Winger | Ajax | Brazil
In an ideal world every team would have a David Neres. A box of tricks in tight spots. A player who at least once a game pulls off a feat of footwork that reduces a grown man to cartoon chuckling. A one-man exhibition of ball-conjuring and slalomed turns.
Better yet, with the boy from Sao Paolo it is rarely flamboyance for flamboyancy’s sake. Because anyone could do that; well maybe not anyone but at least a thousand show-offs from the Ajax star’s home city alone could probably astound with a ball under their control.
With Neres it is usually improvisation with a purpose. There is usually an end product. There’s one of his team-mates darting into space but an opponent is blocking off the passing lane. An orthodox pass would be intercepted easily but by dragging the ball back and flicking it with his heel it slightly changes the angle not to mention stupefies the defender just long enough to get through.
For a good while during 2017/18 the left footed right winger’s goals and assists compared favourably to a certain L. Messi. For a good while it looked like David Neres might just be the next superstar of the Selecao.
2018 has been….
….mixed. Because while his first full season in the Eredivisie following his €12m move from Sao Paolo in January 2017 bordered on the sensational it’s led to a slight drop-off in performances this term that is hardly dramatic but still cause for concern.
So now come the doubts. Is he too reliant on his admittedly magical left foot? Is his lack of blistering pace problematic? More so, why has there been so little interest in the player from the European giants during a summer that saw Justin Kluivert cherry-picked from the Ajax tree and Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie De Jong presently on the receiving end of all manner of speculation and interest.
Then there’s Brazil. Neres is yet to be capped above U 20 level and while there is a fearsome line-up of attacking talent ahead of him in the queue Tite is hardly a coach who sticks to the tired and trusted.
Last season the skilful winger was coming up with all kinds of answers on the pitch. Now his displays and circumstance only lend themselves to questions.
Who knows? That’s the short answer but what is beyond dispute is that this is a crucial period for Neres because there is only so long that a player can be considered too good for the league he plays in and for that evaluation to be a positive. Soon after it can become a back-handed compliment.
Can he hack it at a higher level against tougher foes? Unquestionably and it is hoped that in due course he gets the opportunity to prove this. Because it would be a travesty if this superb talent ended up solely as a meme-king in a league that is too easily dazzled by his brilliance.