Brazilian Neymar turns 31 in February and Qatar could be his last attempt to help his country win a record sixth World Cup title.
Neymar’s career has been a rollercoaster where high expectations have often been followed by disappointment and frustration. He is the most expensive player in football history but may have struggled to realize his true potential, either with his clubs or with the national team.
Often criticized for being immature, self-centered and making as many headlines on and off the pitch, Neymar has seemingly crumbled this season, paying more attention to his physical and mental preparation ahead of the World Cup.
He decided to end his holiday a week early to start training with Paris St Germain at the end of the season and is having an exceptional campaign so far, among the best players in goals and assists decisive combined in the five major European leagues.
You could say that his relationship with the World Cup over the past 12 years reflects his entire career – a story of hope, disappointment, controversy, pain and underachievement.
For the tournament in South Africa in 2010, he was dropped from the final squad by coach Dunga, who did not believe the flamboyant 18-year-old striker who had just broken through with Santos was ready for the big stage.
Four years later he was an international superstar, playing alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona and spearheading the World Cup host nation.
Yet he suffered a cracked vertebra in Brazil’s quarter-final victory over Colombia and watched from his hospital bed as his teammates suffered a humiliating 7-1 semi-final at home at the hands of Germany.
At Russia 2018, injuries again hampered his dream of winning a World Cup. At the beginning of 2018, Neymar suffered a sprained right ankle which affected the fifth metatarsal of his foot.
He was never 100% during the tournament, playing in pain and far from his peak when Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Belgium.
A common denominator in Neymar’s two World Cup appearances was his role as the only difference-maker in Brazilian teams that lacked the star power of past generations.
Throughout his career, Neymar has had to carry the burden of being the Brazilian superstar of his generation.
Yet recently others have risen to fame in European football with the rise of young Brazilian players like Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo, Raphinha, Bruno Guimaraes and others.
In Qatar, Neymar will for the first time have a supporting cast of the quality that Brazil have been used to in the past.
This is the perfect opportunity for him to achieve glory and redemption by helping Brazil win the World Cup for the first time in two decades.