Neymar: Mbappe can become one of the greatest in history

  • Neymar raves about Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi

  • He evaluates the trophy hopes of Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain

  • He reveals his favourite sportsmen, TV shows and food

The kid with cosmic artistry was making headlines as a 13-year-old.

Real Madrid seduced him to Spain and laid on the VIP treatment; he got to meet David Beckham, Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane and watched matches in Florentino Perez’s executive box during a three-week stay. Santos unleashed a counter-punch KO by offering a $470,000 signing-on fee – a mind-blowing figure for someone in his early teens – and a fat salary for him to join their youth system.

Pele, Romario and Robinho all predicted Neymar would become one of the world’s top players and, for around a decade, he has been. But as he turns 28 today, is the Mogi das Cruzes native in the form of his life?

His figures since December’s start suggest so: 20 combined goals and assists in 11 appearances – ten of which were victories, the other a draw – while one could make a 90-minute highlight reel of his indecipherable tricks. caught up with Neymar to discuss Paris Saint-Germain’s UEFA Champions League chances, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and, of course, Brazil as their bid to land at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ approaches lift-off. Neymar, you got injured on the eve of the Copa America. Rather than enjoy some rare holidays, you chose to passionately support the team at every game. Can you tell us about this decision?

Neymar: It was really difficult to be out of the Copa America because of everything I went through. I did my recuperation in Brazil and seized the opportunity to follow my team-mates. I put being a player aside and became a supporter like millions of other Brazilians. It was incredible and reminded me of my childhood days when I went to the stadium with my dad.

Brazil have lost just twice in 22 games since Russia 2018. With the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 about to start, what do you think of the current Seleção?

We are very strong. The squad is more experienced, even though we have some youngsters. We have players who have been at two World Cups, like me for example. We’ve won, we’ve lost, we’ve had many positive and negative experiences, and we can help the youngsters with our experience. Moreover, the coaching staff, unlike in previous years, has remained the same. This continuity will facilitate our work and enhance our chances [at Qatar 2022]. I’m very optimistic about the Seleção’s future.

Arthur, Cebolinha, Richarlison, David Neres, Paqueta, Gabigol, Vinícius Junior, Rodrygo, Reinier... what do you think of Brazil’s emerging youngsters?

Every one of them is very talented. And you can expect that, by 2022, others will have emerged. Brazil has an impressive ability to unearth talents.

Which other countries do you feel will be Brazil’s biggest rivals at Qatar 2022?

France, Belgium, England and Argentina.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 05:  Neymar of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team-mate Lionel Messi (L) of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on April 5, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Lionel Messi won The Best FIFA Men’s Player again in September. What was it like to play alongside him, and do you think he is the best player in history?

Playing alongside Leo was a unique experience and we became friends. Of those I’ve seen play, Messi is the best in history!

You came third in 2015 and ’17. How much would you like to win The Best FIFA Men’s Player and are you confident you can one day?

I’ve always said that winning The Best award isn’t an obsession, but I train hard every day to be better than the day before. I always try to evolve individually and collectively. If one day I win the award it will be the result of my work.

What do you think of Kylian Mbappe?

Kylian is a phenomenon. He has the potential to become one of the best players in history. To have him as a team-mate is a huge honour. We understand one another very well on the pitch and off it too. I love him!

Do you think this is the strongest PSG team you’ve played in, and can you win the UEFA Champions League this year?

I wouldn’t say the strongest, but I feel a different atmosphere and more confident, and this helps a lot day by day.

How much is your son Davi into football?

My son likes sport and likes to play football with his friends. But he’s different to me – he’s not as passionate about football. He really likes Messi, Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo. In fact, his attack when he plays video games is Messi, CR7, Mbappe and me.

A few quick-fire questions to finish off. Which three footballers have you most enjoyed watching in your lifetime?

Ronaldinho, Robinho and Messi.

Aside from football, which three sportsmen do you most enjoy watching?

[Gabriel] Medina, Steph Curry and Lebron James.

What are the best films or television programmes you’ve watched?

I love to watch series. I like several, but I have a special love of Money Heist.

What’s your favourite dish to eat, and if you had to cook for special people, what would you do?

To eat? Rice, [black] beans, beef and fries. As a chef I’m really bad… my guests would eat a nice fried egg!

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: (EDITORS NOTE: A black and white filter has been added)  Neymar of Brazil poses during The Best FIFA Football Awards at The May Fair Hotel on October 23, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)