With Lionel Messi injured and unable to play in recent weeks, Neymar has emerged as Barcelona’s leader on the pitch.
He has gone from being labelled a “YouTube showpony” to looking like the player many tipped him to be during his early years.
At this moment in time, Neymar is the best player in the world.
BY TOM WILDE – LEAD SPANISH WRITER – @TWILDE91
During Messi’s absence, the Brazilian has been nothing short of sensational. The way he is able to leave his audience in disbelief is reminiscent of Ronaldinho in his prime at the Camp Nou.
The childish joy that he plays with evokes the same feelings that made the world fall in love with his predecessor.
Without Messi, Neymar has been set free, allowed to unleash his tricks and skills on unlucky opponents; just ask Villarreal’s Jaume Costa.
The fun that Neymar brings to a football pitch is something that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Messi and Ronaldo’s relentlessly effective, statisticsmashing dominance of football over the last eight seasons often lacks a sense of fun.
Ronaldinho is perhaps the best example to give here; Messi and Ronaldo may be the best ever, but what they do conjures different feelings altogether than Ronaldinho’s childish exuberance.
In recent weeks Neymar has brought these feelings back to the Camp Nou.
He has been imperious and at times he’s looked as though he’s playing against kids; gliding past opponents with such ease and elegance that you wonder if they’re letting him do it.
His style of play hasn’t been detrimental to the team either.
In the 10 games since Messi got injured Neymar has scored 10, given six assists and been given five MOTM awards from WhoScored.com.
Neymar’s performances have lifted the players around him and especially the fans, who often go into a panic when Messi is injured.
So much so that while it would be a shame for Barcelona to be without the Argentine for El Clasico, no one in Barcelona is throwing themselves off of rooftops at the prospect.
The lack of panic around the Barcelona camp and in the media shows just how well Neymar has done during Messi’s spell on the sidelines.
His performances have put the Barcelona faithful at ease in a time where they could easily have imploded and lost ground in La Liga.
As it stands they will go into the match at the Bernabéu three points clear of Real Madrid.
Describing someone as the best in the world during the Messi/Ronaldo era is a huge accolade to dish out, but on current form there’s little doubt that anyone is ahead of Neymar.
Unfortunately with Ronaldo approaching 31 years old and on what looks like a pretty steep decline, his days of competing with Messi are behind him. Even more sadly its behind us, as fans.
This leaves space for Neymar though, who is the best positioned to challenge Messi, or one day inherit his crown.
The sad reality is that Neymar could well go back into his Messiguarded cage when the Argentine returns from injury.
Barcelona’s (understandable) methods of playing through their number 10 takes responsibility and freedom away from Neymar, which he has so enjoyed in recent weeks.
While Messi might come back and hinder Neymar’s rise for a little while longer, the Brazilian is five years his junior; Messi can’t hold him back forever.
When Neymar does decide that Barcelona will be his team, football will become a whole lot more joyful.