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Romario won it in 1994. It was the turn of Ronaldo in 1996 and 1997, and again in 2002. Rivaldo was chosen in 1999, Ronaldinho in 2004 and 2005, and Kaka in 2007.
In a 13-year spell, five Brazilians won the Fifa World Player of the Year award on eight separate occasions, which set the bar for subsequent generations of their compatriots.
The career of Neymar will be seen – by himself and other Brazilians – as falling short of potential if he does not get his hands on the award.
And so if you want to know why the 25-year-old forward might consider leaving Barcelona for Paris St-Germain then it is crucial to understand that how he will be remembered back home in Brazil is paramount.
But beyond that, there is also the issue of why PSG might be the next logical step for Neymar to take if he is to finally win an award that has so far eluded him.
How failures have shaped Neymar’s career
Like all success stories, failure plays a part in what has happened to Neymar.
There was his astonishing flop at the 2009 Under-17 Championship in Nigeria, when Brazil were one of eight teams to fail to make it out of the group stage.
A frontline of Neymar and Philippe Coutinho could not come up with goals when it mattered. Making little impression, Neymar was hauled off when Brazil were losing 1-0 to both Mexico and Switzerland.
He was already a budding star at senior level for Santos in the Brazilian first division.
The lesson was clear: global football was hard, and he needed to be ready before making the move across the Atlantic.
Chelsea thought they had secured him at one stage, but he stayed put at Santos until 2013, avoiding the pitfalls of the premature move.
The other relative failure was that of the man Neymar grew up idolising – Robinho, a former Santos star. When Robinho moved to Real Madrid in 2005 it was automatically assumed in Brazil that the forward would cruise to the World Player award.
One media pundit, former Brazil striker Casagrande, felt Robinho would be better than anyone who had ever played the game, with the exception of Pele.
History tells us otherwise, and Robinho’s career has never completely recovered from the discovery that Real were prepared to use him as a makeweight to get their hands on Cristiano Ronaldo – a decision which in hindsight looks like a masterstroke.
Neymar, then, was well aware that his bid for world domination would have to be made step by step, which made Barcelona such an enticing prospect.
Stepping out of Messi’s shadow
The Barcelona Neymar joined in 2013 was Lionel Messi’s team.
The pressure would be off.
Former Brazil winger Denilson, for example, became the world’s record signing two decades ago and was immediately supposed to carry a mediocre Real Betis side. Neymar would not have this problem. He could ease his way into European club football in the shadow of Messi.
But, in this step-by-step strategy, he would not want to be in the shadow of Messi forever. How could he win the World Player award if he was not even the most outstanding member of his own team?
So either Messi would move on, Neymar would replace him as the focal point of the attack, or Neymar would move on. Messi has just signed a new contract. He looks set to remain the lead violinist for the foreseeable future – leaving option three.
While Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu has said Neymar will not be leaving the club, reports have continued to say Paris St-Germain have offered Neymar the opportunity to lead the pack. And there would be an added bonus.
This season ends with the World Cup, when Neymar should be in peak condition – he will be 26 next June.
In the French league he will be able to coast a little, pacing himself to ensure there is enough gas in the tank for a top campaign in Russia.
A move to Paris, then, makes plenty of cold, hard sense. Its attractions are clear in the eyes of some of those around Neymar – and it is wise to remember that the structure around him means clubs are dealing with a limited company as much as a man.
His father, agents and advisers all have a strategy and an opinion, but none has the joy that he experiences lining up alongside Messi and Luis Suarez in the Barcelona forward line. What is best for the brand may not necessarily be what is best for the player.
It is an assumption, but probably a fair one, that Neymar is going through something of an internal conflict at the moment, pulled in different directions by contrasting urges of logic and emotion.
“I would not be surprised if Neymar stays at Barcelona or if he goes to PSG,” wrote 1970 World Cup winner Tostao, always the wisest voice in Brazilian football.
“Neymar has learnt a lot playing at Barcelona with Messi. There is no contradiction between, on one hand, the happiness that he has playing for one of the world’s great teams and the admiration and friendship he feels for Messi, and on the other his desire to be even more famous and become a bigger star than he already is.
“It is impossible to predict which choice would be better or worse for Neymar. The bad thing would be he dreams about one option and takes the other.”
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