“Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are my idols,” said Neymar in 2011. “They’re exceptional. I don’t know if one day I will be able to match them, but I’ll give it my best.”
Fast-forward four years and the 23-year-old trickster has matched his Barcelona team-mate and Real Madrid rival in making the final three for the FIFA Ballon d’Or. The above shot shows the mural of the trio in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.
Neymar’s inclusion ended an unprecedented seven-year drought for Brazil. When Kaka was among the nominees for the 2007 award – he ultimately beat Messi and Ronaldo to the honour – it meant a Brazilian had made the podium in 13 of the past 15 years.
The country-music fan has already won a prestigious gong at the FIFA Gala. His extraterrestrial goal for Santos against Flamengo earned him the FIFA Puskas Award in 2011. The question now is: can he emulate Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka, and not just match but surpass the two incomparables of this unique era?