Is Neymar eyeing the 2019 Ballon d'Or?
The 2018 World Cup in Russia was expected to be Neymar's and Brazil's time to shine. Instead, the Brazilian captain made the headlines for all the wrong reasons as the Selecao bowed out in the quarter-finals. But the former Barcelona forward has continued to deliver on the pitch despite all the criticism.
The 26-year-old has now scored or assisted in 12 straight games for club and country after a hat-trick against Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League on Wednesday. On the domestic front, he remains the best player in the French Ligue 1.
So far, he leads the way in league goals with a perfect seven scored in just seven appearances this season. Man of the Match awards in three of those gshows show how influential he is for Paris Saint-Germain.
He was largely ignored in the UEFA and FIFA Best awards. Luka Modric was the unlikely man that broke the Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo stranglehold on the awards as fellow countryman Dani Alves came from nowhere to take a place in the best XI. Also, players like Chelsea's Eden Hazard made it into the squad, with top performers and multiple trophy winners like Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann helped ensure Neymar didn't make the cut at all.
But the PSG number ten has let his performances on the pitch speak for him concerning his quality once again. It appears that his achievements in France last term were overshadowed by Brazil's outing at the World Cup. With the global event now out of the way, he is determined to set the records straight.
Surely, when a person scores 19 goals in 20 league matches and sets up another 13, that has to count for something. And if you are still not convinced, 12 Man of the Match awards in those games confirm this is a special player. He is certainly not the most expensive player in the world for nothing.
In the current season, Neymar is arguably the best performing player in Europe's top five leagues. At the national team level, he is also making his impact felt. National team coach, Tite, has made him the permanent captain due to his leadership role in the team in terms of delivering results.
At club level, the league title is PSG's to lose as they have already established an eight-point lead so early in the season. Worse still for the opposition, none of the usual challengers is in top form. Lille comes closest behind the champions. However, going by the club's struggles in recent campaigns, it is clear they will come nowhere near the title.
Meanwhile, 2017 champions Monaco are struggling both at home and abroad as their selling habit appears to be catching up with the them. Lyon and Marseille have been inconsistent too and the best they can hope for is Champions League football next season.
That makes it easy for Neymar and his partners to dominate Ligue 1 and collect another league title. Then on the continent, despite losing to Liverpool in their opening match of this season's Champions League, PSG remain one of the favourites to lift the trophy at the Wanda Metropolitano in May.
Neymar's role will be crucial in this regard. His performance against Red Star Belgrade suggests he understands the task at hand and is ready to up his game. Thiago Silva may have worn the captain armband on the night, but the real leader on the pitch was the former Santos man. He led from the front scoring a hat-trick as the team hit six past their opponents.
All the former La Liga star needs to do is maintain this level of performance. If he is able to lead the club to the Champions League final next year, that should be enough to clinch the 2019 Ballon d'Or. Provided he does not lose the final to one of Messi, Ronaldo or even Modric, of course.