Neymar is already one of the most sought after players on the planet and a mainstay of the Brazilian national side, so comparisons between the 20-year-old and Argentine forward Lionel Messi were always going to be inevitable.
Known for his outlandish hairstyles, speed, dribbling and finishing, Neymar was named South American player of the year and selected in the 23-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or trophy in 2011 and 2012, and won the FIFA Puskas prize for the best goal of 2011.
Neymar has also achieved club success with Santos, having won the Copa do Brasil, Copa Libertadores, Campeonato Paulista and Recopa Sudamericana.
Hype surrounding the young star has sparked rumours of links with Barcelona, Real Madrid, both sides from Manchester and most recently Bayern Munich.
The speculation comes as clubs and fans eagerly await his seemingly inevitable move to Europe.
On the other side of the coin, based on current form Lionel Messi is almost undisputedly the best player in the world at present.
In 2012 he won the Ballon d’Or trophy for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year and broke Gerd Müller’s 40-year record for the most goals scored in a calendar year.
Messi has picked up enough silverware to sink a small ship with Barcelona, including titles in La Liga, the Champions League, Copa del Rey and the FIFA Club World Cup – each more than once.
But a direct comparison between the two players would be unfair on the young Brazilian, as Messi—now aged 25—has the distinct advantage of both experience and having one of the greatest teams of all time built around him.
Neymar is just a few days shy of his 21st birthday, so it is perhaps most fair to compare his career to date with Messi’s at the same age.
According to ESPN’s Soccernet, at the club level Neymar has netted 101 goals with 30 assists from 180 games for Santos in all competitions – a rate of 0.56 goals per game.
By the same age Messi had scored 43 goals with 16 assists from 106 games for Barcelona – a rate of 0.40 goals per game.
Despite Neymar’s club numbers significantly trumping Messi’s at the same age, what cannot be underestimated is Messi’s ability, at 17 years of age, to break into a team containing the likes of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o and establish himself as one of football’s elites, all before turning 21.
And though La Liga is top heavy, with Barcelona and Real Madrid standing heads above the rest of the competition, it is still widely considered as the toughest league in the world; few would argue that the Brazilian Serie A has the same depth of quality.
Messi’s performances for the Argentinian national side have been underwhelming, which is another key reason why comparisons between the two superstars have been drawn.
Internationally Neymar has scored at a prolific rate for Brazil and largely outperformed Messi, with 28 goals and 8 assists in 36 games – albeit predominantly in friendlies.
The Argentine maestro on the other hand had only managed 4 goals and 2 assists from 10 games.
Messi’s lacklustre (by his standards) form for his country is often presented as one of the main points against him being unreservedly labelled the best of all time.
If Messi is unable to achieve World Cup glory in his career—as Pelé and Diego Maradona did—it will undoubtedly be seen as a blot on his otherwise immaculate record.
Both Pelé and Maradona have been vocal in championing the talents of their respective countrymen.
Pelé, speaking at an event celebrating the centenary of Santos FC, dismissed claims that Messi has surpassed him as the greatest player of all time, intimating that he is not even the best player currently.
"There's always this Maradona comparison, saying that he's better than Pelé. Now some are saying that Messi is better than Pelé. Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn't yet," Pelé said.
"At the moment Messi is just more experienced."
In response, Maradona called his Brazilian counterpart "stupid" for even suggesting that Messi is not as good as Neymar.
"Maybe Neymar is the best player in the world, but only if you say that Messi is from a different planet," Maradona said.
While Neymar has played some incredible football and scored an impressive amount of goals for Santos and his country, he is yet to prove himself against world-class opposition for a sustained period as Messi had at the same age.
Beyond the age of 21, Messi has amassed a staggering amount of accolades and achievements over the duration of his career.
For Neymar to surpass these feats in the next five years would not only mean he would have to cement his place as the best player alive, but very likely the best player of all time.
But with a few more years of experience, maturity and skill development—plus a ticket to Europe—there’s no telling what heights the Brazilian star might reach.
Neymar discussed his playing future with Globoesporte recently, reiterating that—despite all the transfer rumours—he is not quite ready to leave his home country and current club for Europe just yet.
"I still dream of coming to Europe, but the right moment has yet to arrive. I'm very happy here at Santos, close to my family and my friends," he said.
"I have no plans to move for the moment, but it's not because I'm content where I am. My objective is not to be the best in the world, but instead to be happy. Happiness comes first."
Neymar is under contract with Santos until July 2014.1049046