Neymar Jr: Brazil’s Generational Talent Who Dictated the Greatest Champions League Night in History

?Neymar is number 10 in 90min’s Top 20 Greatest Footballers of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next two weeks.

They say records are only made to be broken. But overturning a four-goal scoreline in the second leg of a Champions League knockout match isn’t just difficult. It’s actually impossible.

Barcelona became the first team to go through after losing the first leg by two goals during the 1999/2000 season while another Spanish side, Deportivo de La Coruña, came back from three behind a few years later against AS Monaco.

But when an Ángel Di María brace, as well as goals from Julian Draxler and Edinson Cavani, put Paris Saint-Germain into a 4-0 lead by the end of their first leg against Barcelona, Les Parisiens were already believed to be Champions League quarter-finalists.

Neymar,Angel Di Maria

It was an unbelievable defeat for Luis Enrique’s side – who across both legs started their infamous ‘MSN’ attack – and even when Luis Suárez scored just three minutes into the second leg at Camp Nou, Barcelona knee they’d need five more if they conceded just one.

A Layvin Kurzawa own goal and Lionel Messi’s strike either side of half-time put the fans into overdrive, but just after the hour mark Cavani scored that crucial goal for Paris Saint-Germain which for many watching surely put the game beyond doubt.

More than 25 minutes went by without another goal, but Neymar stepped up to take a free-kick at the end of normal time and somehow found a way past Kevin Trapp, while the Brazilian then converted a penalty with 90 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock.

There were only five minutes added on by the fourth official, and Barcelona left it right down to the wire to complete their historic comeback against Unai Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain.

After making some space well outside the area, Neymar provided a killer pass in behind Paris Saint-Germain’s defence and onto an onrushing Sergi Roberto, who was able to beat the offside trap and flicked the ball over Trapp.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It was a match which ensured Neymar’s place in history would stand the test of time, but the foundations for the Brazil international’s immortality was actually set on the streets of São Paulo and arguably South America’s most prestigious youth academy.

Lionel Messi,Neymar

After being nurtured in the same youth system that produced the likes of Pelé, Diego Ribas and most recently Rodrygo, Neymar went on to spend four years in Santos’ first-team, going on to make 134 appearances across all competitions.

He scored 70 goals and picked up 35 assists during that time, becoming the youngest ever Puskás Award winner for a stunning solo goal against Flamengo and earning himself an €88.2m move to Barcelona in the summer of 2013.

By this early point in his career, Neymar was already being tipped as the successor to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s dominance for the Ballon d’Or, and he looked like he’d be set to fulfil those aspirations when he was directly involved in 30 goals in his first season.

He was involved in 181 goals during his four-year spell in Catalonia – 56 came during the 2015/16 season – but still found himself in the shadow of Barcelona icon Messi, something which paved the way for him to join Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222m transfer.

Neymar would find himself in a similar situation at the Parc des Princes when a French teenager joined the club from Monaco later that summer, but the Brazil international has grown to become one of the most prolific players in Paris Saint-Germain’s history.

Looking at players who’ve made more than one appearance for the club – Metehan Güclü scored in his only appearance for the club last season – Neymar has the joint highest goals per game ratio in their history, level with Zlatan Ibrahimovi?.

Neymar Jr

It’s a similar story with the Seleção, where Neymar is Brazil’s third highest goalscorer of all time. The 27-year-old is only one goal behind Ronaldo Nazário, but it could be some time before he catches up on Pelé’s 77 goals with the national team.

Neymar might find himself in a sticky situation in the present day after a failed move back to Barcelona left in him PSG fans’ bad books, but there’s little doubt that he is still one of the most talented players ever, and he could prove to be the difference for Les Parisiens in Europe this season.

Even with a Champions League and Olympic gold medal already under his belt, Neymar could end up finishing his career as the most gifted footballer to never win a FIFA Ballon d’Or or World Cup – a far cry from what many had tipped him for when he broke through at Santos.

And although Neymar’s far from falling into modern football culture’s beloved batch of failed wonderkids, there might always be an overriding feeling of ‘what could have been‘ for a global icon who still hasn’t peaked in this beautiful game.

Number 20 – Arjen Robben: The Flying Dutchman Who Became a Modern Legend at Bayern Munich

Number 19 – Mohamed Salah: The Humble King Who Conquered Rome and Took Liverpool By Storm

Number 18 – Sergio Aguero: The Man Who Painted Manchester Blue With One Kick of a Football

Number 17 – Manuel Neuer: The Bayern Munich & Germany Legend Who Revolutionised Goalkeeeping

Number 16 – Eden Hazard: The Brilliant Belgian Who Mesmerised Fans Across the World

Number 15 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: The Man Who Needs No Introduction

Number 14 – Toni Kroos: The Underrated Jahrhunderttalent Who Was There for the Biggest Occasions

Number 13 – Giorgio Chiellini: The Juventus Who Has Always Found a Way to Win

Number 12 – Marcelo: From Favela Kickabouts Under Grandad’s Watch to 4 Champions League Win

Number 11 – Robert Lewandowski: Bayern Munich’s Best Foreign Player & Europe’s Most Underrated Star in History


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