August 20, 2016. Maracanã Stadium. Gold Medal Game against Germany. The final penalty to give Brazil an Olympic title for the first time ever. Neymar steps up and scores.
September 6, 2016. Arena da Amazônia. A huge World Cup Qualifier against Colombia. Tied game, Brazil in need of a win. Neymar steps up and scores.
These are two key moments that symbolize a different Neymar Jr. that returns to Barcelona after defending his country's colors this summer. The two plays, in their own unique ways, showed a Neymar willing to take the final shot, the most important shot, the one to make an entire nation explode in happiness because of a goal. It doesn't matter if it's a Gold Medal goal or a game-winning goal in a mere Qualifying match that will be forgotten in a couple of weeks; these are goals that mean a lot to Neymar.
Neymar has been a controversial character in Brazil. Nobody is able to deny his immense talent as a footballer, and he has proven how good he is for club(s) and country. But his personality and his actions off the pitch don't exactly make him a sympathetic figure to the people of his country.
The only way Neymar can win over Brazilians is by being a monster for the national team. And for the past month, that's what he has been. After a few poor games, he dominated the rest of the Olympics and scored the winning penalty. After Brazil fell to sixth and had to change managers to survive in the Qualifiers and reach the World Cup, Neymar has scored in the last two games and became the youngest Brazilian in history to score 48 goals for the Seleção.
He's now tied with Zico, one of the best players ever. The only three people ahead of him on the goalscoring list are Romário (one of the best strikers of all time), Ronaldo (one of the best players of all time), and Pelé (the best player of all time along with Lionel Messi). Neymar is already part of the Mount Rushmore of Brazilian football, but even though he has been a spectacular player for a half-decade, it was the summer of 2016 that cemented him as a truly great Brazilian footballer in people's eyes.
Does that matter to Neymar? Yes, because being hated by the people of your own country hurts (just ask Messi, who had to quit the national team to be liked by Argentineans). Neymar is now a more mature, confident player that now knows he can play for Brazil and finally be cheered on by the people.
Does that matter to Barcelona? Yes, because Neymar returning a more mature and confident Brazilian player can only translate into a more mature and confident Blaugrana Neymar. He has been fantastic so far at Catalonia, but he clearly has the potential to become a truly special Barça player. His mind is now at peace after a redeeming summer in his home, and he can come back to his club knowing that only his football matters. And his football is a joy to watch.