The second favourite to win football’s most prestigious individual title, the Brazilian has a compelling case to be considered 2015’s best says Alex Dimond.
Perhaps the greatest case for Neymar to win the 2015 Ballon d’Or could be made during the period where voters went to the polls. For a two-month spell Barcelona were without Lionel Messi – their icon, their totem – and the fears were that everything would fall apart.
Who should win the 2015 Ballon d’Or?
Instead, Neymar put the team on his back, scoring a number of crucial goals and providing many more for Luis Suarez as Barcelona kept up the running in La Liga. In a three-game span, he was named man-of-the-match three times. We have seen, then, that Barcelona actually can cope without Messi – but what about without his Brazilian partner in crime?
It is worth noting that the Ballon d’Or is judged on a period from late 2014 to late 2015 (not the calendar year), a spell in which he certainly matured into the superstar we always expected him to be. After recovering from the physical and mental disappointments of the World Cup (where he broke a bone in his back prior to Brazil’s humbling exit), Neymar returned to league action with Barcelona and became a driving force in a journey that would see them become domestic, European and world champions.
In the league he scored 22 goals in 33 games, his best return to date at the Nou Camp, with seven more in Barca’s six domestic cup appearances. This season he has stepped up again, just one goal behind Suarez in the goalscoring standings at the halfway stage of the season. For someone who is not an out-and-out striker, who patrols the flanks and is indeed asked to track back more than either of his feted teammates (he made twice as many tackles as Messi), that is an impressive return.
What is more, Neymar was arguably the most impactful player in Barcelona’s run to the Champions League last season – the title that arguably does more than anything else to define the make-up of the Ballon d’Or shortlist.
His goal in the final may have been nothing more than icing on the cake, but on the road to Berlin he was often integral to his side’s passage – scoring in both legs of the semi-final against Bayern Munich just as he did in the quarter-finals against Paris Saint-Germain.
In the end he finished with 10 goals in 12 Champions League matches, level with both Ronaldo and Messi. But both those players scored most of their goals in the group stages – does Neymar not deserve greater credit for finding the net when it was most significant?
At last summer’s Copa America he blotted his copybook somewhat, earning himself a red card and suspension for insulting a referee as Brazil crashed out early, when winning the tournament would perhaps have made his Ballon d’Or case impossible to resist. But he has come back strong in club colours, covering the absence of Messi for that two-month spell and proving he can be both the perfect foil to a more established teammate and the main attacking focus when required.
The flashy touches and audacious tricks perhaps distract from this team-first ethos, one that has helped Barcelona to their most recent success.
While the notoriety of the Ballon d’Or continues to grow year-on-year, it seems safe to say that someone needs to break the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly sooner rather than later for it to avoid becoming something of a circus. Neymar has the goals, the skills, the trophies. Why shouldn’t it be him?