Stats Show Moving To Ligue 1 Won’t Harm Neymar’s Ballon d’Or Chances

It’s official! Neymar is finally a Paris-Saint Germain player. In what has been one of the most intriguing transfer sagas in recent memory, it is great to see it finally end with the Brazilian #10 in PSG colors going into the the 2017-18 season.

The Neymar transfer is definitely one for the history books and one that will leave a mark on football for a long time to come. The club’s payment of the €222 million release clause makes him the world’s most expensive player ever–more than doubling the €105 million Manchester United paid for Paul Pogba last summer. Neymar himself is set for a huge payday and this move could see him become the highest paid footballer in the world according to Forbes. As such there have been assertions that his main appeal for moving to the French capital is the money. Whether or not that is true, not that it matters, only Neymar knows. However, to suggest that it is a move that has no sporting benefits lacks any solid understanding of the league he is moving to.

The statements by Neymar’s former FC Barcelona teammate, Gerard Pique–whom the phrase ‘Se Queda’ will be forever stamped in football transfer folklore–clearly hinted that being the leading act at club level, a role he enjoys for the national team, played some part in his decision to move to the French Capital.

Neymar cannot be the protagonist at Barcelona, because the best will always be [Lionel] Messi, always. I told Neymar, in France you will never be the best player in the world… unless you win the Champions League. Can you do it?–Gerard Pique, Bleacher Report

It is Pique’s statement about Neymar never being able to be the best player in the world–ultimately referring to winning the Ballon d’Or–in France without winning the UEFA Champions League that stands out. Truth be told, the Spain international is right to an extent. The Ballon d’Or is awarded based off of a number of factors, including league performance, individual statistics, and international competitions. However, the past few seasons it seems like the best player in the Champions League stands the best chance to win the award. Take Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for example. Two of the best players of our generation have combined to win every Ballon d’Or award since 2008 and six of the last nine Champions League trophies. In the years where they didn’t win the Champions League, they still managed to lead their teams well into the knockout stage. Both players are a class apart from the rest in terms of talent and consistency–a statement Neymar may not necessarily agree with–and if anyone is to beat them to the Ballon d’Or the first step has to be breaking up Spain’s dominance in Europe.

Neymar’s performances solely in Ligue 1, where he’ll be expected to dominate, will definitely not be enough to win the Ballon d’Or. However, this isn’t solely restricted to Ligue 1. For all the attention it attracts, a case study of winners of the English Premier League (PFA) Player of the year award shows that since the start of the Ronaldo/Messi Ballon d’Or-era, apart from 2008 when Ronaldo won both the PFA Player of the Year award and Ballon d’Or, none of the winners have finished higher than 7th in the rankings. During which time a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, then a PSG player, finished fourth in the running once in 2013–not bad for a player who played in a ‘farmers’ league and never led PSG past the quarter finals.

LPOTY*/Ballon d’Or Rank by Country 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
England 1st 14th N/A N/A** 9th 9th N/A 8th 7th
Germany 16th N/A 14th N/A N/A 17th 3rd 18th N/A
France N/A 20th N/A N/A N/A 4th 13th N/A 13th
Italy 9th 7th N/A N/A 7th 10th N/A N/A N/A

*=League Player of the year

**= Not on Ballon d’Or 23-man shortlist

Among the top five leagues in Europe, apart from La Liga where Messi and Ronaldo feature, only Manuel Neuer has finished in the Ballon d’Or top 3 having won the league’s best player award without leading his team to a Champions League victory. This doesn’t paint the full picture with the German goalkeeper having won the FIFA World Cup that year.

In truth, the Ballon d’Or isn’t a straight forward award with an established criteria set in stone. It is a mixture of a lot of different criteria but this is not to say it underestimates the performance of players in their domestic league. If anything, Ibrahimovic’s top 5 finish in the 2013 shows that Neymar will definitely gain recognition if he can put up historic figures in France.

Ligue 1 may not offer Neymar as much of the spotlight as the other leagues but in terms of winning the Ballon d’Or, the key question like Pique’s mentioned in his statement, is if the 25-year-old can win the Champions League with PSG, or at least take them further, and the answer in the Brazilian’s mind will probably be why not? Apart from last season’s exit at the round of 16, which Neymar knows all too well about, PSG have been perennial quarter-finalists in the four years prior and currently rank sixth in the UEFA club rankings.

Since joining Barcelona four seasons ago, Neymar has impressed in the Champions League with 21 goals (5th overall) and 15 assists (2nd overall). The former Santos FC man will definitely feel he can do more if he’s given the reigns to a team and given his performances in the yellow shirt of Brazil, there isn’t much to doubt. He is one of the most lethal players on the international level and his addition to the Rouge et Bleu can only give the team a better chance in the Champions League.

Only time will tell if Neymar can bring a Champions League trophy to Paris but with so many world class players around him and the club’s deep pockets, European glory–and ultimately the Ballon d’Or–might not be as far out of sight as many seem to think. The move certainly brings a new twist to what has been a very predictable Ballon d’Or race in the current era, which is good for the world of football. The World Cup next year will serve as yet another opportunity for Neymar to prove he is ready to surpass Messi and Ronaldo and claim the “world’s best” title.

As someone who became a fan of the club only in 2012, I think I speak for the rest of the “bandwagon” fans when I say this move represents the dream many bought into at the beginning of the PSG project. This move will go a long way to helping Paris break the foothold of the European elite in the Champions League. Les Parisiens have severely underachieved in recent years to the scorn of many in the footballing world, but it is safe to say there’s nothing funny about the new-look Paris Saint-Germain.

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Tags Champions League Cristiano Ronaldo Ligue 1 Lionel Messi Neymar Zlatan Ibrahimovic
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