Neymar's move to Al-Hilal finalized, as he tries to sustain image of a global superstar

Realizing he will never reach the highs of Ronaldinho or Messi, the ageing PSG star has decided to make some serious pre-retirement coin with Saudi club Al-Hilal, which could cost him the chance to break Pele's record at the top of Brazil's all-time scoring charts

Yair Katan, Gilad Meiri|
When you get to a point when even the oil-rich and just plain-ol' rich Saudis find themselves unable to get a fair return on the investment they've made on your behalf, that's how you know the sum was out of whack. In August of 2017, when PSG agreed to pay a world record breaking 222 million euros for Neymar's services, it was the easiest decision Barcelona has ever made, especially considering they still had Leo Messi to conjure up the magic when needed.
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Fast forward to August of 2023, and Saudi club Al-Hilal is willing to spend 90 million euros for the ageing Brazilian star, which is a sum no other club in the world would be willing to spend for an injury-prone has-been. Final confirmation on the move came Tuesday, when he he officially signed the contract.
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Neymar isn't getting any younger
Fear not, though, as Neymar will not be the only foreign star on the team. Brazilian forward Malcom is expecting him in the locker room, along with Portuguese defensive midfielder Ruben Neves, Senegalese center-back Kalidou Koulibaly and Serbian midfield star Sergej Milinković-Savić, who himself joined Al-Hilal a month ago from Serie A club Lazio.
The Saudi giants also feature some of the rather skillful Saudi players that gave a commanding performance in the latest World Cup, and they are going to be guided by Portuguese manager Jorge Jesus, for whom this is a second stint at Al-Hilal.
Do not, however, think for a second that any of this places them as favorites to win the Saudi league title. Al-Ahli, for example, have Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino, who previously struck a formidable partnership with Egyptian superstar Mohammed Salah at Liverpool, as well as former AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.
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שחקן אל נאסר כריסטיאנו רונאלדו
שחקן אל נאסר כריסטיאנו רונאלדו
CR7 to battle it out with Neymar over the Saudi title
(Photo: AP/Samah Zidan)
Al-Itihad have managed to sign former Chelsea man N'golo Kante, widely regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders on the planet just a couple of years ago, former Liverpool defensive midfielder Fabinho and Ballon D'or winner Karim Benzema.
Last-but-most-definitely-not-least is Al-Nassr, who have recently secured the services of Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozović, Senegalese winger and former Liverpool star Sadio Mane, and for the crème de la crème - Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo.
All four of these major Saudi football clubs find themselves under the same umbrella, that of the Saudi investment fund, which also happens to control Newcastle. The rich history and passionate traditions associated with each club – and yes, Saudis are fervent football enthusiasts – hold little sway here.
The financial backing all comes directly from the government's coffers and is lavishly spent to create a larger-than-life fantasy league with no budgetary limits. All of this grandiose effort is geared toward crafting an alluring league that would catch the eye of the West, potentially swaying FIFA to award the kingdom the coveted hosting privilege for the 2030 World Cup.
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רונאלדיניו חוגג בברנבאו
רונאלדיניו חוגג בברנבאו
Neymar falls just a tiny-bit-short of Ronaldinho's standards
(Photo: Reuters)
The essence of the sport itself takes a backseat. Even in the tales of "Young Athletes," where players shifted allegiance from one national team to another for a hefty paycheck, the team logo carried more weight. It's essentially a grand-scale fantasy league where the fiscal ceiling is nonexistent.
Neymar could have easily inked a deal with any of the three rival teams, contingent on the nod from the influential Saudi decision-makers who divvy up transfer deals among the clubs – it wouldn't have altered the narrative. He isn't bound by the legendary tales of Al-Hilal: their proposition was simply a staggering 160 million euro.
The question on everyone's minds is simple. Can Neymar sustain the image of a global superstar, an image he cultivated during his Barcelona prime years, as well as the rather successful first season with the Parisian giants?
If there's one modern Brazilian player than can be directly compared to Neymar, it is Ronaldinho. Both are Brazilian, both are attacking midfielders and both are audacious dribblers of the ball, routinely using feints, step-overs and flicks to outmaneuver defenders.
That said, Neymar has never quite reached the heights of Ronaldinho, has never won either a Ballon D'or nor a World Cup, and has also never made the Real Madrid faithful stand up and applaud, an honor bestowed upon Ronaldinho (and, incidentally, former Juventus superstar Alessandro Del Piero).
Perhaps some of that stems from Neymar's lack of maturity. He wanted to leave Barcelona because he was living in the shadow of Lionel Messi, and with Paris St. Germain he felt disheartened by the lack of European silverware and ran off to have fun in his native Brazil.
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Will he ever break Pele's record?
Will he ever break Pele's record?
Will he ever break Pele's record?
(Photo: Instagram)
Reportedly, the reason he isn't back in a Barcelona shirt is because he was unwilling to be managed by Xavi, a man he played alongside about eight years ago. Bottom line, Neymar is unwilling to put in the effort to stay at the highest level.
But still, you can't take away what Neymar has achieved. He's Brazil's all-time leading scorer, right alongside Pele, has formed perhaps the most frightening trio in Barcelona's history with Luis Suarez and Messi, dubbed MSN, and was widely-regarded as one of the world's finest in his position for a time.
While he needs just one more goal to break Pele's record and stand solo at the top of Brazil's all-time charts, there is a problem. The Seleção are bringing in Italian star manager Carlo Ancelotti to usher in some of the European "spine" the Brazilians have been missing, as their last World Cup win was 21 years ago.
It is somewhat doubtful the Italian would even contemplate Neymar's inclusion in the squad, since Neymar isn't exactly synonymous with hard work and discipline, unless we're referring to his discipline at maintaining a good vacation routine.
And considering Neymar will now be strutting his stuff in a subpar league (at least from a European standpoint), I wouldn't bank on the rugged Italian giving Neymar a chance to break Pele's record. Then again, who knows?
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