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My Fears and Love For Neymar

June 16, 2011

Neymar: it's all about pleasures! And cool haircuts.

Ahead of his farewell match with Brazil last week, former superstar Ronaldo seemed completely confident when he said that Santos starlet Neymar would be the one to carry on his legacy.

“Neymar, without a doubt! He has loads of talent…he is my bet for the future (of the national team)”, said the ex-number 9, when asked whom he’d “leave his crown” for now that he’s left the game.

But, as Shakespeare warned us in Henry IV: “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

That Neymar shows a lot of potential no one can dispute, but I’d be careful in labeling him the “next Ronaldo”, “next Garrincha” or (worse) “the next Pele”.

Neymar is no “next” anything. He stands completely alone. Not because he’s so much better than any of those players, far from that. But because these are much different times.

I cannot emphasize that enough: these are different times.

And Neymar still is a fragile experiment.

Watching him last night in the first leg of the Libertadores final, against Penarol in Uruguay, I was filled with simultaneous hope and fear for the future of Brazil – and Neymar himself.

Skilled beyond belief, cheeky, smart, graceful…Neymar is all of those things. But he’s also a 19-year old kid who’s about to become a father (gasp!), and he’s got an irritating flair for the dramatics.

Neymar is pushy, in every way. He pushes defenders as he dribbles like a madman and moves into the box, and he pushes the referee with his theatrics and incessant dives.

Even when actually (and often roughly) fouled, Neymar goes that extra mile and adds an unnecessary back-arch, or a tumble turn, a scream, etc.

And he’s very scrawny and light too, which makes his jumping and acrobatic flying around look like he was shot with a bazooka.

The result is that his flair for the dramatics infuriates his opponents even more, who then retaliate by applying harsh tackles and even blunt verbal threats, as we saw in a replay when a Penarol player whispered to Neymar: “the next time you will go down!”

Neymar is a fragile experiment because he’s a superstar in the making in the era of Twitters and Facebooks. He’s a child of cynical 21st century. He’s the next big thing in an age when people’s favourite past-time is to ruthlessly monitor their heroes 24/7 , and then crush them like cockroaches when they fail to meet their hyped expectations. We all love a good downfall tale these days. This is the reality TV era! We enjoy watching people behave like irrational animals.

We point and laugh, as if we were so much better than everybody else.

This pressure to perform is Neymar’s biggest threat. And he himself is in the way of getting things done.

But don’t get me wrong, I love Neymar’s cheekiness and strong personality. He whines and he often gets his way, and I find that fun.

The last time I checked, football was still a game.

He is charismatic too, and plays the game with confidence and sheer beauty. And as a nostalgic Brazilian fan, I don’t want him to lose that. I hope he continues to display the same joie de vivre and entertaining childish arrogance even when he reaches his mid-30s.

But I also know that there will be a price for all of that fun to remain intact.

And it won’t be cheap.

Maybe it’s my irrational nostalgia, but I find that football today isn’t really about fun, but about hard work and discipline.

A footballer is no longer a player, a word that can carry so many different meanings; he has to be an athlete in order to compete.

Would someone like Garrincha, having one bent leg shorter than the other, be even allowed to play nowadays, let alone dazzle us with his unapologetic dribbling skills?!

Maybe, maybe not. But that football has become more of a business, and less of a game, that much is true.

At a recent interview, when asked about the label “the next Pele”, Neymar answered: “No way, Pele stands alone. He’s unique. Me, I’m much more Garrincha than Pele. I even wear the number 11.”

Indeed, Neymar is much more Garrincha. He wants to humiliate defenders. He wishes to crack their spines as they twist themselves around and around looking for the ball that magically stays attached to his boots.

Neymar is a player. A football fiddler. Which actually explains why he’s still so happy at Santos – where he is adored – and has refused to sign a millionaire contract with Chelsea.

Could, in a sardonic age such as this, a footballer choose fun over money?!

Would that really be out of the realm of reality, today?!

Regardless of what motivates his decisions and style of play, Neymar seems comfortable with what and who he is right now. And even in a relatively weak performance such as in the 0 x 0 draw versus Penarol last night, we were able to see a few flashes from him that clearly showed us what a special player he is – and will become.

Will Neymar become a FIFA World Player of the Year one day? Maybe. But rest assured, he is not here to please anyone. Neymar is no “goody-goody”. And he couldn’t care less about what you may think of his “diving skills”.

He’s here to play. In cynical and cruel 21st century, he’s here to bend the rules and have a laugh – his way.

And that is precisely why recent comparisons to Messi make absolutely no sense.

Messi is the world’s greatest footballer. And that’s exactly what and all he is: a footballer. There’s no Messi the partyboy, Messi the womanizer, Messi the dancer, Messi the sports car fan…

Messi plays ball. And that’s all.

Neymar is here to play ball as well. But he may also ask your sister out on the weekend.

And your mom too.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Carl Mungazi permalink
    June 16, 2011 10:20 pm

    Interesting article. I think it is in inevitable that Neymar will make the move across the Atlantic – that is if he wants to truly prove himself. But if he is to excel and reach his full potential, he will have to shed a lot of his antics because the footballing world can be an unforgiving place.

    • June 17, 2011 3:40 am

      Thank you amigo. But I don’t think Neymar needs to “prove himself” at all; we all know he can play, and I don’t think he has any interest in trying to convince us, whether it be in Brazil or Europe. Charlie Adam is a “proven” player, and Neymar made him look like an amateur child when Brazil played Scotland at the Emirates. Pele, Garrincha, Tostao, Socrates, Zico…these guys never (or barely) played in Europe, and they are thought to be amongst the all-time greats. I put Neymar in that same category. He’s proven himself already, and going to Europe will not get rid of his antics, I’m afraid. That’s the kind of player he is…

  2. November 15, 2011 4:14 am

    I think it was a huge mistake to pass up the chance to join Real. How can he become a better player in an average league? (with respect). He could have developed much quicker in Europe. When Pele gives you some advice, it’s best to do the exact opposite. It’s a shame we won’t be seeing him in Europe soon.

    • November 15, 2011 5:21 am

      He’s only 19. There will be *plenty* of time for him to move there, and then to dazzle Europeans once he’s playing there. Do you honestly see a place for him at Real right now? There’s no need for a move. Pele and Tostao and Socrates never made the move, and yet they’re regarded as some of the game’s brightest stars. Why can’t the same apply to Neymar, even though times have changed since then? Instead of accusing him of negligence by choosing to stay put, we should celebrate the fact that, in today’s world, an emerging country like Brazil is finally able to afford and retain its talents near the home fans. Times have changed again, and there’s no need for Brazil to let go of its youngsters at banana prices no more. This is a wake-up call for Europe, and a celebration of economic and social *balance* in the sport. So celebrate that he’s staying at home, and don’t see it as a mistake. For once passion and loyalty shall prevail over big bags of cash. A lesson to us all. Cheers.

  3. November 15, 2011 4:01 pm

    I’m very much in favour of supporting football in emerging nations. Yet the facts on the ground are what they are I’m afraid. Europe is on a much more competitive keel than Brazilian football. Neymar could have developed much faster here. Watch the progress that Ronaldo and Messi made as teenagers while playing in Europe. Will Neymar make the same progress in Brazil? I hope he does. We might not see him in Europe until he turns 22 now. I still maintain joinging Real in January would have been the best career choice. He might not have made it to the first team in the first 6 months, but he would have been there at the start of next season following the settling in period, lining up alongside the likes of Ronaldo and his compatriot Kaka. It That prospect is one that a lot of European football fans would have loved to have seen.

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