Neymar 20 Striker Santos
With each and every passing day, we love Neymar a little more.
We’ve reached a point at IBWM in which we feel a degree of - what you could almost describe as parental - responsibility for the Brazilian wunderkind. Every attempted hack, raised foot, wayward elbow or trailing leg despatched by an opponent makes us wince. Just back off eh?
It’s not often, these days especially, that a player can begin to justify overly fulsome hype, but claims that Brazil have, again, discovered a natural heir to Pelé are not unfounded. It is an outrageous claim, but there is basis for confidence this time - this kid can really play.
So, we’ve established that there is an abundant talent here, but what exactly is there to be so excited about?
Neymar is exceptionally fast, not just in your ‘flat-out-at-a-backpedalling-centre-back’ type running, but in the stupefying speed of his feet. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the Santos star might actually be the most gifted attacking player in world football today, and we’ll include *him* and *him* in that list. Mock all you like, but just watch those inestimably endorsed boots dance.
Different in style to many of his peers, Neymar is more than just a striker and can be menacingly direct. He scores goals that others can’t and executes the sort of passes that permit lesser colleagues to record respectable goalscoring tallies.
With an uncompromising fleetness of foot and a nimble brain which operates at an elevated level far beyond those around him, Neymar has furnished us with a strong indication that 2014 Brazil will take some stopping, especially if he finds a partner totally tuned to his wavelength. While comparisons to O Rei are predictable, we can’t be the only ones that see elements of George Best or Johan Cruyff in the young Brazilian’s style. Snake hips, outrageous skill, hubristic demeanour…..it’s not just us is it?
So why the parental responsibility thing?
Our fears may be unfounded, but the crude level of pressure/scrutiny that Neymar endures is prolifically intense, even by today’s polarised standards. In the first instance, the pressure from sponsors is huge; Neymar is already THE face, THE player, THE legend of World Cup 2014, and that can’t be good for such a young man - he is not yet 21 after all.
And it’s not just the regulation sportswear endorsements; Neymar’s profile appears on pretty much every consumable product in Brazil right now. If fact, while we’d normally suggest that remaining, and growing, in familiar confines is the best thing possible, such is the weight of expectation in his home country maybe an escape to Europe might not be so bad after all. It won’t happen though; Neymar has affirmed his desire to remain with Santos until after the big FIFA jamboree in 2014. His face might be all over town, but it’s his town.
Of course just playing for Santos brings a degree of pressure. Lucas Moura and Oscar have been able to ascend at São Paulo and Internacional, while not completely under the radar, but certainly not in the sort of concentrated glare that Neymar has had to endure at such an emblematic club. In the early 1970’s O Peixe became the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters; hawking brand Pelé around the world for cash without attempting to escape first gear. A Copa Libertadores win in 2011 for the current vintage presented a flirtation with the memory of Santos’ golden predecessors. Able to turn it on for the Cop Lib, but fairly mundane and disinterested in the State and National championships, the team frequently morphed into a showboating parody of themselves, slumbering through matches they should have won at a canter. It’s ironic that a stolid and workmanlike Corinthians took the Copa Libertadores title this year.
We also worry about Neymar’s build. While not necessarily brittle, this svelte young man is going to get kicked - a lot - and we hope he can handle it. Leo Messi has suffered belligerent broadsides for many years but seems to possess some kind of freakish immunity to all the swipes so that you barely even notice it happening. We bet he does though. Cristiano Ronaldo is another for who bellicose back lines would be only to keen to take a barbarous boot to, but his penchant for diving coupled with a physique more akin to a cruiserweight boxer might just hold a few swipes back. Whether Neymar can handle the sort of treatment he’ll invariably receive in the years to come is a moot point.
As far as individual progress is concerned, Neymar is bang on track. Tempestuous flare ups have rescinded suggesting that a more mature player has emerged and the Santos attacker - the best player in South America by a considerable distance - is improving all the time.
A contributing architect of Brazil’s almost successful Olympic summer, Neymar would be receiving an ‘A’ in this report had Santos been a little more prosperous in 2012. That may seem exceptionally harsh considering that 2012 alone has yielded 54 goals in 65 games, but as brilliant as he has been, we don’t think all of the engines are fully ignited yet.
"This year was all about retaining the Libertadores or winning the Brasileirao for Neymar and Santos and they will end up doing neither. He continues to stand out domestically, but what more is there for him to learn in Brazil?" -Ed Malyon (The Mirror, The Guardian)
"The best player in South America by such a distance that nobody even bothers debating it anymore." - Jack Lang (Guardian, ESPN)
B Totemic, unassailable and beautiful to watch, maybe we should just stop worrying and enjoy Neymar. He really is fantastic