Where does Neymar rank among Brazil's greatest?
The game of football has seen so many wonderful players over the last century. There have been some magical performers over the years, gifted with the ball at their feet and capable of doing things that others couldn't even imagine.
South America has a reputation for producing these special talents, and Brazil is considered very much the factory headquarters. Zico, Pele, Ronaldinho, Kaka, and Ronaldo are some of the most recognizable stars to have put on the yellow and blue jersey of the Selecao. Neymar is another magician in the long list of special talents that have worn the jersey.
Such has been the caliber of talent to have represented the Brazilian national team, that there is still some debate over whether the great Pele is the best player ever to represent the country. The likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, and Zico have all been mentioned, but where does Neymar rank among these footballing idols?
Neymar's Brazil career so far has been a bittersweet one. The boy from Santos made his Brazil bow at the tender age of 18, and while there have been brilliant performances, wonderful goals, and an Olympic gold medal, his career still seems to fall short in comparison to his illustrious predecessors.
It's not for want of trying, however, but unlike his idols, he has had to carry the national team all on his own. While Pele would dazzle alongside Zico and Ronaldo would form a deadly partnership with Ronaldinho, Neymar plays in a time where the Brazilian talent pool seems to have run dry. The country's recent subpar World Cup performance is a direct result of that.
It's not all been negative, however, as Neymar has led Brazil to both Confederations Cup title and an Olympic Gold medal. The Confederations Cup in 2013 was just another example of Neymar doing it almost single-handedly as he was involved in just about everything good Brazil would do on their way to the trophy.
He would receive the Golden Ball award after claiming the Man of the Match in all but one of Brazil's games.
The Olympic games would carry much more significance. It was the only trophy that Brazil had not won in its illustrious history, and betting sites didn't fancy the team for the prize either. Neymar's inspiring performances that led Brazil to victory against all the odds at the tournament was supposed to elevate him to the heights of the country's legends, but it did not.
He was selected as one of three over-aged players to play at the tournament. He scored goals and assisted teammates at vital moments during the competition, eventually scoring the winning penalty in the final against Germany.
Despite his heroics, he was still criticized by predecessors. They felt that while Neymar had the talent, he didn't have the character on and off the pitch to be one of the greatest. His lifestyle and off-field conduct were brought into the limelight in the aftermath of the tournament.
This was the player who had just created history by handing Brazil its first Gold medal at the Olympics, had such an impressive career, and ranked third in Brazil's all-time scoring list at the age of 24, but still, he wasn't appreciated.
Neymar would give up the Selecao captain's armband after the Olympics, as he grew tired of the constant criticism aimed at him from Brazil's legends.
He felt he had earned the right to be one of them, but with disgraceful World Cup and Copa America showings and questionable behavior both on and off the pitch, perhaps he didn't have the character that Pele or Kaka had that made them so globally loved. Without a World Cup title to his name, he may never be mentioned in the same breath as them.
His Selecao story is far from over, however, and with time to make amends for his antics at the 2018 World Cup, it's high time he sets the record straight.