When he was bought last year for a gigantic ammount of money, Neymar Jr. was clearly the next biggest star at Barcelona. The objective was simple: prepare him to be the next Lionel Messi, while playing with Messi himself. Neymar's scoring ability, his amazing skills and the unmistakable Brazilian talent brought enourmous, somewhat unfair, expectations to the young promise.
He arrived at the Camp Nou, and his start was sensational. Goals, assists, hat-tricks, a lot of smiles and dribbling moves, and the certainty that the choice of bringing him to Catalunya was the right one.
Then, just like his team, Neymar started to decline, and the end of his first season was incredibly disappointing, with the Brazilian spending the last month of the campaign nursing a foot injury while his teammates were all collapsing on the pitch.
His World Cup was promising, until the scary injury at the quarter-final against Colombia. Before getting hurt, Neymar carried a whole nation on his shoulders, assuming the position as the clear leader and star of the Brazil national team, despite being only 22 years old. He had to sit on the bench and watch his teammates get destroyed by Germany and Netherlands, and he also had to listen to a lot of criticism being thrown his way, even though he couldn't have done anything about it.
Back to Barcelona, he missed a huge part of the pre-season to finish the recovery on his back injury. Many questions surrounded the kid, such as "Is he injury prone? Can we trust Neymar? Will he be just another expensive flop? Do Messi and Neymar like each other? Will they ever get to play great together?"
Then, the first opportunity to shut the critics up came against Villarreal. He played for 30 minutes, enough to show commitment, hunger and his usual talent. (Well, he also missed a ridiculous chance by kicking the ball tot he moon in front of the goal, but that's Neymar). And finally, he was part of the solo goal of that match, finding Messi in a perfect spot. The Argentine would then do an amazing play to assist Sandro, who scored the late game-winner for Barça. The first link-up between Messi and Ney. The first sign of something different.
After that, came the first match at the Camp Nou. A tough Athletic Bilbao side, who showed great composure and defended really well. Barça missed some chances, and the first half ended in a draw. But Neymar came off the bench again. In two of his earliest touches, he broke the tie with a pretty left-footed shot to make the score 1-0. Oh, with an assist from Messi. The second sign of something different.
A few minutes later, a spectacular run by Messi in the right side. Leo brought the ball to the end of the pitch, and passed it to the penalty spot. There, eagerly waiting for it, was Neymar. Calm, patience, and the ball at the back of the net. 2-0 Barça. Another win. Another Neymar goal. Another Messi assist. Another sign of something different.
Two games later, with another Messi assist, he scored one more goal on a beautiful run through Levante's defense. Neymar then started to establish himself as a fundamental part of Luis Enrique's plans for his team. And he still is.
Seven La Liga games, seven goals. One more in the UEFA Champions League. A perfect 8-for-8. Neymar has arrived. For real now.
Sure, he had a similar start to last season, but he wasn't being assisted by Messi. He wasn't viewed as a big part of the team. He was just a talented kid who had a few balls going his way sometimes. He was mistreated by Tata Martino, being put on the right side of the pitch, where he clearly can't do damage to anyone.
Now, it's Neymar and Messi, plus nine guys. It's that simple. He said he wanted to help Messi so Leo could win another Golden Ball. Now it's Messi who says that Neymar will win a Golden Ball, sooner rather then later. They play together, they look for each other, and that is huge for Barça.
The Neymar we have all waited for has finally arrived. Let's enjoy and watch him dominate, like we all thought he would.