Over the years, many star Brazilians have lit up the World Cup. From Garrincha to Pele, Jairzinho to Socrates, Ronaldo to Ronaldinho and many, many more. The greatest international tournament has long been the stage for many boys from Brazil to shine.
In recent years, there appears to have been a decline in Brazilian superstars, coincidentally coinciding with the rise of Spanish football and their superstar Spaniards, as well the Germans with their brilliant youngsters.
Now though, for fans of the Seleção, there is an air of optimism with their current team. Young, up and coming stars such as Oscar and Lucas Moura, rising stars like Paulinho and established world-class performers like Thiago Silva, are providing fans willing the ‘Pentacampeões’ to win a 6th star with a reason to believe.
Then, above all else, there is one more man giving hope to the many supporters; Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. Commonly known as Neymar – Barcelona’s latest South American star.
At just 21-years old, Neymar will go into the World Cup with the world watching, including the added pressure of having all the hopes of many adoring fans placed on his shoulders.
Spearheading a fight for the World Cup trophy is so often an exacting task for the most experienced players – Ronaldinho struggled to impose himself fully on the 2006 World Cup, for example – but Neymar has no option but to deliver, to not only bring glory to many Verde-Amarela fans, but to also dispel the myth that he is an overrated showman, and not a footballer.
It’d be fair to say that almost every single fan of football has an opinion on Brazilian ‘futebol’s’ latest posterboy. Whether or not that opinion is full of positivity and superlatives, or perhaps even vitriolic diatribe, is another matter – everyone is talking about Neymar. As soon as he steps out of the tunnel and approaches the pitch, fans gather to spectate, most in anticipation of something extraordinary.
Regardless of any opinion formed on Neymar, there is no denying that what he can do with a ball can only be done by few other footballers. Fooling defenders and making them fall flat on their backsides is always enjoyable, and Neymar tends to do just that quite regularly.
Football is a game of entertainment, and you may be stretched to find a more entertaining player than Neymar in world football. With a change of pace as good as any, skill barely rivalled and dribbles like the best, Neymar personifies the beautiful game’s appealing artistry.
But, like many others, Neymar is not without his critics. Claims he is overrated are often bounced around social media outlets like a flood of basketballs in a sports hall, rebounding from here to there, echoing as they do. His performances in big games against better teams are often questioned, with many believing he can only perform against sub-standard opponents.
While some performances have been below what’s expected and required, particularly against Mexico in the Olympics Final, to suggest the Brazilian league is so inferior that he’s able to make it look unchallenging and himself fantastic, is a nonsensical statement.
Many reviews of his performances have been shared, as have many views on his theatrics.
Diving has often been the bane of fans’ lives in the past. We all hate it; it’s unsportsmanlike and pathetic. But many do it. Not just Neymar. As horrible as it is to see, there’s no escaping it, with any player. It should stop, but will it? Probably not. And to stop this becoming a banal debate about diving, we shall now move on.
All of the above is opinion based, however, and while we may not all agree with one another, we cannot dismiss an opinion. What is a fact though, is that he’s not been viewable to many as a club footballer, with his career so far having been spent in South America with Santos.
But that is all about to change after the two-time South American Footballer of the Year agreed to join Spanish giants, Barcelona.
From next season onwards, his aptitude for beautiful football will be paired with the inimitable Lionel Messi, joining forces to undoubtedly cause a mess in the opposing defenders’ shorts. Many defensive coaches in Spain will either be handing in their notice, or desperately trying to prove their mettle by meticulously concocting a plan to negate the potentially devastating effect of the pair.
Pace and trickery are not all to shout about in regards to Neymar’s game. He too is a player with good vision, ambidexterity, a talent for crossing and a fantastic eye for goal. Though he can be slightly selfish, he has the ability to be a wonderful team player, linking well with those around him, dazzling opponents with movement and skill.
Mix that with the current Barcelona squad, and you have yourself football at its best. It will be intriguing to see how Neymar will cope with being second best, though he has always believed Messi to be the best in the world, he’s never had to deal with a team-mate being a bigger and better star, not to mention Barca’s other stars.
The two working together is not all for Barcelona to worry about, they must also worry about Neymar’s adaptation to the Spanish game. Brazil is far more counter-attack based; less tactical. Many believe that to stop Neymar, you only have to mark him. He must disprove this notion.
His touch and quick feet is enough to show potential of being a great player in situations when marked, but now he must prove it on a weekly basis on a bigger stage for a bigger club with better players, with more at stake.
He must settle and show signs of his talent rather quickly if he’s to turn his critics into admirers. Football is a harsh game; one poor performance and you’re overrated and no good. That’s just the way it is. He has all the attributes to be a superstar, but will possibly take time to adjust.
Having been brought up in the Brazilian game, around Brazilian coaches drumming a Brazilian mentality into his skull, it will be a big change for him coming to Europe. Many have failed to impose themselves on the European game, although he can take inspiration from fellow internationals Oscar and Lucas Moura, with both having recently moved to Europe, earning adulation from both press and fans for their performances.
At 5′ 9″ and 8 stone wet through, Neymar’s a lightweight. Stand him next to most defenders and he’s dwarfed by their pure size and imposing stature. But when ‘in the zone’, he’s a determined, majestically angelic dribbler, displaying wizardry far beyond his years.
Despite the diving, he’s incredibly similar to Ronaldinho: skill not for show, but for necessity. Skill to escape defenders; to create space; to make the game easier. And maybe some for show as well.
So much has been accomplished by this young man, 23 international goals in 37 international games so far for the Brazil senior side, and 136 goals in 225 games at club level for Santos really is remarkable, as is his list of individual honours.
So many statistics can be used to prove his importance to Santos and Brazil, and Barcelona in the future too, most probably. He has been Santos’ talisman since his first ever goal, breaking goalscoring records along the way, whilst also becoming the clubs top goalscorer since the legendary Pelé. And there will be many, many more goals to come.
Watching Neymar at his best is a truly compelling experience, though some feel they’re just watching an over-hyped, overpaid, theatrical Robinho. But the young prodigy has all the time in the world to show everyone what he can do.
His first season at Barcelona will not be his finest, but there’s no way it will affect his chances of making the Brazil squad for the World Cup. He’s their main man; their star; their biggest hope of glory.
So, should we believe the hype? Absolutely, bloody yes.
Written by Ryan Goodenough
Follow Ryan on Twitter @SidelineArsenal
Check out his excellent football site, The Footy Rambler
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