Brazilian soap operas and TV dramas.
• His dog Poker is named after one of his favorite card games.
• Was nicknamed ‘Batman’ at Barcelona, less for his love of the DC comics character than for his adventures after dark – Neymar being renowned for liking the city’s nightlife, though he stuck to club rules.
what he says
“I came to Paris to be the best player in the world and to turn PSG into the best club in the world, which includes a Champions League trophy. We’re ready and fear no one.”
“Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both my heroes. If I can take a little from each player’s game and make it my own, I would be very happy.”
“I would go into the dressing room [after joining Barcelona], look to one side and see Messi. Then I’d look the other way and see Xavi, Iniesta, Piqué, Dani Alves. I thought I was in a video game! One day I was playing with them on the console, the next I was one of them.”
“There is no pressure when you are making a dream come true.”
What could he achieve yet
• Lead Paris to UEFA Champions League glory. The club’s sole continental success to date came with the 1995/96 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. The only French side to have won Europe’s top club prize were Marseille in 1992/93. Paris were runners-up in 2020; can they go one better?
• Become Paris’s top European club competition scorer. With 20 goals, he is level in third place with Zlatan Ibrahimović. Edinson Cavani tops the clubs all-time rankings with 30 while Mbappé has 25.
• Become Brazil’s all-time top marksman and appearance maker. He has scored 70 so far and is second on the list behind Pelé (77) while his total of 116 caps is fourth best and 26 behind Cafu.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.