How Good is Neymar?

By Sam Wilkinson

I’ll be the first to admit that I wrote off Neymar as a “style over substance” player.  An entertaining trickster that was good for video montages on youtube but lacked the end product required to be deemed a world class player.  However, post World Cup he has forced me to back track on my initial appraisal by displaying the ability to positively impose himself on and influence games………and big games at that!

I have watched and scrutinised Neymar in depth during recent matches and have now come to the conclusion that he is the real deal!


Over the course of this article I will break down 4 key areas of his game that I believe have elevated him into the top echelon of players in the world: Positional Understanding, Movement in Behind, 1 v 1 Domination and End Product. I will also aim to look at what we as coaches can take from his play.

Positional understanding.

Waiting wide: Commonly deployed on the left side of Barca’s 4-3-3, he will most often hold a touchline wide position even when ball is on opposite flank.  Confidence in Barca’s ability to keep the ball with minimum risk of turn overs allows him to almost detach himself from the game in order to maximise space for himself and problems for his marker (see fig 1).

Lurking high: As well as holding width he will also play very high, normally taking up a position right on the shoulder of the opposing full back.  With Barca’s full backs spending so much of the game in advanced positions it pushes Neymar further up the pitch and enables him to constantly threaten space in behind (see fig. 1).

Drifting inside: When the Barca left back’s position begins to encroach into his high and wide space he will drift inside the pitch in order to exploit the half position between the oppositions full back and centre back and back line and midfield (see fig. 2).

2nd Striker:  The final variation to his positional play is one that is less common but still displays great positional understanding.  When the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch in attacking areas he will occasionally tuck inside and play like a second centre forward, looking to make runs and sneak into the box on the blind side of the farthest centre back.

Coaching Point: Width is massively important in your possession play – holding and maintaining width not only allows you to exploit space down the side of the opposition but also pulls them apart and creates space in central areas of the pitch. At Premier Skills we use wide safe areas and zones when working with junior players to help guide and develop their understanding of width and support positions.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 21.10.07


Movement in behind.

Willing runner: It can be rare for a player with his ability on the ball to be so willing to run in behind the opposition, you often often see players of this type that only want to drop deep to receive the ball to feet. Next time Barca play watch how many runs in behind he makes over a 10-minute period. You’ll find he is constantly making and recycling runs.

Unselfish Runner: He also shows a real understanding of how important movement in behind is to Barca’s possession play. Neymar and Suarez through constant and often unselfish running in behind have helped add the penetration to Barca’s play that had started to go missing in the season prior to Luis Enrique taking over. Despite his growing stature within the team you will see him continue to make these unselfish runs even when they are not recongised by team mates.

Crafty movement: Neymar is not just about volume of runs, he has developed real cleverness and subtlety to his movement in behind.  He loves to make a sneaky curved run in behind the full back – particularly when the ball is played inside from the opposite flank to one of the central midfield trio. He will often wait until the defender has lost him in his eye sight then slide in on his blind side.

He also shows great use of double runs to drag opponents deep to then run in behind or vice versa. When the opponent follows him into slightly deeper areas he has the pace and dynamism to spin in behind and exploit the now vacated space. When they allow him to drop deep in order to protect the space in behind he has the skill and quality on the ball to receive on the half turn and cause problems from in front of the oppositions back 4.

Coaching point: When working with junior and youth players it is vital that your practices include space in behind/offside lines. Of course working in the tight and through the thirds is a vital foundation for young players. However, once they have developed this individualism and understanding they must learn to use it to exploit space in behind with movement and passing variations. The coach should look carefully at practice area sizes to ensure they are big enough to allow for space in behind but not so big that they turn the practice into a cross country race!


1 v 1 dominator.

Frightening trickery: Neymar shows great skill, trickery and disguise when dribbling. His wide range of tricks and turns all have purpose to them and he uses them fantastically to shift, lure and tease defenders.  Believe me he is not merely a show pony!

Wiry balance: He possesses outstanding balance and despite his lack of size, is able to ride tackles with great stability and poise. His skill on the ball allows him to adapt and innovate as he is being kicked and knocked around by opponents.

Two footed: The fact he is two footed means he is equally adept going either side of an opponent, this creates massive uncertainty when he is in possession. You will see him in games constantly vary his play between dribbles to the by-line and runs inside the pitch to create crossing opportunities, link play and swerved finishes.

Coaching point:  Players will only develop unpredictable skill and cleverness on the ball if they are constantly put in random chaotic type practices with interference or opposition.  Neymar did not develop this side of his game by standing in lines doing passing drills.  At Premier Skills all of our practices involve interference or opposition and we never limit players to 2 touch restrictions!

End Product.

Clinical finisher: Neymar shows a great range and variation of finishing skills and has a clinical edge to his finishing both in and around the box. He is surprisingly good in the air as well! He could potentially be deployed as a central striker with his movement and finishing abilities.

Link play: He has quickly adapted to linking and connecting his individualism with the other genius’s at Barca. Like all truly great players he has the ability to make the other players around him shine. Unlike many dribblers Neymar has fantastic recognition of what is going on around him. His decision making of when to dribble or link play is excellent.

Precision passing: Add to his tremendous skill, movement and finishing a passing quality that befits a deep lying playmaker.  Like Messi he has the ability to maintain the feel of his passing even when dribbling, twisting and turning at top speed. As well as his excellent range of disguised shorter passing he also has the ability to exploit space over longer distances with driven, lofted and clipped passes.

Coaching Point: When working on staying with the ball or dribbling ensure the players always have the option of an end product to their individual play.  At Premier Skills when players are working in interference based practices we ensure there are 2 or more spare players without a ball that can act as “link” players.  This helps the players to understanding that staying with the ball must have an end product.

I believe Neymar is a truly World Class player and over the next couple of seasons will begin to rival Messi for the status as top dog at Barca. While I’m sure you all watch every Barca game, I urge you to really watch and analyse him closely. Please feel free to challenge or question any of my observations.


9 thoughts on “How Good is Neymar?

  1. Excellent analysis Sam. One thing that players like, Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez , Couthino and Neymar have all in common is where they learnt their football. By playing hours of football on the streets, fighting for that little space to beat their opponents. Of course, playing on the streets only won’t be enough to make you a great player that can play 11 v 11 on a football pitch but it gives them a great advantage when they are learning the game.

  2. Absolutely spot on. I’m glad you have put the spot light on Neymar. I think there were many particularly in europe who don’t understand this type of player. It is no coincidence that the three ultra creative barcelona forwards are South American. Environment and culture have developed their extreme qualities. Because individualism flair and inventiveness are celebrated. Players are not made ordinary there natural traits are amplified. How many times do i hear none of that fancy stuff here, keep it simple,
    WHY !!!! the young players just might have the imagination…… How many EX PROs wrote him off too. He can do things they dare not even dream about

    Thank goodness for Barcelona we can all now aspire to football greatness not mediocrity for our players

  3. I think that Neymar has improved since moving to Barcelona. Before that there was a danger that he could become a ‘show pony’. But I don’t see him ever becoming as good as Messi. He doesn’t cut across the front of opponents with the ball, looking for the space to the side as Messi does, moving opponents about and creating space.
    Undoubtedly, playing in different countries under top coaches, as Neymar is doing, improves a player considerably. This is something else that young English players are missing. Due to the big wages in the Premier League, there is little incentive for English players to go abroad and benefit from a different coaching and playing style. In the past, before the Premier League, players like Platt, Waddle and Hoddle developed their game and improved their knowledge by playing in foreign leagues.
    So much seems to be against the proper development of our young players at the moment. The young Man Utd striker, Marcus Rashford, has shown a lot of promise in his first two games, but with all the uncertainty about the manager’s position at Old Trafford at the moment, will the youngster continue to get the first team games in the future that he needs? The press seem to think that Jose Mourinho will be in charge next season but will his policy of issuing a long shopping list of top European players he wants, lead to a sidelining of the young striker and thereby hindering his development?

  4. I fully agree with Sam’s breakdown of Neymar’s playing ability. I also believe that there are important extra ingredients that have shaped his football rise to stardom.The transfer to Barcelona and to be associated with such a skilful group of players has helped him enormously. One must not forget also the development background through which he has come; ‘POP’ Poverty Produces Players,.His Brazilian background, like so many before him ,has provided the desire through football to improve his life. It must also not be forgotten that Brazilian football of the past –latterly rather questionable as their national economiy has improved considerably—has preferred individual skill to be the mainstay of their game.
    The importance of all of the early years of development cannot be overlooked, it forms the pathway that includes desire, ability, understanding and respect for oneself and for others. Money and fame will only come through hard work that is supported by intelligent development methods. With less time spent on Practice-Playing in today’s world and more ‘artificial’ practice and statistics being introduced, it seems that all the desire and attitude in the world will not produce top quality players without nations establishing sound and sensible development structures for players to experience.

  5. Sam’s analysis with the added coaching points is great and helpful.

    I remember thinking the first time I saw Neymar at the Camp Nou, during his first season with the Catalans, that this guy is the real deal. He came on as a late substitute. Apart from his obvious ability in a very individual way – that the English seem unable to produce – he was so aware of others – displaying a real talent to lay it off with one touch to a supporting teammate – Neymar showed awareness, alertness, without losing his individualism – and was also brave.

    No surprise then that we can label him as world class…leaving Santos for Barcelona was crucial because it is easier to play with, develop alongside really good top quality players on a daily basis and in Enrique’s case learn from an excellent coach.

  6. Hi Brazil94…Individualism has disappeared from English football because the game is not played by children in the street, rough ground or parks as it used to be and the FA Coaching Scheme does not address this problem. In the FA methodology, structure and organisation are introduced into the practices right from the start, but football is a chaotic game. Premier Skills gets the players to bring order to the chaos by understanding and recognising space and then developing and practising the technical skills. Gradually the chaos is controlled and, from my experience, the children develop their skills quicker when they realise that they are now controlling the practise area, rather than the practise area controlling them.
    After the shortcomings of our coaching in England, the next big problem is the amount of money at stake in the Premier League. In spite of everything, there are still some talented young English players but the demand for success by short termism greatly jeopardises their chances of establishing themselves alongside the top players in Europe. I think it is disgraceful that in Scotland they operate a policy where you must have a minimum number of players who came through your Academy on every match team sheet, but in England we have never introduced this in any form whatsoever. Also, in England we have never had any reluctance in employing a foreign National Team Manager, thinking that it would somehow improve our chances in an international tournament, but we never appoint a foreign coach into our coaching structure at St. George’s Park. In Scotland they had Dutchman, Mark Wotte, as Performance Director for several years, particularly active with their national youth teams, and from what I saw, he had a positive effect on their performances.

  7. Neymar is a metaphor for what is good in the game, and I guess, while we are on the subject Brazii’s skipper, it is worth recalling a a couple of anecdotes.

    The really great Brazilian, Didi has been to have treated the ball as if it were a “precious jewel” -and Gerson himself claimed the ball definitely was after their third triumph in Mexico – Didi apparently referred to the ball as ‘my girl’.

    And upon his return from that World Cup, England’s manager, Alf Ramsey, the press that he personally did not think that England had anything to learn from the Brazilians.

  8. Hi Brazil94… Brazil’s team in 1970 was definitely great, one of the best I have ever seen. However, it is worth noting that the team Brazil really feared in that World Cup was England. When the two teams met in the group stage, Brazil won 1-0 in a very tight match but England had the better chances and were unlucky to lose. In the 1970 World Cup, England had a better team with better players than the previous competition when, of course, England had triumphed. We can only surmise what would have happened had Gordon Banks not missed the quarter final with West Germany because of illness and perhaps paved the way towards a Brazil – England final.
    It has been said in some quarters that the ‘Golden Age’ of English football was 1966 – 1973. The players of that era would have been born during the period of the late thirties to the late forties and therefore were probably the last generation who played in the street. The largely barren years for England in international tournaments coincides with the disappearance of ‘street football’, as John has emphasised on this blog many times.
    Sir Alf Ramsey’s comment, “nothing to learn from the Brazilians”, was, of course, crass. However, he was a strong man- manager of his time, which largely brought him success with Ipswich Town and England, and there were a number of intelligent, innovative English coaches working in the clubs which produced good players.

  9. As you say ‘a number of intelligent,innovative English coaches’ who got their FA badges and then went back to their clubs and did it their own way…

    As you know Brazil’s midfield general, Gerson, missed that group match but came back to conduct the orchestra in the matches against Peru, Uruguay and the Italians.

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