When people talk or hear about Neymar they for the most part think of him as some footballing extraordinaire, a player who can do nothing wrong and has every single trick in his locker. This opinion is most commonly held by boys of the age 15 or 16 whose footballing knowledge and opinions are heavily influenced by the popular Fifa gaming franchise. After all, on Fifa Neymar is one of the best and most exciting players.
However it is not just 15 and 16 year olds who believe that Neymar is a future great. Brazil, a football obsessed nation, has embraced Neymar as a national icon and have high hopes for him. Neymar’s fame in Brazil and 1.2million Euros per month pay package shows just how highly he is rated by Brazilians. Neymar has made 202 appearances for his club, Santos, and scored 123 goals. While this is an extremely impressive total and goals to games ratio, Neymar has scored these goals in a league which is made up of poor defences. The standard of defensive coaching in Brazil being a massive contributing factor, with attacking and entertaining football always being favoured over the amount of goals conceded. While this is good for the viewer, it makes Neymar’s job of scoring goals and dancing through defences a lot easier. Neymar by being widely respected across Brazil receives a lot of the ball, while not being fouled too often. In short, he is protected in his homeland and within his comfort zone. The game speed even suits him, with the slow pace of the league aiding his quick bursts of speed and flair.
However, Neymar in the main has not performed on the big stage. In the Olympic Games in London he showed glimpses of his brilliance and potential. He impressively scored 3 in 6 games, the pick of the bunch being a 25 yard free kick against Belarus. He also provided 3 goals, showing that he does have an unselfish side to his game. Playing for the first time in Europe and clearly aware of the huge interest his trip had generated for European scouts around the continent Neymar had shown glimmers of his talent. The pressure was huge, espescially when one takes into account the fact that Brazilians dream of making the move to Europe, where there is often more money and more glamour. It must also be noted that the Olympic’s football tournament is taken much more seriously in Brazil than it is here. Neymar went missing in the final against Mexico though, the first ‘big’ team Brazil played after defeating Egypt, Belarus and New Zealand in the preliminary round, Honduras in the quarter-finals and South Korea in the semi-finals. Brazil’s defeat cost Mano Menezes his job, yet Neymar’s image remained relatively intact although tainted in the eyes of some British football fans.
The trend of Neymar shying away from the big teams and games continued in the February friendly against England. Neymar often looked for the glamorous Samba option, trying tricks and skill instead of looking for the simple option. Judging from Luiz Felipe Scolari’s reactions to each failed skill, Neymar is a very frustrating player for him to manage. One Scolari can not drop without causing national outrage and calls for his sacking. In recent friendlies Neymar has continued being largely anonymous against big teams and good defences with his effect on Brazil being largely detrimental, if anything. In the Russia V Brazil friendly Neymar displayed a very selfish attitude a prime example of this being him not passing to Oscar, who was in a threatening position, instead trying a fancy drag back and losing the ball. He also frustrated his teammates by spurning multiple chances, with Kaka growing visibly more and more frustrated. This is not the Neymar who is described by the Brazilian media and envisaged by all of the video gamers. Maybe all the hype around Neymar is unjustified.
The pressure on Neymar’s shoulders, a young man who is still just 21, is still huge. The nation of Brazil wants him to be the figurehead of a Brazil side expected to win the home world cup. To succeed in football though, players have to learn to deal with pressure. Signing mega sponsorship deals Neymar does not help himself, further putting himself under the public spotlight and thus increasing the pressure for himself. A vicious cycle which maybe he needs to get out of. He needs to be careful that he does not ruin his undoubted potential, but also ensure that he fulfils it.
If the media attention around Neymar dies down, maybe he can show his true form consistently on big stages against big teams. It shows no sign of doing so however, with media speculation about possible moves to Barcelona and Real Madrid continuing. For now though, the jury is out on whether Neymar has what it takes to be a future great.