Football

Neymar: The Brazilian with the world at his feet

For one so slight, Neymar is forced to deal with heavyweight criticism when he fails to deliver on the pitch; for one so young he endures the admonishment of those judging him through the prism of a fully-mature superstar.

During Brazil’s 1-1 draw with Russia at Stamford Bridge last night – part of their gauchely-named “Global Tour” - the 21-year-old attempted to flick and trick his way to recognition. Very little came off and the catcalls soon began.

Such is the life of a raw, gifted young man labelled “the new Pele” from an early age. Marseille’s miscreant midfielder Joey Barton wasted no time in comparing him to Canadian pop product Justin Bieber after last night’s showing

Ideal for short clips, made for the YouTube generation, but a show pony who can’t cut it across 90 minutes was the jist. That opinion garnered 26,000 retweets; 26,000 nodding heads.

Amidst the maelstrom and transfer speculation – every day the young protégé is linked with a move to one of the giants of European football -  it is easy to forget Neymar’s humble beginnings, his precocious talent, and just how far he has come since making his senior debut aged just 17.

Neymar joined Santos aged just 9, and his talent was apparent from a young age. 

Indeed the transfer saga which looks set to play out across the next two summers leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil could well have been avoided if Real Madrid had followed through after taking a 13-year-old Neymar on trial.

“It seems the Real Madrid dream is a reality,” he said in 2005.

Sadly for Neymar the move failed to materialise, but his inability to instantly secure a move to Europe at such a tender age has at least come with its benefits. Perhaps it was more silver lining than cloud that he stayed in Brazil.

Having made his debut at just 17-years-old against Oeste in 2009, Neymar has become a fully-fledged bonafide superstar in his home country.

Nike, Panasonic, Red Bull and Volkswagen are amongst a handful of companies to have recognised his potential early on.

The forward, who can play on either wing or through the middle thanks to his God-given ability with both feet has hit a remarkable 101 goals in 167 domestic league appearances for Santos, and was inspirational in his side’s Copa Libertadores win in 2011.

Billed as the Champions League of South America, Neymar helped his side to their 3rd Copa Liberatadores crown, scoring in the 2nd leg of the final against Uruguyan outfit Peñarol, taking his tally to six and making him the competition’s joint-3rd highest scorer in the process. 

International recognition followed his domestic success – which also includes three Campeonato Paulista titles.

Perhaps the moment he was bought into the focus of football fans outside of South America however was in 2011, when his strike against Flamengo in the Brasileiro won the FIFA Puskas award for the best goal of the year.

A thing of magisterial beauty and trickery, all of Neymar’s innate qualities were laid out for all the world to see. 

Freeing himself of the attention of a nearby marker, the Brazilian accelerated away after playing a one-two, bamboozled a centre-back and stroked home his finish in the blink of an eye. It was Neymar encapsulated.

“I’m very grateful to God and to all you. Enjoy this party!” Neymar told a watching crowd including the likes of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, one of whom could easily become a team-mate in the coming years, upon receiving his award.

In that moment he became a player well and truly on the world stage.

Now, hardly a day goes by without a new trick or outrageous goal being bought to the attention of the wider world – but his elevation to one of the brightest young talents on the planet is not without its downside. 

Neymar bears the weight of Brazil on his shoulders as they bid to win the World Cup on home soil next summer; in a squad packed with established names like Kaka, Dani Alves and Thiago Silva, a country looks to their ‘Next Big Thing’, the new Pele, to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious forefathers and deliver the Seleção to their 6th world title.

Of course on Monday’s against showing against Russia, it’s hard to believe that is going to happen. Under former Chelsea boss Felipe Scolari, taking charge of just his third game, Brazil struggled to a draw at Stamford Bridge, while his previous two games against England and Italy ended in defeat and a draw respectively. Neymar showed flashes of brilliance in all three games, but no more.

His experiences with Brazil haven’t exactly matched his lightning ascent to the big time either; he was forced to settle for a silver medal in the London Olympics last summer after defeat against Mexico in the final at Wembely. 

Away from his international career, much of the attention surrounding Neymar is to do with his future and who he will be playing for come the 2014 World Cup.

From rumours he had agreed a deal to join Real Madrid to speculation Barcelona have already made a €10 million down-payment, there is unlikely to be any respite in the lead up to the Greatest Show on Earth next year. 

Premier League clubs Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are believed to have sent scouts to run the rule over the talented youngster as well.

Whatever his future holds it is easy to forget that at the tender age of 21, Neymar has the world at his feet but is only taking his first steps along the path to greatness.  

Comparisons with the very best that have skewed the world’s view of this precious young talent have hardly helped; Pele of all people should be wary of the pressure being heaped on his young protégé’s shoulders. Instead, he has only pushed him further forward into the limelight.

“There's always this Maradona comparison, saying that he's better than Pele. Now some are saying that Messi is better than Pele,” he said last year. “Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn't yet. He has more experience.”

While Messi may have already established himself at a similar age, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo was still wrestling with a similarly unfavourable reputation and a frame which still required filling out. 

Indeed, it was in his early twenties that the Portuguese superstar scored 20 goals in one season for the first time, and he hasn’t looked back since. 

Either way, both Messi and Ronaldo are currently in a different sphere to the raw Neymar, something he is quick to admit himself. Whether he can match either one in the future is unclear.

Will he be as good as either of those two? For now, comparisons with the world’s best, a multi-million pound move to one of Europe’s biggest leagues and the pursuit of greatness is on hold. 

The baying crowd will have to wait and see if Neymar can truly be one of the best until he matures and joins a major European club. Sadly judgment doesn’t often go hand in hand with patience. 

Topics:
Internationals
Football

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