IF you want to gauge how football literate somebody is then simply ask them their opinion of Neymar.
This is a useful litmus test.
If they focus primarily on the Brazilian’s penchant for diving and his perceived prima donna attitude over his outrageous talent then that should raise red flags.
If they dare label him ‘overrated’ then that’s your cue to disregard their footballing intellect entirely.
You don’t have to like Neymar, the way he carries himself on the pitch (and off it) may rub you up the wrong way, that’s fine, but if you allow your assessment of his character to blur your opinion of him as a footballer then you commit foolish mistake.
Forget detailed analytics for a moment – although the spreadsheet enthusiasts will tell you PSG’s No10 is freakish talent – and consider this: every player can be judged in terms of style and substance.
There are individuals who look slick and effortless on the pitch but perhaps don’t boast the necessary quantifiable returns to be ranked among the game’s greats.
Then there are players who are mightily effective but are somehow lacking in aesthetic beauty – this isn’t a major flaw by any means but we must remember that sport is something to be enjoyed, an entertainment product we seek out between the hours donated to work or sleep.
In both aspects, style and substance, Neymar excels.
The 30-year-old needs just two more international goals to equal Pele’s all-time record of 77 for Brazil having already surpassed the likes of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo.
He has over 600 goal involvements in his professional career at a rate of one every 82 minutes.
His trophy case has been reinforced many times over, not least in 2015 when he won a memorable treble with Barcelona – his goal in the Champions League final to seal the feat was his 39th of the season.
His numbers alone are astonishing and yet it would be a crime to judge Neymar on stats as he is one of the most entertaining players to ever grace a pitch.
He is one of the greatest dribblers of all time and he is blessed with a distinctly Brazilian flair for showmanship: rainbow kicks, nutmegs, spins, backheels, that midair rabona first touch thing he does.
His highlight reel ranks alongside those of the most skilful players in history.
And yet he is mocked for the doing the very same things that made Ronaldinho a hero to millions – a bare-faced hypocrisy – because he is not seen as affable as his compatriot.
To deny Neymar the footballer is to deny a joyous phenomenon.
However, while many the of the sticks used to beat the Selecao’s No10 are hollow, criticism of his failure to deliver Brazil a major international trophy are partially valid.
The 2013 Confederations Cup is his only honour in international football – the Copa America and the World Cup have both eluded him.
More generally, Brazil’s lack of success on the grand stages in recent years has caused much pain and frustration in a country that is arguably more entwined with the sport than any other.
As his nation’s best player, Neymar has often had to shoulder the responsibility and it will be no different this winter with Brazil the bookmakers’ favourites to triumph in Qatar.
2014 was Neymar’s first World Cup – Dunga famously ignored a public petition calling for his inclusion in the 2010 squad – and he was brilliant on home soil, scoring four goals and providing two assists before his campaign was cut short by an injury sustained in the quarter-final.
You don’t need reminding what happened when Brazil met Germany in the semi-final without their top scorer or suspended captain Thiago Silva…
Neymar was pretty good again in 2018 although his inclination to buy free-kicks instead of riding challenges disrupted his side’s rhythm at times – still he scored two goals and provided an assist before being dumped out by Belgium in a quarter-final remembered for an Eden Hazard masterclass.
2022 may not necessarily be Neymar’s last chance to claim Brazil’s sixth World Cup but it’ll be the last tournament that coincides with his peak years – he’s been sensational for PSG this term.
If he were to inspire the Selecao to glory then perhaps he would finally earn the reputation he deserves as a generational footballer – surely even the most stringent naysayers would nod their approval if he were to sprinkle the true samba style on this winter’s tournament?
Nearly a quarter of Dream Team World Cup managers are backing him to do something special – his ownership of 24% makes him the fourth-most popular forward in the game.
Tite’s side face Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon in Group G and are heavy favourites to progress to the round of 16 having won their last seven games in a row, scoring 26 goals in the process.
With a provisional price range of £6.5m – £7m, Neymar is one of the most-expensive players in Dream Team World Cup but he is likely to end up a fraction cheaper than the likes of Lionel Messi, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe when prices are finalised next week.
Is 2022 Brazil’s year? All eyes on Neymar for the answer.