After splashing the cash in January and suffering through a disappointing season, Chelsea FC are sure to find themselves in the middle of just about every major transfer rumor to hit the internet this summer. If I had to guess though, the name of Neymar will be connected to Chelsea more than any other player. So let's take a little closer look at the youngster and find out more about him.
Neymar was born February 5th, 1992. This makes the upcoming season his age 19 season, meaning that he no longer has the ability to be considered a "homegrown" player in England. He will, however, be considered a U21 for the next two seasons, meaning he wouldn't count against our 25 man roster. With non-homegrown spots currently somewhat logjammed, this fact will U21's capable of playing everyday even more attractive to Chelsea.
Neymar plays predominantly on the left wing or as a striker. He stands 5'9" and possesses better than average speed. His balance and change of direction skills are among the best in the world, and while he prefers to shoot with his right foot he's very, very good with his left as well. He's quite good crossing the ball, and he tends to play very wide and make many crossing runs into the box. He's also got a knack for making some very difficult back heel passes, so passing lanes tend to be a little easier to come by for him. He's not a one-touch passer the majority of the time, as he tends to attack the defense with the ball at his feet.
While he's clearly very talented, there are questions about how he'll translate to the European game. Brazilians sometime struggle to cope with the defenses in Europe, as they often do a better job positioning themselves to force players like Neymar to dribble into less dangerous positions. He's not overly large, so there is some question about getting roughed up a bit. There are also questions about his attitude, as he's clearly been pampered and put on a pedestal in his native Brazil. It's hard to knock the kid at this point, but at the same time teams should make sure they get to know him because he's not coming cheap.
The first video I'm going to post for you is from the Brazilian/Scotland game in Wembley earlier this year. Neymar was the story of that one, netting both goals in the Brazil victory. If England fans didn't know about him before that one, they certainly did afterwards. His touch on the ball was deft, and as usual he showed a vast array of tricks and moves to beat defenders. It's a fun watch, as the game was more or less the Neymar show:
The tricks and goals were obviously eye-catching, but that wasn't what really stood out to me. I found the most impressive part of this to be the way he positions himself when defenders close on him. Neymar tends to keep the ball very close to his feet, and when you watch him he always seems to manage to get part of his body between the ball and the defender. The defender at that point has no choice but to either foul or adjust their tackle attempt, creating a space for Neymar to go around them. Because of his positioning, he should have the ability to dribble around players even at the top level. He'll also likely draw quite a few fouls around the box, and with a team that has been very good from set pieces this could be a real benefit.
If you watch the penalty closely, you'll see he anticipates the defender closing from behind and again positions himself where his only play is the foul or to pull off. This is the kind of thing that is holding Gael Kakuta back from being the type of player he's capable of becoming right now, so it's great to see such a young player showing that anticipation. Many would argue that this style doesn't really fit in the Premier League, but players like Ronaldo who protect the ball in this same way still tend to draw plenty of fouls. I really don't think his style will fail to translate, as he's a vastly different player than Robinho.
The next video we'll look at is a little highlight reel from this years U20 south american championships. If you're at work, turn the volume down as the background music is NSFW:
This one really highlights some amazing footwork from Neymar. Once again, if you watch closely you'll see that he's always putting the ball in a position where you have to play through him to get at it. This is a big thing that makes me more comfortable with him as opposed to a guy like Alexis Sanchez or Robinho. Where those guys tend to beat you with good footwork and an amazing first step, both of them tend to leave the ball a little more exposed for a good defender to take off their feet. Neymar just never does that, his positional awareness and abiltity to protect the ball are uncanny for a kid his age. This is the type of thing that separates Messi from so many other players beyond just his great ball skills.
The next one to look at is from his international debut at the Meadowlands. This one highlights a few different things:
First, Neymar was playing in several different positions around the pitch. I was actually in attendance for that game, and a number of things impressed me about him. His runs were very good. He seemed to have a knack for adjusting his run to end up where the ball will be much faster than the defender, allowing him to take much more direct lines to the ball (that almost certainly created the header that scored). He also does a nice job shielding the defender from the ball on those types of runs, much in the same way he does it while dribbling. This allows him more space for his first touch, which helps create better shooting and passing opportunities. Once again, this type of development is rare in players that age, and often why flair players fail to make the adjustment to European play.
Here's a shorter one form Santos games:
This is obviously a little older (and hopefully he'll go back to the pre-mohawk look), and it highlights a little more wide play. We get a look at a few crosses, which Neymar seems capable of playing from either side of the box. While he's not a traditional winger by any stretch, he's got the ability to provide excellent crosses and longer passes to trailing midfielders. This should also help him dribble by guys, as that threat being there is something that many less traditional wingers lack. Neymar isn't going to simply dribble into the box, put the ball on his right foot, and shoot every time he touches the ball. He can play effectively from wide and deep, so you can't simply force him in that direction to neutralize him. Once again, I feel like this is something he does extremely well that makes the Robinho comparison unfair. Those headed goals also again display Neymar shielding the defender with his body to create space for himself.
The last video I'm going to show you is form a Santos game last season where Neymar managed a hat trick in very short order. There's a few interesting things about this sequence of goals, highlighting evrything I really love about this kid:
The penalty is one of the softer one's I've seen, and there is some question of whether he'd have gotten that call in England. What he did nicely there once again is put the ball in a position that his body was in the defenders way, so even if he hadn't committed the penalty he'd have still had no play on the ball. Regardless of whether or not it was a penalty, if it occurs outside the box it would be a foul in a dangerous location. That type of ability creates goals like the one he scored moments later, in which he positioned the ball away from the defender again and was this time given space and time in the box to pick his shot or pass. The third goal sees him making a solid run, feelng the defender coming from behind, playing the ball to a spot that splits the defenders, and taking the only shot they give him. He seems to realize that it was defended well enough that he needs to shoot quickly, and then does so with precision. It's a beautiful 10 minutes of action from him, and really shows what type of impact he can have in several different ways.
Clearly, I'm a big fan of Neymar. I think he should be our number one priority this summer, and if we walk away from the window with Neymar and nothing else I'd still consider it a smashing success. Chelsea have been a top team for years, but one thing they've never had is that guy who was hands down the best player in the world (Frank Lampard in 2005 was actually the only Chelsea player to ever finish in the top 3 of the FIFA Ballon d'Or voting). Neymar is by no means there yet, but when you look at him you see plenty of great attributes that make you think he could be someday. He and Sanchez are the only guys I think we've been linked to with that type of ability, and of the two I already prefer Neymar without even considering their ages. He'd instantly provide excitement, and if he develops into the type of player he could be he'd certainly help provide more income and global coverage for the club.
As far as costs go, Neymar is probably only within reach of Chelsea, Barcelona, City, United, and Real Madrid at this point. This seems like a prefect time to make that move, as only City and ourselves seem to be in a real position to make that move and he appears to prefer Chelsea. Either way, we'll all likely be sick of hearing Neymar rumors in very short order, as I'm sure he'll be dominating the Chelsea headlines within seconds of our season ending. Feel free to leave your thoughts on Neymar in the comments section below, I'd be very curious to see where he fits on your priority list..