Without saying a word, Brazilian sensation Neymar has become the subject of ridicule across the football world this week.
Pele decided it was time to blow the trumpet of a compatriot rather than Lionel Messi, as the plaudits continue to grow for the three-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner.
“Now everyone is talking about Messi; he is a star. But [to be the best ever] he must first become better than Neymar. At the moment Messi is just more experienced,” spouted the former Santos goal-machine.
Debate has raged in the past over who is the best player of all-time, with Pele and Diego Maradona regarded as the ultimate two. And it’s the former Argentina boss who has jumped to the defence of compatriot Messi, as the pair go to war over who is the next big thing.
“My God, that is just stupid,” Maradona responded in relation to Pele’s comments.
“Maybe Neymar is the best player in the world, but only if you say that Messi is from a different planet.”
It’s difficult to defend the comments of the Brazilian, who understandably has a close affection with his nation’s young prodigy. He was even credited with preventing the 20-year-old from joining Chelsea last summer, as European interest continues to swell around the player.
Much like Pele, Neymar loves life in South America, and is more than happy to keep playing his football in Brazil. It could prove to be a stumbling block on the path to greatness if he dodges a move to Europe in the future.
It is Pele’s skills on the international stage that helped him make his name, and in club football he only played for Santos and then the New York Cosmos during the twilight of his career.
However, with an increased spotlight on domestic European football, and more importantly the Champions League, Neymar would not be able to follow in the 71-year-old’s famous footsteps if he is to be compared with the likes of Messi.
The 24-year-old swapped continents as a teenager at the turn of the millennium, and has spent over a decade building his reputation at Barcelona. After making his debut in 2004, he is already the club’s all-time record goalscorer.
It’s the fact that he doesn’t just smash goals in that makes Messi so special. Much like Maradona, he’s a craftsman on the ball, a playmaker who can open up a defence with a pass as well as a shot from distance. Deceptive speed on the ball, he constantly leaves defenders in his wake.
Anyone who has seen clips of Neymar will note that he does exactly the same thing, but it’s the standard of the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A which is holding him back.
Performances in the Copa Libertadores - the South American version of the Champions League - suggest that he’s capable of bigger things, much like Pele was 40 years earlier.
And, whilst the great striker wasn’t under the same pressure to make the move, it’s the same factor which makes people question if Pele was truly the best footballer to ever live.
There is absolutely no denying that the standard of the game has improved on the continent in recent times, particularly in Brazil, but it is still some way off the elite leagues in Europe, where many believe Neymar can improve on his vast potential and earn his place for comparison alongside Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But, to say that it’s simply experience that makes the difference between Messi and Neymar at this stage is untrue. The young Brazilian has the potential to be great, but is yet to show the level ‘little Leo’ managed four years ago on a bigger stage.
The additional weight of expectation handed down by Pele isn’t exactly a helping hand for Neymar, who is already the hope for his nation’s 2014 World Cup chances on home soil.
It’s a similar pressure that has appeared to hold Messi back on the international stage, a chink in the armour or a player who has already achieved greatness at club level.
For Pele’s comments to ring remotely true, Neymar will have to find his feet away from the Vila Belmiro stadium, and set Europe alight just like his potential nemesis did five years ago.
And, whilst Pele and Maradona are now talking a good game, it will be down to these two young pretenders to make it count on the pitch in the future.