Known for its passing, Barcelona can now field three of soccer’s most confounding and creative dribblers in the same starting 11 after Neymar joined the champions this offseason for $76 million, the eighth most expensive transfer in history.
Looks perfect on paper. So what could go wrong?
The soft-spoken Iniesta has always been happy to relinquish the leading role to Messi. But will Neymar, the bright and shining star of Brazil, be able to do likewise after being idolized as the next coming of Pele at Santos?
Weeks later, after his first game in Barcelona’s burgundy and blue, he repeated his mantra of being happy in a secondary role.
“(Messi) is a marvelous person. We talk every day. There won’t be any problems,” Neymar said. “The atmosphere on the team is better than I even hoped for. I knew that they were good, but when I arrived here I realized they were much better than I had thought.”
Yet Neymar, who Pele said could surpass the almighty Messi one day, will have to learn Barcelona’s style, which until now has let only Messi and Iniesta freelance one-on-one against backpedaling defenders.
Messi is the engine of the Barcelona juggernaut that won 14 of 19 possible titles under Pep Guardiola from 2008-12 and then tied a Spanish-league record of 100 points en route to the title last season under Tito Vilanova.
Messi turned 26 in June and already is Barcelona’s all-time goal scorer. Last season, he scored 46 goals in the league and was well on pace to break his own record of 50 goals from the previous campaign when he injured his right hamstring.
The four-time world player of the year has outlasted a list of strike partners including Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and now David Villa, with whom he openly argued on the field before the Spain striker was sold this summer to Atletico Madrid.
Neymar, however, is different.