When Neymar signed with Catalonian giant FC Barcelona, the financial details were at the time unknown, but the impact for the present and future of the club was correctly assumed to be great. It was also viewed as a leg up during the offseason of their cross-country rivals, star-studded behemoths in their own rite, Real Madrid. Not to be outdone, on the pitch or with their chequebook, the favourite club of the Spanish capital signed PFA Player of the Year and member of UEFA Team of the Year in 2013 Gareth Bale for a world record transfer fee of €100 million and an approximate total cost of an additional €1.5 per year in comparison to the final figures revealed for Neymar’s acquisition.
The question remains then, who is performing better for their respective clubs almost two full years into their tenure? Also pertinent to ask is who is getting more value for their money so far, and who projects to perform better in the future and thus receive better value?
While Bale has changed positions across his professional career, he remains a stalwart, athletic powerhouse that has the skills of someone you would expect to be smaller and more nimble. His speed in particular stands out as, by all accounts, he is one of the fastest players if not the fastest in all of European football.
Both play with an ambidexterity that makes it seem like they do not possess a dominant side, but in reality Neymar plays the centre-right while Bale has gone from the left back position to a left wing attacker. The Welshman’s toughness and physicality are what landed him in the defensive line in the first place, but as an attacker he uses his height and strength advantage in the box for headers. Overall, he is a physical specimen to be reckoned with.
In contrast, Neymar incorporates traditional Brazilian flair in his game, relying on quick changes of pace and direction along with some masterful footwork that got him recognized in the world of football as a prodigy from a young age. Like Bale, he is a wizard from the spot, a true threat from almost any area on the field from the free kick. While he plays on the opposite side of the field from Bale, he tends to occupy the centre more. He is a true playmaker, and a threat to do almost anything with the ball when you factor in his quickness and ability to feign and deke effortlessly. He has been compared in style of play with such luminaries as Ronaldinho and Pele, both compatriots.
Comparing these two stars’ stats is only natural considering they have both been in La Liga for their respective clubs for the same amount of time, their positions and roles for their teams are similar, and their salaries are only percentage points apart. That said, let us delve into the numbers.
Each holds a distinctive advantage depending on which season you look at, and over the aggregate of almost two full seasons, their output in terms of assists and goals over time played is almost equal. During his first full season at Real, Bale averaged over one goal or assist (1.13) over 90 pro-rated minutes played, which is quite a feat. His last season in La Liga has been plagued with nagging injuries as he has generally been less consistent, which is not to take away from his playing a key role in winning La Copa del Rey and the Champions League trophy the season prior. In both deciding matches, he nailed home the capper with the go-ahead goal. By that measure, his signing has been a success.
Neymar did not mesh as well with his club at Camp Nou his first season, which is not to say that it was a failure – far from it. His signing at an age three years younger than Bale was looked upon something for the present as much as for his future potential, which he was dripping with, and that projection is now paying dividends. Partly a factor of gelling his with fellow historically adept attacking line of Uruguayan Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi (who had a down year during Neymar’s first season), partly attributable to adjusting to the pace and skill of the best league in the world from lesser competition in his homeland, the Brazilian wonder kid picked up his goals plus assists over 90 minutes rate to just under one (0.95) in his second year. While team success was harder to come by last season, his side stands on the brink of a rare treble, with just several more days to decide the ultimate outcome, which might just be a season for the ages.
Not only has Neymar been more consistent over the two season period, but he has shown improvement, a big part of the investment Barça’s bosses were banking on. This bodes well for the future of the Catalonian side. That said, the two have been almost exactly equal in that particularly statistical category, only separated by 0.01. By this measure, Bale slightly edges Neymar out in terms of value per total goals plus assists, but that is likely to change in the coming seasons.
Star Quality off the Field
Neymar shines as a celebrity for one of the most football-crazed, largest nations on earth. He has been praised as a role model as a man of faith in an at least nominally religious country, as well. As someone who was rated the most marketable sportsman of the year in 2013, even ahead of soon-to-be teammate and Ballon d’Or winner, Messi, he has gone on to sponsor major brand names, signing an 11 year deal with apparel giant Nike and more recently teaming up with PokerStars, the leading online poker website.
Bale has been praised by former coaches and teammates past and present for his quality of character. When coming over to La Liga, he moved with his high school sweetheart and their baby daughter. He is known for his trademarked ‘heart celebration,’ among other things, and is currently on the cover of the massive hit videogame, FIFA 14. While earning slightly less in endorsements than his Brazilian counterpart at Barça, he is a much touted and beloved football figure, especially in his old haunts in the UK.
Overall, both of these players are phenomenal in their own right. Only time will tell who has the brighter future, but both have already accomplished much in their relatively short time in football, and it is a near certainty that more awards will be lavished on them both.