When he eventually hangs up his boots, Neymar’s place in the record books seems assured.
After overtaking Ronaldo into second place in Brazil’s goalscoring charts with a hat-trick against Peru on Tuesday night, there is now only one mountain left to climb.
He now has 64 goals for his country and is just 13 away from drawing level with the great Edson Arantes do Nascimento. (That’s Pele, to you and me).
Neymar moved to second in the list of Brazil’s all-time top goalscorers on Tuesday night
He scored a hat-trick in Brazil’s World Cup qualifying victory over Peru in Lima
He has now overtaken the legendary Ronaldo in the list of his country’s all-time top scorers
Only the great Pele, pictured scoring in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy, is ahead of him
At 28 years of age and in the prime of his career, it seems only a matter of time before Neymar cements his place as Brazil’s most prolific goalscorer. In a country that has produced Pele, Romario, Ronaldo et al, it is an astonishing feat for Neymar to come out on top.
In the land of samba football, Neymar’s legacy is utterly assured. He led the Selecao to their first ever Olympic gold medal in 2016. Coming over Germany, it helped exorcise some of the ghosts from the 7-1 that Neymar escaped from blameless following his tournament-ending injury in the quarter-final win over Colombia.
Up until that point Neymar had been carrying Brazil in his homeland, a theme that has become very familiar throughout his international career. Ever since he broke through at Santos and even before his big move to Europe and Barcelona in 2013, he was earmarked as the standard bearer of a generation. It is a responsibility and a level of fame that he has had to deal with since he was a teenager.
But it has strayed into infamy. At the 2018 World Cup Neymar ‘charmed Brazil, but annoyed the whole world’, according to newspaper O Globo. By this point he had become the most expensive player in world football. That move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017 brought a whole new level of scrutiny, and left much of the watching public unimpressed.
His play-acting antics in Russia infuriated many, his seemingly endless rolling around put meme creators on the internet into overdrive. The flicks and tricks were there, but they were too self-serving. The cult of Neymar was winning out over the team.
Neymar suffered a tournament-ending injury before Brazil’s 7-1 defeat by Germany in 2014
In 2018 Neymar’s World Cup contributions were overshadowed by accusations of play-acting
Brazil exited the tournament limply in the quarter-finals to Belgium, a team rammed full of individual quality but which knew how to make it work together. Brazil, headed up by Neymar, were the opposite.
The microscope has been primed on Neymar ever since he made that £198million move to PSG in 2017. Instead of being a key cog in the slick machine at the Nou Camp, he was now the main man in Paris and held to a higher standard.
Instead of being challenged he has been indulged in the years since. His record in Paris – 72 goals in 88 appearances, three back-to-back league titles and four cup triumphs – speaks for itself.
But he didn’t move to France to win Ligue 1 every season. Winning another Champions League, and by implication lifting the coveted Ballon d’Or, was the aim. By that standard he has fallen short, but there have been mitigating factors.
Injury saw him miss consecutive last-16 defeats by Real Madrid and Manchester United in 2018 and 2019. On both occasions PSG buckled without their talisman.
Since his world record move to PSG in 2017, Neymar has scored 72 goals in 88 appearances
At times his skills on the ball have appeared self-serving instead of for the benefit of the team
In the finals in Lisbon this year, though, Neymar rose to the occasion. He had helped PSG book their place in the quarter-finals by scoring the opening goal in the second leg of the last-16 comeback against Borussia Dortmund.
Though he missed that ruthless edge in front of goal, squandering two one-on-one chances against Atalanta and RB Leipzig, his play in the final third was scintillating. He assisted Marquinhos for the equaliser and then released Kylian Mbappe for his pass to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for the late winner against the Italians.
In the semi-final against Leipzig he was at his imperious best as PSG ran riot. Despite a disappointing performance in the final against Bayern Munich, it was proof that Neymar still had it in him to influence high-pressure games.
The lack of competition in France and two years of missing Champions League knockouts, led to fears that his competitive inner fire had disappeared. His tears in the final were roundly mocked on social media, but they only serve to show how much it still matters to him.
Neymar’s life off the pitch has also played a part in that. PSG’s squad are known to hold extravagant celebrations at nightspots in the city and Thomas Meunier this summer divulged details of their ‘outrageous’ parties in recent years.
Neymar was left in tears as PSG were defeated by Bayern Munich in Champions League final
The Brazilian walks past the trophy after PSG’s 1-0 defeat in the final in Lisbon in August
‘Nothing but birthday parties – incredible,’ the Belgian revealed after leaving for Borussia Dortmund.
‘When I was at Bruges, we’d celebrate birthdays by playing darts or pool in a bar, but here it’s just outrageous. But that just reflects the club: hire a palace, hire a building, parties with hundreds of people.
‘That’s when you see that they’re more than footballers – they’re stars.
‘I always had a good time but it was all a bit extravagant and “did you see me?” But that’s part of it, part of the game.’
In February Neymar held a lavish party at YoYo nightclub, a short walk from the Eiffel Tower, for his 28th birthday.
Midfielder Ander Herrera has previously lifted the lid on Neymar’s party planning and revealed the lengths he will go to in order to ensure his team-mates ‘have a good time’.
Attention has been drawn to Neymar (centre), his team-mates and their party lifestyle in Paris
Neymar poses for a picture with Kylian Mbappe (right) and French fashion model Cindy Bruna
Neymar, dressed in red, arrives at his birthday bash in Paris on crutches in February 2019
Instead of keeping everyone together in the same area, the star Brazilian forward split them into two groups across different floors.
The players who were married partied on the top floor, while those were single set up on the bottom floor so that they could ‘have a good time’.
Asked what happened at the party, former Manchester United midfielder Herrera simply replied: ‘What didn’t happen?!’
Herrera said: ‘The truth is that when he does something, he does it to have a good time. And he organised it to have a good time. And the truth is that I congratulated him.’
There is little doubt that Neymar’s off-field activities have overshadowed his actions on it, and, to an extent, airbrushed his achievements. He will, inevitably, finish his career as Brazil’s greatest goalscorer. Where he fits in the pantheon of great Brazilian footballers rests on his shoulders.
Lionel Messi has been desperate to be reunited with Neymar since he left Barcelona in 2017
His Champions League displays for PSG show that, when he is in the zone, few can live with him. And few have enjoyed playing with him quite like his former partner in crime, Lionel Messi, who has been desperate for him to return to Barcelona.
His unhappiness at the Nou Camp has stemmed Neymar’s shock departure, and joining his former team-mate in Paris was broached as a possibility when Messi looked destined for the Barcelona exit door in the summer.
The thought of those two linking up again is tantalising. Neymar will never truly shrug off his reputation as a party animal off the field, but reuniting with Messi could only help him cement his legacy as a world legend, and not just one of his homeland in Brazil.