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Neymar and Irving: 25 and Taking a Chance on Themselves

August 4th, 2017 · No Comments · Barcelona, Basketball, Football, soccer

The NBA has fans outside of North America, but not tons of them.

So the stunning similarity of what soccer’s Neymar has done and what the NBA’s Kyrie Irving wants to do may have gone largely unnoticed in the vast realm of global sports.

In short, it is this: Each is is a star, each is 25 and each is ready to leave behind an excellent team led by one of the greats of his game … to find out if he can graduate from “wing man” to “main man” and win some championships on “his own” team.

Neymar is leaving behind Barcelona and Lionel Messi.

Irving has asked to be traded so that he can leave behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

In an era of “super” teams which seem inclined (and perhaps equipped) to win forever, the choices made by Neymar and Irving … actually should be encouraging to sports fans.

If Neymar remained with Barcelona, with Messi and Luis Suarez, he probably could have counted on several more bits of silverware, as the Brits call it, in the near term.

To wit: Additional Spanish championships, more Spanish cup championships and, most important of all, additional Champions League trophies.

So potent has Barcelona been over the past decade that many soccer fans and analysts are having trouble grasping that a player would voluntarily leave the club and go somewhere else.

One of those expressing disbelief was Gary Lineker, an Englishman who played for Barcelona in the 1980s and is one of Britain’s best-known TV soccer hosts. Lineker tweeted: “Oh Neymar, there is only one direction to go from FC Barcelona and that’s backwards.”

Irving has heard similar sorts of warnings about being careful what he wishes for. “How can he leave LeBron? How can he leave the Cavaliers when they have reached the finals for the past three seasons and won a championship?”

In each case, it is about each athlete wanting to be the star rather than a prominent satellite.

Neymar goes to Paris Saint-Germain, the aspirational (and Qatari-owned) French club that set records by paying the price to bring in the Brazilian star.

PSG is winning nearly everything there is to win, in France, where the competition is not very deep, but the club has failed to get past the quarterfinals in the Champions League.

Seeking to increase their chances of winning the greatest trophy in club soccer, PSG strengthened itself (and took away one of Barcelona’s three great attacking players) by paying about $260 million to buy Neymar from Barca and then offering him something like $50 million per season in salary. Both are records in global soccer.

Neymar wants to lead PSG to a Champions League triumph, a competition that increasingly has looked like a two-team race — Barcelona and Real Madrid, who between them have won six of the past nine titles.

Neymar hopes to break up that duopoly at the top.

He spoke to the subject in a press release.

“Barcelona and Catalonia will always be in my heart, but I need new challenges,” Neymar said. “I accepted PSG’s proposition to try new achievements and help the club to win the titles that their crowd wants. They showed me a daring career plan and I feel ready to take on this challenge.

“I thank the wonderful (Barcelona) crowd and everything learned with the great athletes that I had the chance to share the dressing room.

“Now I feel in my heart that it’s time to leave. PSG will be my home for the next years and I will work hard to honor all of the trust placed in my football.”

As for Irving, he has not made public comments.

What we know for sure is that he does want to be traded and he would prefer to go to one of four clubs: The San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Minnesota Timberwolves or the New York Knicks.

He appears to envision being The Star at one of those four, and he would be, perhaps aside from the Spurs, who have Kawhi Leonard. Actually, he would be the focal point at any NBA club, aside from the Golden State Warriors, Cavaliers and Spurs.

Irving moving to any one of the other 27 NBA teams would presumably push that club into a higher tier, perhaps with a chance to lead it in breaking up what has become a Warriors/Cavs duopoly — those two have met in three consecutive finals, unprecedented in the NBA.

Some are agitated by all the money being thrown around … and it is a bit alarming but, apparently, the teams have a good sense of what they are getting into.

What is more hopeful is that some elite athletes — well, two, anyway — have rejected the nearly certain praise and plaudits of remaining with their previous clubs.

Neymar and Irving want to find out if they have what it takes to lead from the front.

As fans, we should be in favor of that.

Turn over some bandwagons, young men.



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