If you have spent time around any Barcelona fan, site, or forum in the last two or three seasons, you've probably heard something along the lines of, "Neymar is going to be an absolute stud when Messi's too old to keep going." There's this idea among the fan base that Neymar is the star elect, just waiting for Messi to move out of the way to show the world he's a star. There's just one problem with that theory.
Neymar already is a star.
Neymar, at the ripe old age of 22, led the Brazilian National Team to the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup. He's primed to move into the top three on Brazil's All-Time Scoring list before the age of 24, as well. Everything outside of his performance with FC Barcelona screams that Neymar is absolutely a star - and he's a star right now.
Last year, Barcelona finally got a glimpse of Neymar's stardom. The young Brazilian netted 22 goals, and really started to show that he was the player fans thought he could be. While fans swooned over his dribbling and ability to score, many knew there was still more to come. For all the kid was doing right, he wasn't quite creating chances like the other pieces of the Barcelona trident. While Messi was averaging 2.48 chances created per 90 minutes, and Suarez was averaging 2.36 chances created per 90 minutes, Neymar was lagging behind at "just" 1.83 chances created per 90 minutes (for the record - that's still really, really good). Neymar didn't have a single assist to Suarez last season, and the idea that Neymar was just a goal scorer with some flashy tricks really started to settle in.
This year is different, though. After coming back from a case of the mumps, Neymar has dominated the league - averaging 3.35 chances created per 90 minutes in league play. While it's easy to point out that it's just Messi's absence that's allowed Neymar to step up, and that the player will continue to play second fiddle when the Argentine comes back, it's much more complex than that.
Before Messi's injury, Neymar was averaging 2.53 chances created per 90 minutes. He was dribbling, he was passing, he was playing an all-around game that immediately put him into a discussion for not just the best scorer, but the best player. The answer to the best player question continued to be Lionel Messi, but the ranks of second and third started to become highly questionable with Neymar's early season performance.
Since the injury, though, Neymar has gotten better. While his 2.53 chances created rate is higher than Messi's was last season, his rate of 3.35 chances created per 90 minutes makes what he did look downright mediocre. Neymar is creating chances at absolutely astonishing rates, and it doesn't stop there. He also leads La Liga in goals scored. He's mixing creation and production in ways that just don't make sense.
To give you an idea of just how special Neymar's 2015/16 performance has been, thus far, here's a graph. It compares all La Liga forwards with more than 500 minutes (and 2014/15 Messi) by chances created per 90 and shots on target per 90 (two of the more reliable measures).
The big red dot all by itself near the top right corner is Neymar. The big white dot, also all by itself near the top right corner, is Messi. If that's not enough, here's the same graph - but with forwards from all five leagues with more than 800 minutes (and, again, Messi from 2014/15) by the same measures. Again, Neymar is all by himself in the corner of absolute greatness.
While they're arriving at their combination of creation and production by different methods (Messi more towards shooting, Neymar more towards creating), Neymar is largely producing goal scoring opportunities for Barcelona at a similar rate to Messi in 2014/15 - which is insane. It'd be foolish to say that Neymar is as good as Messi, but it's undeniable that Neymar has been producing in ways that just aren't replicated by anyone other than the greatest player to ever step foot on a pitch. People can say "when Neymar this" or "Neymar could do that" but the reality is that he's doing those things. He's the star we think he can be - right now.