COMMENTARY | Johan Cruyff, the Dutch great credited with bringing "Total Football" to Barcelona, made news when he revealed that he was not in favor of bringing Neymar to the Camp Nou. Further, the former Blaugrana manager, player, and legend went on to state that since Neymar's services had been secured, he would opt to sell Lionel Messi.
After celebrating his 26th birthday on Monday, Messi must have been scratching his head Tuesday morning. The Argentine magician is widely regarded as the greatest player in the game. He has collected four straight Ballon d'Or awards, a record in every way imaginable. Cruyff had three of those coveted trophies to his name, but no one had ever earned four before Messi.
Messi has won every conceivable trophy since arriving in Barcelona. Barcelona has won six La Liga titles since Messi debuted in the 2004-2005 season. More importantly, Messi played a role in three of Barcelona's four Champions League trophies. For the 2009 and 2011 Champions League trophies, Messi won top scoring and best player of the tournament honors. As a reminder, he only just celebrated his 26th birthday on Monday.
On an individual level, Messi holds the records for most goals in a calendar year (91), most goals scored in a La Liga season (50), most goals in official competitions for Barcelona (313), and about 50 other records. He was the top scorer in the Champions League on four occasions--matching the great Gerd Muller as the only other man to ever accomplish this feat. However, Messi was top scorer in four successive seasons; Muller was not. Did anyone mention Messi is only a few days past 26, i.e.. not old?
Okay, enough of the Messi love-fest. Back to the question at hand: should Barcelona sell Lionel Messi?
Before answering that question, Neymar must be qualified as a worthy replacement. At 19-years, the Brazilian prodigy led Santos to a Copa Libertadores title, which is the South American equivalent of the Champions League. Also, he was identified as the top player of the tournament.
Also in that year, he won the Puskas Award for best goal of 2011. At 19, he scored the best goal on the planet. Please allow that thought to settle in.
Now 21-years-old, Neymar has maintained a lifetime scoring rate of better than one goal per two matches for his club career. For Brazil, he has 23 goals in 37 appearances after scoring in each of the first three Confederations Cup matches.
Prior to the Confederations Cup, critics outside Brazil had their doubts about Neymar's talent. After watching him perform this summer, those voices have converted and will likely spread the gospel for the next 12 months.
Neymar has performed under immense pressure at Santos--Pele's club--and with Brazil. At his tender age, he is regarded as the best Brazilian footballer on the planet--the man singled out to shoulder Brazil's burdensome hopes into the 2014 World Cup.
Without a doubt, the 21-year-old has been the top performer in the Confederations Cup entering the semifinal against Uruguay. Neymar can score, he can pass, he can dribble, and he is nearly five years younger than Messi.
Okay, so should Barcelona sell Messi?
Initially, there may be skirmishes and territory marking as two of the top talents in the universe sniff each other, but Barcelona's style is suited for the dynamic skill set of Neymar. The Brazilian may be primarily identified as a scorer, but he understands how to play the team game. For his Puskas Award winning goal, for example, Neymar's ability to give up the ball to his teammate set up the entire move.
He uses his individual skill and incredible flair, but he included his teammates in the process.
Instead of focusing on Messi or Neymar, the focus should be on Messi and Neymar. The thought of those two playing together should brings smiles to faces. After watching the Confederations Cup, those smiles should only grow wider.
From a strategic standpoint, Neymar has been effectively utilized on the left wing with Brazil, and he has appeared most comfortable in this role. Playing ahead of Jordi Abla in this position would hardly trample Messi's ability to act as a roaming center forward. If the fear is alienating Messi by catering to Neymar, one only needs to recall Barcelona's destruction in last season's Champions League to marginalize such a pedestrian discussion.
In the quarterfinals, Messi was suffering from a hamstring injury, but Barcelona was short on ideas and on the verge of exiting the competition. The hobbled hero came on as a substitute and created magic to advance the team past Paris Saint-Germain and into the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Messi was visibly restricted in his movement, and the Catalan club was shutout in the first leg. In the second leg, Messi was not fit to get off the bench, and Barcelona was again shutout and embarrassingly crashed out of Europe with an aggregate 7-0 defeat to Bayern Munich.
With Neymar alongside Messi, Barcelona can add another lethal source of creativity and scoring. He can help balance Barça's reliance on Messi as the focal point of the attack. Beyond Messi, Bayern dominated the Catalans, so Neymar should be embraced because he can help Barcelona improve and return to the top of Europe.
Sure, the thought of selling Messi is worth discussing for a moment, but that moment has passed. Messi should stay because selling the best player in the world--when he has not even asked to leave--is criminal.
- Sports & Recreation