Neymar: The beginnings of a legend

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Football News

Follow football at all and you can't help but see the name of Neymar everywhere you turn.

With FC Barcelona on the cusp on a Champions League title following a triumph in La Liga, the young Brazilian is already flirting with greatness and he is constantly being mentioned in the same breath with other modern playmakers like Ronaldo and his teammate Lionel Messi.

What's so great about Neymar and why has his ascension into football's elite been so rapid? Taking a look at his relatively short history easily shows why the 23-year-old seems destined to become one of the best players to ever grace the pitch.

A Precocious Start

With football culture being at a maximum in Neymar's native Brazil, it's not surprising that he was picked up quite early by Santos FC, where he would spend many years. At the age of 17, the budding player was upgraded to the first team and was given his first contract as a professional footballer.

In only his second match, he managed to score his first official goal and a game-winning shot came a month later in the 2009 Campeonato Paulista semifinal. In total, Neymar produced 14 goals in the first season of his contract, an auspicious start that would be followed by many other highlights.

Leading Santos to the Campeonato Paulista final in 2010, Neymar netted 14 goals in the campaign, including a game against Guarani where he blasted home an amazing 5 goals in the single match. With his star on the rise, Neymar rejected offers from both Chelsea and West Ham United, preferring to work on his game at Santos, which resulted in several more titles.

Eventually, Neymar found the deal he wanted with FC Barcelona and a transfer was announced in May of 2013. From 2009 to his last match with Santos in April of 2013, the future FC Barcelona player racked up an impressive total of 136 goals. By this time, Neymar was already on the tips of football fans' tongues and his performance in his first season at FC Barcelona showed that the trade had been a good move. However, it would be the next year before Neymar would become an international sensation.

2014 World Cup

When Brazil took to the field against Croatia in the first match of the 2014 World Cup, many had already picked the squad to win the entire tournament on their home turf and all expected Neymar to be a major part of that win.

Falling behind Croatia 1-0, Neymar reversed the momentum with a long shot from outside the box that equalized the game and then a penalty shot in the second half that gave Brazil a 2-1 lead that would be enough to win the first match.

If there were any naysayers left at the start of the World Cup, Neymar surely put any doubts to rest with his performance in that first match. Unfortunately, Brazil's run would fall short of the championship, but Neymar was clearly not one of the reasons. Brazil and Neymar cruised through the group stage, but ran into trouble against Columbia in the quarterfinals.

Despite winning the match 2-1, Neymar was injured in the closing minutes of the match and had to be taken off the field with medical assistance. Tests showed that he had suffered a fractured vertebra and would be unable to take part in the next crucial match against Germany. Without Neymar, Brazil struggled against the tough German squad and ended up losing the match 7-1. Had Neymar been able to play, the match and the subsequent course of the tournament may have taken on a very different appearance.

2015 FC Barcelona

At the start of the 2014-2015 club football season, the powerhouse of FC Barcelona was undeniable, with Neymar and current reigning best player in the world Lionel Messi at the helm. Messi's playmaking abilities and Neymar's finishing talents have proven to be much more than most opponents are able to stand and only two matches remain for an opponent to upset FC Barcelona on their way to the Champions League win.

Neymar's to date total of 37 goals may be shy of Messi's 56, but it is clear that the striking duo (aided by the addition of Luis Suarez) is a force to be reckoned with. Should both players stay with FC Barcelona for future seasons, it can surely be expected that more titles and possible scoring records will be on the way.

A Second Sport?

Also falling under the label of recent Neymar news, the star has just inked a deal with a company outside the football spectrum. PokerStars, an online gaming platform, has recently recruited Neymar to be part of its team of professional athletes that also play poker. Joining Ronaldo and tennis ace Rafa Nadal, Neymar will soon be found on the virtual felt as well as at live poker events, starting with an appearance at the upcoming Barcelona European Poker Tour event. It may seem like an odd partnership, but the truth is that the football pro has been a poker fan and player for many years.

When Neymar was unable to compete in Brazil's loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, a simple comment introduced his fascination with poker to the rest of the world. Rather than watch his native Brazil team suffer an embarrassing defeat without him on the field, Neymar turned to his attention away from the game by telling his friends, "Let's play poker" instead.

Since that time, Neymar has uploaded plenty of pictures to social media of himself playing cards and has even given his pet dog the moniker of "Poker." This new partnership with PokerStars will obviously be a second passion for Neymar, but also one where he could become famous for entirely different reasons - namely, his prowess at poker.

Social Media

An interesting part of Neymar's fame is directly related to poker or football, but rather with social media. His online celebrity status is equal if not bigger than the number of people that regularly tune in for FC Barcelona and Brazil national team matches.

More than 70 million people have followed the footballer on Facebook and Twitter, making him one of the most liked online presences on the planet. By being active on social media and regularly interacting with followers, Neymar has captured the attention of a new generation that is more connected than ever and he may be remembered as the celebrity that finally bridged the gap between real world and Internet fame.

It would appear that 2015 will be the year that Neymar steps into the spotlight on his own right and the accolades and involvement of possibly winning the Champions League, one of club football's highest honors, as well as becoming a spokesperson for PokerStars could usher in a new stage of the pro's career.

Even with that said, we are only at the beginning of Neymar's fame and should he be able to avoid a serious injury, we could be naming him as one of the best ever in just a few short years. Time will tell whether or not Neymar will become the legend that his millions of fans have already embraced.

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Lionel Messi
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