The walking, talking, playing and scoring sensation that is Neymar still hasn’t played a single match for a European club in one of the continent’s top leagues, but the Santos star has become the first Brazilian player since Pele in 1970 to receive the Hors concours honor, meaning, more or less, that he’s a step or two above the rest of his peers in the Brasilerão.
There have been plenty of Brazilian stars since Pele; Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo. None of them were ever as dominant as Pele was on the local stage, like Neymar has turned out to be over the last couple of years, scoring 43 goals in 47 appearances for Santos (all competitions) over the last 12 months. Most of them left their best for when they reached Europe.
Neymar, for now, is staying put. Not until his contract is up in 2014, which means he’s staying with Santos until after the World Cup hosted by Brazil. The 20 year old has a lot of people excited about the prospect of him joining a European club, but there’s also a reason he wasn’t among the finalists for the 2012 Ballon d’Or.
Despite his fantastic achievements with Santos in the Copa Libertadores and the Paulista, showing (according to the award ceremony) he’s riding a motorcycle while the other are riding bicycles compared with the rest of the field in Brazil, not playing in Europe is hurting his credibility whenever he’s compared to the best players in the world like Lionel Messi (which Pele loves to do) or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Neymar is up for an award he won last season: the Puskas award, given to the best goal scored this past year. Neymar is a candidate thanks to his amazing dribble against Internacional in the Copa Libertadores. He finished as the competition’s top scorer in 2012 with 9 goals. His 17 goals in the league weren’t enough for the top spot (Fred of Fluminense with 20 won that one), but he did finish as the top scorer in the Paulista, the Sao Paulo league which Santos won for the third consecutive time.