Ronaldo Nazario ranks himself alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona as part of a "very special group" of football's greatest ever players. 

Legendary forward Ronaldo led Brazil to their most recent World Cup triumph 20 years ago, scoring eight goals as Luiz Felipe Scolari's team sealed the country's fifth title in Japan and South Korea.

No Brazilian has ever bettered Ronaldo's tally at a single edition of the tournament, while his total return of 15 World Cup goals has only been beaten by Germany's Miroslav Klose (16).  

While Ronaldo believes his exploits put him in the pantheon of footballing greats, he told the Guardian it was difficult to compare his abilities to those of players from different generations.

Asked to choose between seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi and another Argentina icon in Maradona, Ronaldo said: "That's unfair! 

"I think there is a very, very special group where you have Diego, Messi, [Johan] Cruyff, [Franz] Beckenbauer, Pele, [Marco] Van Basten, Ronaldinho. I would include myself. 

 

"Let the fans say, let them debate it in the bars. But you can't rank them, can't compare generations. 

"People call me the 'original' Ronaldo but there were others – and they weren't false. 

"I'm not the only one, and more will come along and be better than me in everything. I did what I could, the best I could."

Brazil's hopes of repeating their 2002 World Cup win will depend largely on the form of Neymar, who has been involved in 42 per cent of the Selecao's World Cup goals since making his tournament debut in 2014 (8/19 – six goals, two assists).

Ronaldo compared the abilities of the Paris Saint-Germain forward to those of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting no football fan could fail to enjoy watching him play. 

"People love him a lot," Ronaldo added of Neymar. "If we talk specifically about football, I doubt there's anyone who doesn't love him. His private life transcends football, but I'm not interested. 

"He's daring, has skill, variety, is quick, scores goals, has personality. You could compare him to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, even though they are from a different planet. 

"On the pitch Neymar is one [thing], then people mix in all the other stuff."

 

Ronaldinho has backed Gabriel Jesus to show he is one of the best players in Europe following his transfer to Arsenal, who he expects to seal a return to the Champions League.

The Gunners splashed a reported £45million to sign the BrazIl forward from Manchester City and Jesus has quickly made an impact, scoring a brace in a 4-2 win against Leicester City last weekend.

Jesus' performances have helped Arsenal stand alongside City as the only Premier League sides to win their opening two matches of the season, providing an early boost to Mikel Arteta's hopes of guiding the club to a top-four finish.

Ronaldinho believes that it will not only be Arsenal that benefit, as the legendary Brazilian feels Jesus has now been handed the platform to show he is one of the top players on the continent.

"When Gabriel joined Manchester City I said he would go on to be one of the best players in the world," he told the Mirror.

"When he was given a chance, he showed what he was capable of - but at Manchester City he was never shown the love a player of his quality deserves.

"At Arsenal he has been given the chance to be the focal point, he has been shown the love by the coach and the fans, and already he is repaying that. 

"This season I expect big things from him - he will repay the love shown in him by showing he is not just one of the best players in the Premier League, but also in Europe."

With the signing of Jesus, along with the captures of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fabio Vieira, Ronaldinho is confident Arsenal can secure a return to the Champions League at the minimum.

"Arsenal will get back into the top four this season with the signings they have made - maybe they can even achieve more and challenge for the title," he added.

"Manchester City look very strong and they will be favourites - but in football anything is possible."

Few things will have made football fans feel stranger than seeing Lionel Messi wearing any other club shirt than that of Barcelona.

That is what happened in 2021 though, when the legendary Argentine made the move to Paris Saint-Germain due to the financial mess at the Camp Nou.

What could be stranger than that? Perhaps a Ballon d'Or shortlist of 30 names being released and not seeing Messi's among them?

On Friday, that once ludicrous suggestion became reality as the nominees for the 2022 award were announced in batches of five, only the familiar mention of the seven-time winner never came.

Of course, it was not especially a surprise. Messi struggled to make an impact at PSG after his free transfer to the Parc des Princes, scoring just six goals in 26 Ligue 1 games as his new team eased to the title, and a further five in seven Champions League outings.

By comparison, Messi won last year's Ballon d'Or after scoring 30 goals in 35 LaLiga games in 2020-21, as well as three in the Copa del Rey and five in the Champions League for Barca.

It still feels odd to see his name omitted, and Stats Perform has taken a trip down memory lane and looked at the last time Messi was not shortlisted for the prestigious award, all the way back in 2005.

The master before the apprentice

Before Messi, there was Ronaldinho, a player so captivating in 2005 he even earned a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu from the Real Madrid fans for his performance in El Clasico.

The Brazilian consistently wowed the crowds with his skill paired with dribbling prowess and the ability to change a game all on his own. 

Unlike Messi, Ronaldinho did not earn plaudits for scoring incredible numbers of goals, more that he was generally a scorer of beautiful goals in important moments. Across league and Champions League, he scored 13 goals and recorded eight assists in 42 games for Barca in 2004-05.

That season saw him star for Barca as he won his first LaLiga title, which included providing an assist as a very young Messi scored his first senior goal for the club against Albacete.

Although Champions League glory would elude him until 2006, Ronaldinho still managed to make a mark even in Barca's first knockout round exit to Chelsea in 2005 as he scored both goals in the 4-2 second leg defeat at Stamford Bridge, including a delightful toe poke that flew past Petr Cech.

For a player of his undoubted ability, it was a surprise that this was Ronaldinho's only Ballon d'Or, with Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro winning in 2006, Milan maestro Kaka doing so in 2007 and Cristiano Ronaldo lifting the first of many in 2008, starting the era of dominance between him and Messi.

Two lions unable to roar to success

Not all that far behind Ronaldinho in the voting back in 2005 were England midfield pair Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

The Barca man had received 50 votes in all, with Lampard second on 45 and Gerrard third on 39, though the Brazilian was significantly ahead of his two rivals in terms of those who voted him first (with voters marking down their top five in order).

It had been an excellent year for both Lampard and Gerrard though, with the former a key part of Jose Mourinho's dominant Chelsea who not only won the Premier League at a canter, securing 95 points and finishing 12 ahead of second-place Arsenal, but also dumped Barcelona out of the Champions League.

However, they in turn were eliminated from the competition in the semi-finals by Gerrard and Liverpool, who went on to lift the cup in Istanbul after a dramatic win on penalties against Milan in the final.

Had it been the modern day, in all likelihood, Gerrard would have received the most votes given the emphasis placed on winning the Champions League in recent years.

The Reds captain was a force of nature in 2004-05, dragging Liverpool through several games on his own though, like Ronaldinho, had not been a very regular scorer, only netting seven goals and four assists in 30 Premier League games, and Rafael Benitez's side finished a disappointing fifth.

Lampard was more of a net botherer though, scoring 13 goals and recording an impressive 18 assists in 38 league games for the Blues on their march to the title.

Funnily enough, Gerrard and Lampard will face each other as managers on Saturday as Aston Villa host Everton in the Premier League.

The little engine that would

Little did the game know what was about to hit it.

When Messi scored that goal against Albacete on May 1, 2005, it was the birth of a figure who would go on to become arguably the greatest footballer of all time.

It must be said that the last time Messi was not on what was then a 50-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or, he was just 18 years old, and had been just 17 when he netted his first goal for Barca.

For the remainder of the year, Messi set about establishing himself as a key part of Barca's attack alongside Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o under the coaching of Frank Rijkaard.

Messi scored six goals in 17 LaLiga appearances for the Blaugrana in 2005-06, as well as notching his first Champions League goal in a 5-0 win over Panathinaikos at the Camp Nou.

In 2006, he was tied 20th in the voting for the Ballon d'Or and the rest, as they say, is history.

Don't bet against seeing his name back on the shortlist in 2023, having already scored three goals in his first two games for PSG this season.

There is also a World Cup on the horizon, after all.

Brazil international Raphinha hopes to follow fellow Selecao stars Ronaldinho and Neymar in enshrining his name into Barcelona history after agreeing his long-awaited transfer this week.

The Blaugrana confirmed an agreement had finally been struck with Leeds United for the winger, pending a medical, to complete one of the window's more protracted sagas, in a deal reportedly worth up to €67million (£56.57m).

Raphinha had preferred a move to Camp Nou since before the transfer window opened, but higher bids from Premier League clubs, including Chelsea, stalled a switch, particularly with Barcelona's financial struggles.

Barca have played host to some of the greatest names in Brazilian football over the years, including World Cup winner Ronaldinho, and Neymar, who became the most-expensive player in history when he left for Paris Saint-Germain.

Both stars left an indelible mark upon the fabric of the club, and now Raphinha is determined to follow in their footsteps.

"I saw Ronaldinho come here and achieve so much and after that Neymar as well," he told Barca TV.

"For me as a Brazilian to come here, it’s an honour. I hope to reach the same objectives that those two players achieved.

"This is a dream come true for me, not just for me also my friends and family.

"They’ve seen me playing since I was a kid. They knew this was a dream of mine to come here. All I can do now is give my best and try to help Barca be what it’s always been."

Originally arriving at Leeds from Rennes following the former's promotion to the Premier League, Raphinha became a standout performer for Marcelo Bielsa, and then Jesse Marsch, over his two seasons at Elland Road.

With 17 goals in 67 appearances for Leeds, the Brazilian says fans can expect him to showcase that drive at Camp Nou too.

"What I can say about myself is that I'm very excited to win," he added. "I like to win, any time I lose it's very difficult to accept.

"So, you can expect a player who will always be fighting, always try to win, in training sessions as well. I will fight to become a better player."

June 30, 2002, Yokohama. Ronaldo pounces on Rivaldo's dummy to side-foot past Germany's Oliver Kahn, becoming just the ninth man to score twice in a World Cup final and making Brazil champions of the world.

That moment, the pinnacle of the legendary forward's career, remains unmatched to this day for the Selecao, with Brazil failing to add to their five World Cup crowns in the subsequent two decades.

Should Brazil fall short of glory in Qatar later this year, that drought will stretch to at least 24 years, matching their longest wait for World Cup glory since their maiden title in 1958 (also between 1970 and 1994).

For a country whose hopes have been entrusted to such footballing icons as Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar in subsequent years, such a drought seems inexplicable, with three quarter-final exits and one historic semi-final humiliation the sum of their efforts since 2002. 

Exactly 20 years on from Brazil's triumph in Japan and South Korea, Stats Perform looks back on that momentous success, questions why it is yet to be repeated, and asks whether Tite's class of 2022 are equipped to bring glory to one of the world's most football-mad nations.

2002: Irresistible Ronaldo fires Selecao to glory in Japan and South Korea

It is no exaggeration to say Brazil's last World Cup win was one of the most impressive triumphs in the competition's history.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's men went from strength to strength after requiring a late Rivaldo penalty to edge a tense opener against eventual third-placed finishers Turkey, winning all seven of their games by an aggregate score of 18-4.

The class of 2002 thus hold the record for the most games won by a nation at a single World Cup, with Ronaldo – coming off an injury-blighted four seasons at Inter in which he managed just 36 Serie A appearances – the star of the show.

Partnering Rivaldo and supplied by Paris Saint-Germain's breakout star Ronaldinho, O Fenomeno netted eight goals across the tournament, the joint-most of any Brazilian at a single World Cup and the highest tally of anyone since West Germany's Gerd Muller struck 10 times in 1970.

 

Ronaldo's 19 shots on target in the tournament has not been matched in any subsequent World Cup, while his total of 34 attempts was more than five different nations managed. 

Quarter-final opponents England, vanquished when Ronaldinho audaciously (perhaps fortuitously) lobbed David Seaman from long-range, were the only side to keep Ronaldo out as he took the competition by storm.

A 25-year-old Ronaldo's final double against Germany represented his 44th and 45th international goals in just his 64th Brazil appearance. He managed just 17 further strikes in the famous yellow shirt during his career.

There was nothing in the 2002 squad's make-up to suggest a long wait for further tournament success was imminent: The experienced Cafu (31 in 2002) and Roberto Carlos (29) were still around in 2006, while future Ballon d'Or winners Ronaldinho (22) and Kaka (20) had their whole careers ahead of them.

How, then, did one of the greatest sides in modern international history contrive to fall so far short in subsequent World Cups?

 

2006-2010: Zidane and Sneijder sparkle as drab Brazil fall short

Brazil looked set for another shot at glory in Germany in 2006. Ronaldinho was crowned the world's best player in 2005; Kaka was to follow in his footsteps in 2007; and Ronaldo had hit a century of goals in his first four seasons with Real Madrid.

Brazil conceded just once in group-stage clashes with Croatia, Australia and Japan before crushing Ghana 3-0 in the last 16, but with Carlos Alberto Parreira cramming his three attacking stars into a rigid 4-4-2 shape, it was France who more closely resembled the Brazil sides of old in the last eight. 

Zinedine Zidane's performance in Frankfurt stands as one of the finest in the competition's history, as he tormented the defending champions' flat midfield before assisting Thierry Henry's winner.

It was the first of two masterful midfield displays to end the World Cup hopes of drab Brazil teams, with Wesley Sneijder assuming Zidane's role as the Netherlands vanquished Dunga's men in South Africa in 2010.

Progressing from the group stages has not been an issue for Brazil. Astonishingly, they are unbeaten in their last 15 group games, last suffering a first-stage defeat against Norway in 1998.

A lack of tactical nous against the world's best, however, has been a legitimate charge, and an understandable one given the identities of some of their head coaches.

Parreira's one Brazilian top-flight title was won way back in 1984, while Dunga's only club-level experience remains, to this day, a dire 2013 campaign with Internacional.

In that context, the return of Scolari, the emergence of Neymar and a home World Cup lifted expectations to monumental levels by 2014, when Brazilian dreams were to be shattered in the most incredible manner imaginable.

2014-2018: Home humiliation and Neymar reliance see Brazilian woes continue

The 2014 World Cup was billed as a festival of football, lit up by jubilant Brazilian crowds and thrilling football – the 171 goals scored across the tournament are the joint-most on record, alongside 1998.

Sadly for Brazil, eventual winners Germany provided 18 of those, with seven coming in a scarcely believable semi-final rout at the Mineirao.

Having gone 5-0 down within 29 minutes in the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva, Scolari's men collapsed to arguably the greatest humiliation in World Cup history and, as almost goes without saying, the heaviest semi-final defeat the tournament has ever seen.

Only when Yugoslavia faced Zaire in 1974 had a side previously been 5-0 up after 29 minutes at a World Cup, but for all the excitement building around the host nation, Brazil's class of 2014 always appeared flawed.

An over-reliance on Neymar – cruelly sidelined by a dreadful quarter-final challenge from Colombia's Juan Camilo Zuniga – was clear in both 2014 and 2018, when Brazil fell to a 2-1 defeat to a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Belgium in Russia.

 

Across those two tournaments, Neymar's six goals and two assists saw him directly involved in 42 per cent of Brazil's goals.

Fluminense striker Fred, ridiculed by many for his performances in 2014, wasn't exactly up to the task of replacing his goal threat, while Gabriel Jesus failed to find the net despite starting every match under Tite in 2018.

Indeed, coming into the 2018 tournament, Neymar – with 55 goals in 85 caps, was the only player in the Brazil squad to have scored more than 12 international goals.

Having achieved the rare feat of holding onto his job after leading Brazil at a World Cup, Tite will hope the emergence of several other stars lessens the burden on his number 10 this time around.

The road to Qatar: Can the class of 2022 end World Cup drought? 

Assuming he remains in charge when they face Serbia on November 24, Tite will become the first coach to lead Brazil at back-to-back World Cups since Tele Santana in 1982 and 1986.

While neither of Santana's campaigns ended in glory, the current boss – a Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup winner – will hope his six years moulding the side will prove invaluable in Qatar.

Brazil have already ended one mini trophy drought under his watch, winning a first Copa America title in 12 years on home soil in 2019 before finishing as runners-up to Argentina two years later.

Most impressively, Brazil triumphed without the injured Neymar in 2019 as Everton Soares top-scored, and the form of a series of Selecao stars has given Tite enviable squad depth.

In Allison and Ederson, he can choose between arguably the top two goalkeepers in the Premier League, while Fabinho was crucial as Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool fell narrowly short of a historic quadruple last term.

Casemiro, who won his fifth Champions League title with Madrid in May, could partner him in a fearsome midfield duo, but most of the excitement is centred on his club team-mate Vinicius Junior, whose 22 goals and 16 assists for Los Blancos last term suggest he can be the man to dovetail with Neymar.

 

After landing an appealing group-stage draw alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon, the excitement around Brazil is building once more.

With the Selecao topping the FIFA World Rankings, having fairly recent a Copa America win under their belts and possessing some of European football's most-effective players, 2022 seems as good a time as any for Brazil to end 20 years of disappointment and bring 'o Jogo Bonito' to the world once more.

Kylian Mbappe is already the best player in France and can continue to make history after signing his new contract with Paris Saint-Germain, according to Ronaldinho.

Last week, Mbappe agreed a new three-year deal with the Ligue 1 champions, rejecting Real Madrid's public advances in a huge transfer blow to the Champions League finalists.

The World Cup-winning forward scored 39 goals and added 21 assists during a remarkable individual season with PSG, as Mauricio Pochettino's team secured a10th league title in the club's history.

The 23-year-old is already the second-highest Ligue 1 goalscorer in PSG history, scoring 171 goals in 217 league outings for the Parisian giants – only Edinson Cavani (200 goals in 301 games) has more.

Former PSG star Ronaldinho, who scored 25 goals in two seasons with the club before departing for Barcelona in 2003, says Mbappe is already out-shining team-mates Lionel Messi and Neymar.

However, Ronaldinho also insisted PSG would have been able to cope had the France star left for Madrid, highlighting the quality of his team-mates.

"Right now, of the future... he's a player that could be part of history," he told Mail Online. "He deserves all the respect he's getting. He is making history and can continue to create happiness for us in this game.

"Today he is the best player for PSG. If he left to go anywhere else, it would only be to have the chance to be the best player in another country. He's already the best in France.

"Paris Saint-Germain has some of the best players in the world right now – Messi, Neymar, Sergio Ramos. 

"Some of the best players in the world are in this team. So, if one of the best players in the world leaves, other top players will continue in their place."

 

Meanwhile, Ronaldinho's former Barcelona team-mate Messi endured a mixed first season in France, recording 11 goals and 14 assists in all competitions but being jeered by his own fans in the aftermath of March's Champions League defeat to Madrid.

However, Ronaldinho insists the Argentine is happy in Paris, highlighting his 2021 Ballon d'Or win as evidence of his continued quality.

The former Camp Nou star also insists Barcelona will recover from Messi's departure and return to the top of the game under Xavi's management, backing the Blaugrana boss to create another "beautiful" team.

'If my friend is happy, it's the right decision, and I believe he is very happy," Ronaldinho said of Messi. "He is going through a period of adapting, but he's already been voted the best player in the world.

"People said they were surprised when I left Barcelona and when Messi left. But Barcelona continues to be Barcelona. 

"Things change in football, naturally. Now the club's hierarchy needs to bring in new players with talent to continue being successful.

"They already have a great coach who has a foundation in the history of the club. So, the club can begin it's rebuild with this manager to create a beautiful team. They need to now give the manager the opportunity to build a great team.

"It won't be easy. They need a bit more time to build a side that is based around the best players. But I think players are happy to be playing for one of the best teams in the world."

Ronaldinho told Paris Saint-Germain fans they should be careful what they wish for as he mounted a defence of the club's under-fire superstars.

Neymar and Lionel Messi have faced a backlash from supporters in recent months, with Kylian Mbappe the only member of the much-vaunted forward trio seemingly immune to their criticism.

It helps that Mbappe has enjoyed another spectacular season for PSG, scoring 35 goals and adding 19 assists, while Neymar and Messi have struggled to live up to their lofty reputations.

Many supporters have been unimpressed by the team's performances this season, despite a costly recruitment drive that brought a raft of big names to the Parc des Princes.

Messi, an all-time great, arrived from Barcelona, while the likes of Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum also joined, along with Inter's flying full-back Achraf Hakimi.

Despite PSG assembling a star-studded squad, there has been such a backlash against the side's performances that last month's Ligue 1 title success was barely celebrated by supporters.

Squandering a 2-0 aggregate lead to lose to Real Madrid in the Champions League's last-16 was a shattering blow, and many supporters want change to come not only on the pitch, but in the boardroom, with President Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Sporting Director Leonardo facing heavy criticism.

Ronaldinho, however, does not understand those questioning the side, telling RMC Sports: "I don't understand because there are all these great players.

"And you want to change everything? What do you want to have? The worst players in the world?

"We have to wait for them to understand this new way of living and playing football. And the rest will come slowly. This adaptation is normal, to do things well."

Neymar signed a big-money contract extension last May so appears unlikely to leave any time soon, but patience is in short supply among some fans when it comes to the Brazilian.

His compatriot Ronaldinho, who spent two years at PSG before joining Barcelona in 2003, defended the winger by declaring: "He's one of the best players in the world.

"He has had several injuries this year. When he's at 100 per cent he's a really special player for this team. Neymar, [Angel] Di Maria, Messi... the greatest players are together. If you're not happy with that, who are you going to play with?"

Mbappe, meanwhile, will reach the end of his contract next month with Madrid remaining eager to take him to the Santiago Bernabeu, although reports have suggested he could yet decide to remain in the French capital.

Ronaldinho refused to offer an opinion as to where the 2018 World Cup winner should play next term, saying the most important thing is Mbappe's happiness and predicting he will become the world's best player.

"I have no advice. I love him so much," he added. "The most important thing is that he is happy, the rest will come normally. He will become the best player in the world. The rest is up to him to decide where he will play and what he wants to do."

Ronaldinho believes Barcelona can chase down LaLiga leaders Real Madrid after his former Blaugrana team-mate Xavi restored "hope" at the club.

Barca have surged up the table after appointing Xavi as boss last November, climbing from ninth to third following a 14-game unbeaten run in the Spanish top flight, including a 4-0 Clasico thumping of Madrid,

That undefeated streak is the longest ongoing run in Europe's top-five leagues, and Barca have won six LaLiga matches in a row, keeping a clean sheet in the past three games.

Barca's next task will be a trip to Levante on Sunday as the Catalan club search for four straight wins in the competition without conceding for the first time since December 2018.

And Ronaldinho, who played with Xavi during his five-year spell at Barca between 2003 and 2008, believes the former midfielder has brought the faith back for the Blaugrana supporters.

"I have returned to take a good look at Barça with Xavi, who has returned and has brought us hope," he told Mundo Deportivo. 

"As my friend and former team-mate that he is, this excites people and me too. When he played, he already had a vision of the game as a coach. 

"He guided the game and I see it very well because he makes us want to watch Barca games again."

Barca evoked memories of the 2003-04 season, when they defeated Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu before making a late title charge, by demolishing Carlo Ancelotti's side on the road last month.

Xavi's team would move 12 points behind Madrid with victory at Levante, while still having a game in hand, and Ronaldinho says they can win the title.

"[The 2003-04 season win at Madrid] was a very nice comeback that we have had in our time and it can happen again," he added. 

"As I said, we are excited that Barca will play well again and I think anything is possible."

Pressed on whether Barca could complete the unthinkable turnaround to steal the LaLiga title from Madrid, the Brazil great responded: "I hope so and as a fan I am hoping that things go well and I think there can be."

While uncertainty remains where the LaLiga title will be heading when the season concludes, one thing is for sure; Ronaldinho has no intentions of entering management or coaching any time soon.

"The truth is that I have never seen myself this way, it may be that in the future I will, when I have more patience," he said when asked if he would join Xavi as his assistant. 

"It's difficult when you leave football and you have a way of looking at it, wanting others to do things that are very difficult for them to do. So, I still have no patience."

Kylian Mbappe has been tipped by Ronaldinho to stay at Paris Saint-Germain beyond this season and continue his partnership with Lionel Messi and Neymar.

France international Mbappe is into the final three months of his PSG contract and is a target for Real Madrid, while Barcelona have also been linked. 

Speaking earlier this month, PSG sporting director Leonardo vowed to "try everything" to persuade the 23-year-old to agree fresh terms at the Parc des Princes.

Mbappe has scored 26 goals for the Ligue 1 leaders this term, which is 19 more than the next-best Messi, who joined in a sensational move from Barcelona last August.

Neymar has netted just five times in all competitions, meanwhile, in what has been an underwhelming campaign for both the Brazil international and indeed PSG.

While 2021-22 has not gone to plan for the Parisians, who exited the Champions League and Coupe de France at the last-16 stage, Ronaldinho hopes their front three stay.

Asked if he believes Mbappe can be convinced to sign a new contract, Ronaldinho is quoted by Spanish outlet AS as saying: "Yes, I think he will stay.

"But hey, with football, a lot of things can happen quickly. But the three of them together can do something beautiful.

"I will not offer my advice to anyone. I just want to see all my friends happy, wherever they are. If all three stay, it would be fantastic for anyone who loves football.

"The three best players in the world together is what all football lovers want to see."

Mbappe is averaging 0.76 goals per 90 minutes this season, compared to 0.29 for Messi, who has endured a stop-start campaign in his first season away from Barcelona. 

The Argentina star has 10 assists but only two goals to his name in Ligue 1 – not since 2005-06, in his early days at Camp Nou, has he failed to register at least double figures.

 

PSG fans made their frustration known when they jeered Messi and Neymar during their recent 3-0 win over Bordeaux, four days on from the club's Champions League exit.

Ronaldinho, who played alongside Messi at Barcelona following a two-season spell of his own in Paris, was shocked by the reaction his former team-mate received.

"I didn't understand that," he said. "If you whistle Messi, there is nothing left. If you whistle the best in the world, who are you going to applaud? I don't get it.

"This is not a Messi or Neymar problem. The fans were not happy about exiting the Champions League. 

"They are the two biggest names at PSG so it's normal the jeers were stronger against them. But I think the fans are unhappy with all the players, not just those two.

"This is football and normality will return. I hope now that Neymar doesn't get injured because every year he wins something, either with the national team or with PSG.

"I hope that with Messi's adaption that the three of them can write a great story."

Neymar has been compared to fellow Brazilian Ronaldinho, with Ludovic Giuly believing the Paris Saint-Germain star will never reach his potential.

Like the great Ronaldinho, Neymar has played for both Barcelona and PSG, albeit he moved from Catalonia to Paris, rather than the other way around.

One of the main motives behind Neymar's switch to PSG was reportedly his desire to win the Ballon d'Or, which has been dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and his former Barca team-mate Lionel Messi.

Yet despite helping to secure three straight Ligue 1 titles, Neymar has been unable to propel PSG to Champions League glory – coming closest when the Parisians reached the final last season – and at 29, his chances of winning football's most coveted personal prize look to be getting slimmer.

He has also suffered several lengthy injury lay offs during his time at the Parc des Princes, while Kylian Mbappe has perhaps overtaken him as PSG's standout superstar.

Having returned from the groin strain that saw him miss PSG's Champions League last-16 tie victory over his former club Barca, Neymar saw red in a 1-0 defeat to title rivals Lille on Saturday.

Giuly, a former France international who also played for both PSG and Barca – where he was a team-mate of Ronaldinho – suggested Neymar's application is the reason why he will perhaps never hit the full heights that he has the talent for.

"I'm going to compare Ronaldinho and Neymar on a career level. They have everything, but they don't give everything to be even higher," Giuly told Telefoot.

Despite his concerns over Neymar's work ethic, however, Giuly is hopeful the forward will agree to extend his PSG contract.

Giuly added: "Of course that is an important message for us, for his team-mates and for the supporters. [That] he shows his love and commitment to the club, it is something very important."

NEYMAR'S 2020-21 CAMPAIGN

In what has been another stop-start season, Neymar has managed only 20 appearances across all competitions for PSG, starting on 16 occasions, with his overall game time 1,142 minutes.

He has netted 13 goals, averaging a strike every 111 minutes, while five of those have come from the penalty spot. These goals have come from 73 attempts – the second-most in PSG's team behind Mbappe (114).

Creatively, Neymar also ranks highly. He has crafted 44 chances, including four assists, with 35 of them coming from open play. 

This tally puts him second in PSG's squad, behind Angel Di Maria, who has registered 10 assists from 69 chances created, while Mbappe has teed up an impressive nine goals from 43 opportunities, again indicating that the youngster is perhaps overshadowing the world's most expensive footballer.

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