A case of when, not if, Neymar replaces Messi as the world's best player

The thought of Lionel Messi and Neymar in the same team is slightly frightening.

Four times voted the world’s best player, Messi’s biggest threat for the Ballon D’or has traditionally come in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo, who must be getting a little sick of FIFA’s showpiece event. Since being crowned the world's best in 2008, Ron has finished second on three occasions.

Despite that, there is a legitimate argument that Ronaldo is a better all round player than Messi, and that debate will run and run. But further down the line, when Messi’s powers start to wane, this dynamic young Brazilian will replace Leo as the face of world football.

That juggernaut has already started in Brazil, where Neymar’s face adorns gigantic billboards advertising the Confederations Cup, which started with Neymar stealing the show with a third-minute thunderbolt against Japan.

That level of frenzied idolisation will be cranked up several levels this time next year, when Neymar will carry the hopes of a nation as they host the World Cup. Last time Brazil piled such pressure on the shoulders of one man, Ronaldo went AWOL ahead of the 1998 World Cup final and was never quite the same player ever again.

But the kid from Sao Paulo has an old head on young shoulders and his move to Barcelona will only mature him, and fast track him to being the best player on the planet, albeit if he has to bide his time to become the main man at Barca as he has already become in the famous yellow jersey of his country.

Some of the goals he has scored for Santos have been outrageous – none more so than his spectacular strike against Flamengo in 2011 - and, at the age of 21, he has three or four years of solid improvement ahead of him. And that could send him into the stratosphere.

While there is always a tendency to want to compare rather than just sit back and appreciate, Neymar’s skillset is potentially wider than Messi’s. A great dribbler and finisher, Messi is one of the greatest the world has ever seen.

But Brazil's newest number 10 plays the game with a swagger and an effortlessness that combines everything that is great about Messi with everything that was great about Zinedine Zidane; Neymar could become Barcelona and Brazil’s great entertainer and, despite comparisons to Ronaldinho, etch his very own history.

Neymar plays the game with grace and passion and, in true Samba fashion, oozes fabulous style and technique - but is no less lethal in front of goal than Messi.

The challenge for Neymar is to prove it among the big boys but, with the Brazilian improving all the time and Messi already at the top of his game and seemingly unable to improve from his brilliant best, Barcelona will possess one of the most lethal partnerships of all time from next season.

When Neymar eventually reaches his peak, the Brazilian is more than capable of eclipsing even what Messi has achieved in the game, and the handing over of the batton of power from Messi to Neymar could start as early as next year’s World Cup. 

Neymar has the world at his feet - he just has to prove it.

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