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Can Neymar surpass Pele as Brazil's greatest player of all time?

Can Neymar surpass Pele as Brazil's greatest player of all time?

Posted by Juan Gavasa on April 02, 2015

Neymar has 43 goals in 62 appearances for the Brazilian national team, and considering the 23-year-old should feature in the side for the foreseeable future, he will inevitably pass Pele's 77 international goals as the all-time scorer in a Brazil shirt. Neymar, however, will likely never challenge Pele as the greatest Brazilian to ever kick a football.

Even with his exceptional level of performance, Neymar lost the chance to match or surpass Pele's greatness when he suffered a fractured vertebrae in a World Cup quarterfinal victory over Colombia last summer. Pele won three world titles, and anything short of three World Cups would never be enough to dethrone the king of Brazilian football. Neymar could well win 10 Ballon d'Or awards, and Pele would still reign supreme as the greatest Brazilian player of all time.

Protectors of Pele's legacy quickly point out that Neymar has only scored 13 of his national team goals in competitive matches. True, the majority of Neymar's goals for Brazil have come in exhibitions, but that should not count against him. As host nation, Brazil did not play any qualification matches in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup. Also, Neymar's record in competitive games with Brazil is 13 goals in 20 matches, including eight in his last 10 fixtures for Brazil and most notably four goals in five matches amid the unparalleled pressure of trying to win a World Cup on home soil.

Lionel Messi's unmatched European achievements at club level often fail to compete with Diego Maradona's singular World Cup victory. But the Maradona and Messi comparisons don't hold water in the Pele and Neymar conversation. Messi leaving Argentina at a young age and succeeding with Barcelona doesn't contend with Neymar growing up in Brazil, playing for Pele's home club Santos and then carrying Brazil to World Cup glory on home soil. Obviously, that last part did not work out, but Brazil's poster child carried the Selecao and looked on the verge of unleashing a Samba celebration that would pale the annual Carnival celebrations.

Neymar truly did serve as a cloak of invincibility that propelled a flawed Brazilian side into the semifinals. He led from the front on the pitch and off it. Still, even with a healthy Neymar, Brazil probably would have been unable to cope with eventual champion Germany in Belo Horizonte. The host nation will only remember that gruesome 7-1 scar line.

Now, Neymar's quest to match or even approach Pele's legacy will come in Russia 2018 and in Qatar 2022. Yes, Qatar. Incidentally, Neymar wears "Qatar Airways" over his chest for Barcelona, which serves as a constant reminder that money is one heck of a powerful tool in football.

Pele recently dismissed Neymar's goals being worthy of eclipsing his own greatness before adding, "The thing people forget is I was given a gift to play football, this is something no one can judge."

No one can deny that Neymar possesses the gift to play football. But anything short of three World Cups will leave Neymar on track to become the second-best Brazilian player ever. Neymar would be 34 in 2026, when he could play in a fourth World Cup – a feat that would equal Pele. Continuing on his current trajectory, Neymar should eclipse Pele's 77 goals for Brazil.

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