Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, Ronaldinho and Neymar are all Brazilian stars who have played for Barcelona at some point in their career. The Catalans have been particularly fond of the Selecao and have been paid back in kind with some mesmerizing performances over the years. Even the current roster contains a number of Brazilians namely Dani Alves, Adriano, Rafinha, Douglas and, of course, Neymar.
Tostao, a part of the legendary Brazilian team of the 1970's, recently compared Neymar to the legendary Ronaldinho. He is of the opinion that since Ronaldinho was at the top of his game for only three years and Neymar has been at the top for five, the youngster has already surpassed Ronaldinho and is definitely a more complete player. However, comparing two players from different eras is one tough job and the names mentioned above makes the job even harder.
Ronaldinho came to Barca from PSG at a time when the club was in deep institutional crisis. A couple of trophyless season and the disappointment of transfer priority David Beckham moving to rival Real Madrid's Galacticos team put a lot of pressure on the board. What happened next is part of footballing folklore as Ronaldinho was signed instead, then became FIFA World Player of the year twice and brought back European glory to Catalonia.
Fans still remember the fond moments under Ronaldinho as his dribbling, ball control and trickery were unparalleled in football during his time. He spent his peak years at Barca and his contribution towards the club current success assumes great significance as he almost single-handedly brought Barca back to the top of world football. Future all-time great Lionel Messi also benefited a lot, as Ronaldinho mentored him during his early years at the club.
Meanwhile, Neymar arrived when Barca were already on top of world football. Following Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova's successful reign, Tata Martino was appointed manager and Neymar was signed amid much fanfare. He was to be David Villa's long time replacement and made his place permanent towards the end of the season, after competing with Pedro and Alexis Sanchez. Unfortunately, the team failed to win any silverware and Luis Enrique was signed to be the next manager.
With Luis Suárez and Messi partnering Neymar up front, they formed a deadly triumvirate that would decimate all opposition and bag a historical second Treble. Neymar would go on to score in both the quarter-finals, semi-final and final of the UEFA Champions League, thus finishing the tournament as the joint top-scorer with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 2015-16 season gave a glimpse into the future without Messi for Neymar took upon the responsibility as Messi was out injured for two months. The No.11 stepped up to the main role with aplomb, creating chances, assisting teammates and scoring goals with ease.
In terms of contribution towards the clubs legacy, Ronaldinho currently has the upper hand.
He came when the club needed him the most and he was the standout player of the team. But we can't just ignore the fact that Messi's career was still at its infancy during the Ronaldinho era.
In contrast, when Neymar arrived at the club, Messi was the undisputed best player in the world, having just won his fourth Ballon d'Or that year. Neymar had to pull up his socks from day one to even justify his place in the team.
Making a name for oneself with Leo Messi in the team is one gargantuan task. Ask Zlatan Ibrahimović or Alexis Sanchez, who in spite of their supreme technical abilities couldn't land a permanent spot in the team. All credit must go to Neymar, who has forged an incredible alliance with Messi and is currently ripping teams apart making them the deadliest duo on the planet.
There are however a lot of similarities between the two Brazilians. Both are quick with the ball at their feet, have supreme dribbling ability, can shoot from long-range and have a multitude of tricks up their sleeve which can leave even the best defender in the world bamboozled. Both are very popular with the Camp Nou crowd, having scored many wonderful goals in very important matches.
It is to be mentioned that Ronaldinho's dominance at the top was cut short by his fitness issues, tendency to party late into the night and other off-the-pitch matters. He did play well for AC Milan, Flamengo and Atlético Mineiro in successive seasons but it paled in comparison to what he achieved during his days in Catalonia. Neymar on the other hand is rising by leaps and bounds and is well poised to replace Messi as the best player in the world after the Argentine slows down due to age.
Playing with Messi has had a positive change in Neymar's attitude, as he is far more mature now than when he arrived. Fostering a spirit of team play has helped him have a better judgement of when to pass or when to shoot. Stats point in his favour as he is currently the top assister in the league and fourth highest goal-scorer.
By the looks of it, Neymar has the potential to emulate Ronaldinho and even go one better should he continue to grow in the current trajectory. The No.11 has the talent and desire to succeed, and age is clearly on his side too — The sky is the limit!