Brazil’s Neymar will turn 31 in February, and Qatar could be his final opportunity to help his country win a record-extending sixth World Cup title.
Neymar’s career has been a rollercoaster ride, with high expectations frequently being met with disappointment and frustration. He is the most expensive player in soccer history, but he may have struggled to reach his full potential with his clubs or the national team.
Often chastised for being immature, self-centered, and generating as many headlines on and off the field, Neymar appears to have knuckled down this season, focusing more on his physical and mental preparation for the World Cup.
He decided to end his vacation a week early in order to begin training with Paris St Germain in the offseason, and he is currently among the top players in Europe’s five major leagues for goals and assists combined.
One could argue that his relationship with the World Cup over the last 12 years is a microcosm of his entire career – a story of hope, disappointment, controversy, pain, and underachievement.
Coach Dunga left him out of the final squad for the tournament in South Africa in 2010, believing the flamboyant then 18-year-old forward who had just broken through with Santos wasn’t ready for the big stage.
Four years later, he was an international superstar, playing alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona and spearheading the host nation’s World Cup campaign.
Despite this, he suffered a cracked vertebrae in Brazil’s quarterfinal win over Colombia and watched from his hospital bed as his teammates were humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals.
Injuries again derailed his World Cup dream in Russia 2018. Neymar suffered a sprained right ankle in early 2018, which affected the fifth metatarsal in his foot.
He was never 100 percent during the tournament, playing through pain, and was far from his peak when Brazil was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Belgium.
The role of Neymar as the lone difference-maker in Brazil teams lacking the star power of previous generations was a common denominator in both of Neymar’s World Cup appearances.
Neymar has had to bear the burden of being the Brazilian superstar of his generation throughout his career.
Others, however, have recently risen to prominence in European soccer, with the rise of young Brazilian players such as Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo, Raphinha, Bruno Guimaraes, and others.
In Qatar, Neymar will have a supporting cast of the caliber that Brazil has become accustomed to.
It is the ideal chance for him to achieve glory and redemption by assisting Brazil in winning the World Cup for the first time in two decades.