Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are undoubtedly the two most popular players on Earth. When it comes to who the third most-known player is people will typically cast their vote for Brazilian star Neymar.
Critics love to discredit the Brazilian as he’s never won the Ballon d’Or nor reached the heights of Messi and Ronaldo. The highest Neymar ever finished in the Ballon d’Or rankings was two third place finishes in 2015 and 2017, behind Messi and Ronaldo both times.
Even Neymar’s trophy cabinet hardly resembles that of the game’s greats with one UEFA Champions League crown, one Copa Libertadores triumph, two LaLiga titles, a handful of Ligue 1 wins and just one trophy for Brazil.
Neymar’s only title for Brazil was the now defunct FIFA Confederations Cup back in 2013.
On paper he’s arguably not a legend or even one of the greats. Yet here we are in 2023 and he’s still one of the biggest names. Here are five moments from his career that made him the global superstar.
Top 5 best moments of Neymar’s career
5. The 2011 Puskás Award
The early days of Neymar at Santos were the first signs of his rise to stardom. Kids were watching “Neymar highlights” on YouTube back in 2012 thinking that this Brazilian youngster was going to be the next Messi.
His flashy moves and addictive skills with the ball at his feet were a rebirth of “Jogo Bonito” and reminiscent of old Ronaldinho and R9 highlights.
What couldn’t be copied was that ridiculous Puskás winning goal in 2011 which still has people scratching their heads to this day.
4. The “MSN” days
Part of what made Neymar so massive was his supporting cast at Barcelona. Some argue the mid 2010’s was a golden era especially for the El Clásico rivalry. The attacking tridents for both teams were brilliant, but there was something special about the front three of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
“MSN” was the abbreviation given to them and they formed one the most lethal attacking trios the game has even seen. In the 2015/16 season Neymar scored 31 goals and added 25 assists across 49 appearances. Messi had 41 goals and 24 assists while Suarez added a ridiculous 59 goals and 24 assists that season.
Each of the three played just as vital of a role as the others and all three were superstars. Their crowning achievement was the 2015 UEFA Champions League title. Neymar scored the dagger in the final minutes.
3. The big money move to PSG
Transfer fees get more expensive by the year. Nowadays a $100 million transfer fee happens every window and is no longer earth-shattering news.
Only one player has ever cost over $200 million before and that was Neymar back in 2017. It’s hard to say when/if Neymar’s $263 million transfer record will ever be broken.
The price tag speaks for itself. Neymar was the hottest commodity at the time and turned heads everywhere he went.
2. Winning gold at the 2016 Olympics
One of Neymar’s biggest criticisms is the lack of trophies he’s won for Brazil. Unlike the Brazilian stars of yester-year, Neymar has never won a World Cup or even a Copa América.
Since the 2014 World Cup he’s been Brazil’s leader, but injuries and failures have never seen him lift one of those coveted international titles.
He did achieve something no other Brazilian had done: winning gold at the Olympic games. He was 24 when Rio hosted the 2016 Summer Games and was one of the three over-23 players on Brazil’s roster.
Olympic golds aren't held all that highly in the soccer-sphere, but for Brazil this one was special. Two years prior Neymar sat out injured when Germany crushed his side in the 2014 World Cup semis 7-1. Two years later he led Brazil to a beautiful consolation and first-ever gold medal.
1. Breaking Pelé’s goal scoring record
¡Histórico Neymar!El brasileño encontró un rebote y marcó el gol con el que se convierte en el máximo goleador histórico de Brasil con 78 goles en 125 partidos.
Brasil 4-0 Bolivia
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) September 9, 2023
Brazil’s greatest scorer in history is Neymar. Across 128 appearances for Brazil, he’s found the back of the net 79 times. More than Pelé’s 77, Ronaldo’s 62, Romario’s 55 and the other Brazilian legends.
Even though the international trophy closet might be mostly empty, he will still go down as the country’s greatest goal scorer.