Often, tragedy leads to opportunity.
For the next two months, Neymar should effectively take over as Barcelona’s No. 10. The 23-year-old will get the opportunity to replace Lionel Messi as lead conductor of Barcelona’s orchestra, rather than only serving as one of the key soloists for the Argentine maestro.
In his third season at Barcelona, Neymar plays out wide and openly defers to Messi because, well, he’s Messi. But with the Brazilian national team, Neymar chiefly plays as the No. 10 and excels in the central role, regularly bagging goals at a history-making rate.
Already, he ranks fifth on Brazil’s all-time scoring list with 46 goals in 67 games. Zico (48 goals), Romario (55 goals) and Ronaldo (62 goals) likely have no chance of holding off Neymar as he makes his way up the charts. Pele’s 77 goals for the Selecao is still a long way away, but Neymar has started well enough to spur chatter of surpassing the greatest Brazilian footballer ever.
Barcelona’s purchase of the Brazilian in the summer of 2013, when he was still only 21, seemed to point to the former Santos man one day replacing Messi as the central figure for the club on and off the pitch. That would mean Neymar playing as the No. 10. For the next two months, the Brazilian will stand in for the player widely considered the best footballer on the planet and play in games that carry significant meaning.
This may only be a test of the emergency system, but the results will matter.
If Messi misses eight weeks, Neymar and Barcelona will play three Champions League games, one Copa del Rey match and four La Liga contests without the star magic man. A trip to Sevilla is probably the toughest game on that fixture list, but if Messi returns in exactly eight weeks, his first match back would be a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid in El Clasico.
A year ago, Luis Suarez returned from an extended suspension and made his Barcelona debut in the same situation. Barcelona lost on that occasion.
While Messi is out, a slump could ruin Barcelona’s season in every competition, so the pressure is on the remainder of the squad, namely Neymar. The Spanish league, the Spanish Cup and the Champions League all hang in the balance.
For the next two months, Neymar can act out life at Camp Nou as the central figure and provide a glimpse into the future of Barcelona. When Messi returns, Neymar will give back the throne and move out wide, of course. If the Brazilian excels with Messi out, though, Barcelona could well accelerate the transition from Messi’s team to Neymar’s team. This is only a test, for now.