Why Brazilians will always have an everlasting love affair with Barcelona bound Neymar…
¨Neymar is the Justin Bieber of football – brilliant on You Tube, cat piss in reality¨.
And so said social media pundit and occasional footballer Joey Barton. His remarks, part of an ongoing online spat with Brazilian Thiago Silva, followed Neymar´s constant failures in front of an ever-expecting European audience. It was Neymar´s poor performance against England at Wembley, which promoted this latest Barton tweet – reducing Neymar, fancy haircuts and all, to mere boy band status.
Despite Felipe Scolari proclaiming that Neymar´s performance in Brazil´s 2 -2 draw with Italy was both technically and tactically perfect, European audiences are yet to be convinced. While Scolari´s hyperbole certainly eluded Neymar´s biggest foe Joey Barton, the European media was no less forgiving…
All fancy flicks but no end product. Too weak. Too flash. Just a fancy haircut. Too show boat.
Just some of their scathing remarks that have followed Neymar´s indifferent performances in front of European audiences.
Four months later and the Brazilian boy wonder is on the verge of signing a 5 year contract with Barcelona. In less than a week´s time, on June 2nd, he will have an early opportunity to convince European audiences that he is indeed the real deal when he leads Brazil´s attack against England. The showcase friendly has been organised to mark the grand opening of the impressive looking and fully reformed footballing mecca: Maracanã.
It will be the Barcelona new boy that will have the burden of leading Brazil´s attack in the forthcoming Confederations Cup. At just 21 he is the squad´s leading talisman with 20 goals. Alarmingly, Fluminense´s Fred is next on the goals scored list with 10 and is the only other player in the squad to have reached double figures. While the days of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Romario are a distant memory the enormous expectations remain. Anything less than a tournament victory will be deemed as a failure. Thankfully, handling pressure and taking responsibility are all part of the Neymar armory.
The reason that Neymar is so loved in Brazil is that he is purely and simply an entertainer and Brazilians simply love to be entertained. For the average Brazilian, life is a daily grind of work, low wages, crime and mind numbing routine. Away from the glitz and glamour of Rio´s beaches over 70 % of the population earn and somehow survive on the minimum wage of R$ 678 reais per month (around 230 pound a month).
So in a country with high living costs, where a standard 9 hour day is compounded with a daily 2 hour commute on gridlocked roads, a boy with dazzling skills, jaw dropping theatricals and surreal haircuts is, quite literally, a God send. When worn-out working class Brazilians finally arrive home and turn on their TV sets they thrive escapism. From the over-the-top daily dose of the often surreal novelas (Brazilian soap operas) to gory hard-hitting crime dailies Brazilians expect demand to be entertained.
And of course there is the still the deeply rooted passion and drama of domestic football. The public gets what the public wants and Brazilian football never disappoints: penalty taking goalkeepers, red cards galore, post-match brawls and senseless sacking and re-hiring of coaches all break the monotony of daily life and its predictability. Even in the dullest, most meaningless state championship game ´something´ always seems to happen.
For Brazilians even Neymar´s lack of end product and often apparent vulnerability seem to help fuel the media´s happy go lucky, boy next door appeal. For the average Brazilian, Neymar´s failures and frustrating unreliability mirror the disappointing highs and lows of real life where dreams of progress and aspirations are often dashed in an instant by corrupt politicians, hyperinflation or economic downturns.
So, throw in the oversized baseball cap, the innocent grin and the Jesus 100% headbands and you have something for everyone. A housewife´s dream who gets both teenage girls and grown men quivering at the knees. Innocent, youthful, God-Loving, skillful and well-groomed Neymar covers all the bases of modern Brazilian culture.
As an entertainer Neymar, full name Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, has always fitted the bill and ticked all the boxes. From the moment a fresh faced, shaven headed 17 year old stepped out for his full Santos´ debut a media star was born. He scored his first senior goal in his second game. A year later and just 28 minutes into his full international bow he scored his first international goal; a rare header against a static and shell shocked US defence.
¨I´ll introduce myself if he ever decides to leave the sanctuary of the Amazon Jungle League¨
And so with Neymar´s move to Barcelona all but finalized Joey Barton might finally get his wish. In the last 4 years success at Santos has delivered 3 state championships, a Copa do Brasil, a Recopa Sudamerica and of course the pièce de résistance the much coveted Copa Libertadores.
Yet failure to qualify for this year´s Libertadores, and a disappointing domestic campaign, dampened the Santos love affair. Unsurprisingly, Santos and Neymar have hit the inevitable ´big fish in small pond´ brick wall. He has out grown them and they are seeking to cash in on their asset before his contract expires in 2014. Perhaps even Joey Barton´s tweet spurned Neymar to face the bigger tests and greater challenges of European football.
Neymar is of course following in the giant steps of fellow Brazilian forbearers: Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho Gaucho. The Camp Nou faithful will be expecting great things and ex-player and coach and all-round Barça legend Johan Cruyff is already doubtful that Neymar and Messi can link up together.
He is not alone. Over the past year Spanish football newspapers Marca and AS have both been critical of Neymar´s physical strength and tactical knowhow ; unbeknown that in recent months Neymar has decreased the body fat but added some much needed kilos Tactically, tight man-marking has made him drift inside and drop deeper. Throughout this year´s Campeonato Paulista it wasn´t unusual to see Neymar collecting the ball from the centre-halves and directing play from deeper and deeper positions.
Time will tell. Should the prodigal son begin to fail many Brazilians will struggle to understand why simply just being Neymar isn´t enough to satisfy success hungry European crowds. A word of warning – anyone hoping to see an honest, tough tackling, hard-working footballer who will track back and take one for the team will be hugely disappointed. Love it or loath it Neymar epitomizes everything about the post- Beckham era of modern football.
If other European teams are after their own Brazilian, yet favour a more European tailored footballer, they could do worse than considering Corinthians hard-working midfielder Paulinho.
Of late, the 24 year old seems to have rediscovered his footballing mojo. His career has taken a much different path to that of Neymar – via the character building backwaters of the lower São Paulo leagues and a horrific spell at in Poland where he faced severe racist abuse. He came through unscathed and is a stronger character and a more determined footballer. Long term admirers Chelsea and Manchester City will be watching the Confederations closely.
Ramires shock omission from the Confederations squad (reportedly due to bad time keeping) has placed added pressure on Paulinho who will be looked upon to add some much needed bite and fire power from midfield. Ramires exclusion raised a few eye-brows but it was Scolari´s omission of the two media darlings – Ronaldinho Gaucho and Kaká that caused a bigger stir. Bayern´s Luiz Gustavo and Chelsea´s Oscar will now be asked to step up a level and if Brazil are to have a successful tournament they will need to deliver now rather than later.
Elsewhere, if he can stay fit, the ever productive goal poacher and experienced Fred will use all his nous to offer himself as the perfect foil for Neymar. Out-wide the competition could be a platform for PSG´s Lucas to portray his dazzling dribbling skills. Pint sized Bernardo from Atlético MG was the surprise wildcard inclusion. But, for most, all eyes will be on Neymar as the 21 year old boy from Brazil takes the next step on his intriguing footballing journey.
Brazil´s full squad for the England and France friendlies and the Confederations Cup…
Keepers: Julio César (QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense)
Full backs Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Jean (Fluminense), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atlético Madrid)
Centrebacks: Thiago Silva (PSG), Réver (Atlético-MG), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich)
Midfielders: Fernando (Grêmio Hernanes (Lazio), Luiz Gustavo (Bayern Munich), Paulinho (Corinthians), Jadson (São Paulo), Oscar (Chelsea), Lucas Moura (PSG)
Forwards: Hulk (Zenit) Bernard (Atlético-MG), Leandro Damião (Internacional), Fred (Fluminense), Neymar (Santos)