Lionel Messi Was Behind Neymar's Barcelona Exit, Reveals Dani Alves

Neymar Jr.'s £199m world-record move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain allowed him to escape Lionel Messi's shadow, according to teammate Dani Alves.

Neymar left the Camp Nou in the summer after four years in Catalonia, playing alongside Luis Suarez and five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi in an attack that became known as "the trident."

Alves, the PSG defender also formerly of Barcelona, believes his countryman Neymar is on a par with Messi—but had to move in order to develop his talent.

"I think he's up there with Messi as the most influential player in world football," Alves told FIFA.com.

"The thing is, he had to come out of [Messi's] shadow a little. Playing with someone as unique as Leo is the most incredible thing that can happen to you, but there's always that doubt in your mind if it's you that really has the quality or if it's him.

"I always loved playing with him, but he's Argentine and Neymar and I are Brazilians. Sooner or later we had to come up against each other."

In their three years playing together as a trio, Messi, Neymar and Suarez scored 250 goals in 299 games. Messi contributed the most, with 106 goals in 105 appearances, while Neymar hit the back of the net 59 times.

Neymar
Neymar at Parc des Princes, Paris, France, January 27. Neymar left Barcelona to escape Lionel Messi's shadow, according to Dani Alves. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty

"I think you've got a better chance of achieving things individually when you're not so close to a player like him," Alves added. "It was important for Neymar's own development and for Brazil for him to follow his own path."

Neymar has eased into life in the French capital. In 24 appearances for Unai Emery's PSG, he has scored 26 times and provided 14 assists—statistics comparable to his former teammate.

Neymar, like Alves, will be looking to the World Cup in Russia this summer, but his performances in the yellow of Brazil have failed to be quite as influential. He has only scored once in six matches for Brazil, in a 3-1 win against Japan in November, so far this season.

PSG are running away with Ligue 1, leading second-place Lyon by 11 points and with a far superior goal difference. Barcelona, meanwhile, have the same advantage at the top of La Liga, with 11 points separating them and Atletico Madrid.