The former Barcelona and Netherlands favourite spoke candidly about his reservations that the Ballon d’Or winner and the young Brazilian starlet could function together in the Catalan’s line-up following speculation that the 21-year-old Santos forward could be headed for the Camp Nou this summer.
"Two egos in the same boat? We have to learn from the past," Cruyff said.
When Cruyff himself was at Barcelona (1973 – 1978) he was undoubtedly the star of the show but as manager between 1988 and 1996 he guided the likes of Txiki Begiristain, Michael Laurdup, Pep Guardiola, Romario, Luis Figo, and Ronaldo who, in 1996 when the Brazilian star striker was the biggest name in the game.
Ronaldo was then what Neymar is hailed as today – Brazil’s most promising and talented young prospect. He signed for the record fee of $17 million in 1996 at the age of just 20 and scored an incredible 47 goals in 49 games across all competitions but stayed for just one season in Catalonia before departing for Inter Milan the following summer.
Cruyff had first-hand experience of managing some of the biggest names and egos in the game but his assertions over the potential chemisty (or lack) of Messi and Neymar seems almost incomprehensible – is it possible that two of the best footballers on the planet could not play well together?
As far as egos go, Messi, on the surface, seems to be a fairly amiable type of fellow – he seems modest and grounded, despite his superstardom and all that comes along with it.
However, there have been this season some outbursts on the pitch involving David Villa who is now almost certainly set to leave Barcelona in search of regular starts elsewhere.
Messi is undoubtedly Barcelona’s best player – watching the Catalans embarrassed by Bayern Munich in this term’s Champions League semi-finals in which they lost on aggregate 7-0, without a fit and or available Lionel Messi, it’s quite clear he is irreplaceable in Tito Villanova’s team.
Neymar, on the other hand, is four years Messi’s junior and would likely play off the elder Argentine’s lead. But Neymar has been known to engage in the odd fisty-cuffs here and there and he is by no means a shrinking violet. Would he be comfortable in a team like Barcelona where he is not the most important player?
At Santos, Neymar is the star of the show but, as Cruyff suggests, he would likely not be quite the ringleader should he make his move to La Liga this summer. Barcelona’s style of play is characterized by their tikka-takka but in recent seasons they have become much more over reliant on Messi’s brilliance.
Bringing in Neymar would provide them with another outlet of magical ability other than Messi but I wonder how the current star would feel about sharing his power, status and responsibility with the next big thing. If the past is anything to go by, Cruyff may well be proven right in his assertion.
Barcelona is a big city but is it big enough for the both of them?
image: © Patrick de Laive