Neymar says he is happy to let Lionel Messi keep taking the free kicks at Barcelona — but sees a day when he takes over as the main set-piece specialist at the Camp Nou.
Messi, 28, has long had full charge of any dead-ball situations for Barca, even while having other experienced and successful takers such as Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic as teammates.
The Brazil international scoring a superb free kick in the recent 2-1 La Liga win at Atletico Madrid, while Messi missed another penalty during the 4-1 La Liga win against Levante last weekend, leading to a debate as to whether the Argentine should step aside or at least share the dead-ball duties.
Neymar, 23, told ESPN Brazil that he regularly practices free kicks but it was clear to “everyone” that Messi was the “natural taker” at the Catalan club.
“I keep practicing them at Barcelona, with the national team too,” he said. “I try to always improve with the free kicks, to be ready at any moment to score goals. But everyone knows he’s the man here at Barcelona — in a good way — he’s the guy who takes them.
“When he stops, I am ready. But at the moment he is the natural taker — we know that. He’s scored a lot of goals for Barcelona — like the final [last August’s European Super Cup when Messi scored two long range free kicks against Sevilla in the first half].”
Neymar also said he has thought about the time when he would be the world’s best player and win the Ballon d’Or, but for the moment he was aiming just to be on the podium at next January’s 2015 awards ceremony — when Messi is hot favourite to win a fifth career trophy as the world’s best player.
“To be the best in the world is the dream of any player,” he said. “We all know that. But I don’t know… I hope to keep doing my job, to give my best, to keep improving every season, to be at least among the three finalists at the Ballon d’Or. I hope to be there [this year], that I can be at least b among the three finalists.”
Barca suffered a setback on Wednesday night when their 100 percent start to the 2015-16 season was punctured by a shock 4-1 La Liga defeat at Celta Vigo. Neymar said last year’s Treble win meant more success would be harder.
“It is more difficult,” he said. “From the moment you arrive at the top, it is more difficult to stay there. You are the team to beat, everyone is watching you, everyone wants to beat you. So it is more difficult each time. We have to find solutions to win games and continue our work.”
The former Santos starlet was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United late in the summer transfer window, and said there had been talks about a move but he had not received any offer from the English club.
“There were conversations but nothing concrete,” he said. “There were rumours but I did not receive any offer.”
The serious knee injury picked up by his club and country colleague Rafinha had been a serious blow for a young player who had recently established himself with both Barca and Brazil, Neymar said.
“I am very close to Rafa, and know what he’s going through,” he said. “I know how sad it was, how he is feeling. He was in the best form of his career. I hope he recovers as quickly as possible, and that he comes back even stronger, and that he learns from this.”