PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil superstar Neymar is 26 on Monday and the next 12 months look set to be possibly the most exciting of his career.
As fate would have it, one of the other two players comprising the three best in the world -- Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo -- is also celebrating his birthday on the same day, as he turns 33.
Seven years apart, the Portuguese is well ahead of Neymar in terms of collective and individual career achievements for now, but 2018 could be the year that finally starts to change.
After scoring in PSG's 3-0 Ligue 1 win away at Lille last Saturday from a free kick, Neymar has notched up 520 career matches already -- 437 at club level and 83 internationally, while Ronaldo was one month shy of his 27th birthday by the time he hit the same tally.
Neymar has already played more times for club (437) and country (83) than Lionel Messi (380/82) and Ronaldo (393/79) had at the time of their 26th birthdays and he has also scored more international goals (53) than his two rivals (35/25). In fact, he's only lagging behind Messi's total of club goals, having scored 268 to Messi's 313.
Statistically speaking, Les Parisiens' No. 10 is shaping up nicely. Although Messi is showing no signs of being on the wane, these next 12 months represent a perfect opportunity for Neymar to usurp Ronaldo.
By the end of this year, the Brazilian could have celebrated three major successes in his career with further Champions League glory, a World Cup triumph and the individual recognition that he craves with the Ballon d'Or -- just one year on from his world record €222 million move from Camp Nou.
Neymar and Ronaldo will go head-to-head next week when Real host PSG at the Bernabeu in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash, with the Ligue 1 leaders currently looking in better shape than the two-time European champions.
The Brazilian has been in outstanding form so far this season and is the only player across the continent's top five leagues with more than 10 goals and assists. Neymar has scored 27 goals and assisted 14 more from his first 26 matches with PSG, which is more impressive than his Santos (six), Brazil (16) and Barcelona (11) tallies at the same stage.
Indeed, he is getting more of the ball in Paris than he was playing alongside Messi and Luis Suarez and, even though he is sharing the load in attack with Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, it is now more about him at Parc des Princes. He is the main man.
The stats back that up too, with Neymar averaging 102 touches of the ball per game with PSG, 4.3 shots and 3.6 chances created, compared with 73.4, 3.2 and 2.3 with Barcelona.
Success in 2018 will not only be defined by what happens with PSG, though, there is also the World Cup with Brazil in Russia this summer.
Currently, Neymar is fourth in the all-time list of Brazil's top scorers -- two behind Romario in third place, nine behind Ronaldo in second and 24 behind the legendary Pele.
Neymar is unlikely to shoot to the top of that list by the end of 2018 but that is not the main aim - winning a sixth World Cup for the Selecao is the objective and in doing that, he may well be able to overtake Romario and Ronaldo. In fact, it could be that Neymar is already ahead of Romario before the competition gets underway, with friendlies against Russia and Germany to come in March.
Should Neymar manage to lead PSG to Champions League glory and Brazil to another World Cup title, there is little doubt that he will secure his first Ballon d'Or -- one of the key reasons why he wanted to step out of Messi's shadow in Barcelona. Indeed, 2018 will be the first year that Neymar take a shot at the Ballon d'Or without Messi by his side.
Whether he is successful or unsuccessful, one thing is for sure -- he is going to push his two main rivals more in the coming years and victory at this early stage could represent the start of a new stranglehold over the highest individual accolades.
That hard work starts now and the Champions League showdown between Neymar and Ronaldo in Madrid next week is the perfect chance for the Brazilian to land an early blow as he bids to make his 26th year his most memorable to date.