BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — In his first season at Barcelona, there’s been no escaping Neymar’s public profile of selfies, tweets and big-money advertising campaigns. The message on the field, though, hasn’t been quite so impressive.
The 22-year-old Brazilian, hyped as the heir to Pele, hasn’t made the anticipated impact on European football following his blockbuster move from Santos.
Even his flamboyant hairstyles have been toned down.
In his first season at Barcelona, Neymar has scored 14 goals in 35 appearances. His famous teammate Lionel Messi has scored 36 goals in 34 matches.
Questions have been asked about Neymar’s slight physique — he’s 5-foot-9 and weighs 142 pounds — and whether he’s being played out of position. But Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has been quick to reject such talk.
“Neymar may be more comfortable on the left than the right, but Barcelona players are good enough to play in any position,” Martino said. “I try to bring all the players together in the best way. Neymar is comfortable playing in any three of the attacking positions.”
Neymar appears to be struggling against sturdier and quicker defenders in the Spanish league compared to teams back home in Brazil. In Spain, his reputation does not appear to have paralyzed defenses as it did back home. And being constantly compared to Messi is hard for any player.
“I think too much is expected of Neymar,” said Daniel Alves, a teammate for both Barcelona and Brazil and regular face in the selfies. “The abnormal thing would be a quick adaptation to European football. Football here is quicker and better organized.
“But the attacks on him started with all the talk about the contract. Before that everybody was happy.”
Neymar’s $74 million transfer last year quickly went sour as the price tag grew to $138 million. That cost Barcelona president Sandro Rosell his job and put the Catalan club under investigation for tax fraud, leading to damaging public scrutiny of Neymar and his father, also his agent.
The public discussion over his contract and reports that $55 million of the transfer went straight into his father’s bank account has had an effect, as Neymar lost his cool and attacked critics on social media earlier this year.
“I am sick and tired of this (...) I’ve had enough of all this talk,” Neymar wrote. “I am a fan of my dad for having put me where I am, and if he makes millions from that, what’s the big deal? He worked for it, it didn’t just fall in his lap.”
Neymar arrived at Barcelona accompanied by a repertoire of mesmerizing skill and moves, dazzling goals, and a bright and brash personality. The best paid athlete in Brazil has 10.1 million followers on Twitter and more than 4.3 million on Instragram, where he recently posted photos taken with superstar model Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Magazine.
Neymar was reportedly made the club’s highest earner, ahead of even four-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi, causing tension in the locker room and increasing expectations from demanding fans.