As Neymar looks forward to making his UEFA Champions League debut as a FC Barcelona player, much of the focus is on the way he will dove-tail with Lionel Messi. Having been the undisputed star at Santos FC, a shining light during the FIFA Confederations Cup, and feted for years as world football’s hottest young property, this is a player unaccustomed to playing second fiddle.
Yet, Messi’s is not the only shadow beneath which Neymar will take his bow. He has, after all, joined a club at which Brazilians have a history of excelling. Indeed, barely had the 21-year-old been unveiled at the Camp Nou than he was fielding questions on whether he could follow the footsteps of one of his star countrymen, Ronaldinho.
“No-one can compare to Ronaldinho… I remember his plays, his dribbles. I remember him winning every title at the Camp Nou. He made history at Barça, he made history with Brazil, and he’s still making history. In my case, I’m just starting to make history.” – Neymar
He might have played down comparisons, but Neymar had no hesitation in naming Ronaldinho among three players he will draw most inspiration from as he begins his Spanish adventure. The others? None other than Romario and Rivaldo. With Ronaldo an obvious addition to that list, and Evaristo de Macedo having electrified in the Blaugrana jersey during the 1950s, Barça’s new boy is not short of outstanding examples to follow.
Here’s a list of 5 Brazilian greats who have played their way to a legendary status at the Catalan club:
Evaristo de Macedo (1957-62)
Barcelona’s first Brazilian superstar, Evaristo was an inspirational figure in the side that won two successive Spanish titles and two Fairs Cups (the predecessor to the UEFA Europa League) during the late 1950s. Blessed with tremendous close control and a ferocious shot with either foot, the athletic forward boasted an impressive goals-per-game average of 0.8 during his five-year stint at the club. He also became renowned throughout the continent for scoring the goal in 1960 that knocked Real Madrid out of the European Cup for the first time – only to break Catalan hearts by signing for Barça’s greatest rivals two years later.
Appearances: 226 | Goals: 178 | Major trophies: 5
“The best player I have coached? It has to be Romario. You could expect anything from him. His technique was extraordinary. And he scored goals in every possible manner.” This was the tribute paid by Johan Cruyff to a Brazilian striker that, to the Dutchman at least, was the jewel in the crown of his fabled ‘Dream Team’. In season 1993/94, ahead of starring for Brazil at the FIFA World Cup™, Romario enjoyed a spectacular campaign, scoring 30 times in 33 La Liga appearances to inspire Barça to the title. He would last just one more season at the Camp Nou, but left a hero.
Appearances: 82 | Goals: 53 | Major trophies: 1
Like Romario, Ronaldo arrived at Barcelona from PSV, and his stay in Catalonia proved to be even shorter than his Brazilian predecessor’s. Yet while he spent just one season at the club, what a season it was. This was Ronaldo before injuries hit: a near-perfect blend of lightning speed, fantastic skill and awesome physical power. In the league alone, he scored 34 times in 37 appearances for Barça and, at 20, became the youngest-ever recipient of the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Appearances: 51 | Goals: 47 | Major trophies: 2
Though bought as a direct replacement for the departing Ronaldo, Rivaldo turned out to be a very different kind of player. Yet despite Barcelona finding themselves with an attacking-midfield & play-maker rather than a classic No. 9, they were far from disappointed in their investment. Rivaldo became a firm fan favourite during his five seasons at the club, and his goal-scoring record belied his deeper-lying role, with set-pieces and spectacular strikes making up a large percentage of his impressive final tally.
Appearances: 253 | Goals: 136 | Major trophies: 3
Barcelona were without a trophy for four years and firmly in the shadow of Real Madrid’s Galactico project when Ronaldinho arrived in the summer of 2003. Slowly but surely, the Brazilian’s outrageous talent and infectious smile brought about a change in mood and, later, a change in fortunes at the Camp Nou. Within two seasons, Barça were European champions for only the second time in their history and Ronaldinho was on his way to collecting a second successive FIFA World Player of the Year award, having firmly established himself as the game’s foremost talent.
Appearances: 250 | Goals: 110 | Major trophies: 3
Hopefully we will see Neymar’s name at the bottom of such a list if things move in the right direction in coming years. Hopefully he won’t follow the same fate as fellow Brazilian Kaka. The 31-year-old struggled to establish himself under former Blancos coach Jose Mourinho and, after having 85 appearances for Madrid since his arrival from AC Milan in 2009, he was sold off back to Milan on a free transfer this summer.