If you have watched any football over the past year you will have heard the name Neymar.
Not many people knew who he was a year ago asides from the odd hardcore fan, but after his performances at the Confederations Cup and his signing for FC Barcelona where he will join forces with Lionel Messi, Neymar looks to be a name that will stay in headlines for many years to come.
He is also one of my favourite players to watch and reminds me of a young Cristiano Ronaldo with his trickery and goal scoring abilities as well as being a showman.
Neymar made his debut for Santos in 2009 at the age of 17. Santos is the of the biggest clubs in Brazil, a place where Pele played the majority of his career, so naturally once Neymar started playing at a high level comparisons were going to be drawn between the two.
Pele himself stated that Neymar was the heir to his throne on top of Brazilian Football. In his first season at Santos he scored 14 goals in 48 games, a great return for a relative rookie.
In 2010 Neymar continued his growth, and in a game in the Brazilian Cup he scored five goals in an 8-1 win.
The 2010 World Cup had arrived and many experts had predicted that Neymar could have been a shock inclusion into the 23-man squad. Unfortunately he wasn’t included and one of the dourest and most disappointing Brazilian sides off all time was bundled out in the quarter-finals.
The fact that Neymar wasn’t involved in that may have been a blessing in disguise because once he did make his debut after the World Cup in a friendly match against the USA he scored from a header. N
eymar was now in the international eye, and people around the world began taking an interest in the next big thing from Brazil.
Headlines of the ‘new’ Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho and Pele began circulating worldwide and online, and suddenly all the footballing world wanted to see what the big deal about this kid was.
Naturally the expectations arose that Neymar would leave for a big European club so that he could continue his career and development. It was a massive shock when Santos, with the backing of Neymar, declined hefty transfer bids from Chelsea, West Ham and Real Madrid.
99 times of out 100 a promising player would immediately leave for Europe with his club receiving a king’s ransom in return, but Neymar had stood firm and said that he wanted to continue playing for Santos until the 2014 World Cup.
This defiant stance against European clubs and the desire to stay local earned Neymar the Brazilian public’s adoration, and he was instantly treated as a fan favourite, a hero and an inspiration. Simply put Neymar had become the biggest thing going around in Brazil, and he was still a teenager.
In 2011 Neymar and Santos won the Copa Libertadores final, the South American equivalent of winning the UEFA Champions League.
Neymar himself scored in the final with Santos winning two goals to one. For that effort Neymar won the 2011 South American Player of the Year award, following in the footsteps of legends such as Pele and Diego Maradona in doing so.
Winning the Copa enabled Neymar and Santos to qualify and play in the FIFA Club World Cup and be tested on the international club stage. Neymar scored in the semi-final against Japanese team Kashiwa Reysol and Santos had made it into the final against FC Barcelona, considered the best team in the world at the time.
The press went into overdrive, the premature Messi and Neymar comparisons were being drawn and internet was buzzing with anticipation of Neymar’s litmus test.
Santos was comprehensively outclassed by Barcelona 4-0 in the final with Messi dominating the game. After the game Messi and Neymar exchanged pleasantries and it seemed that Neymar had earnt the respect of the Barcelona squad.
Santos were no match for Barcelona so the scoreline was to be expected. Some critics dismissed Neymar after the match and naively labeled him as overrated and overhyped based on one match.
Neymar then played for Brazil’s squad in the 2011 Copa America in Argentina where he scored two goals in the first round game against Ecuador. He was also man of the match in the game against Venezuela, however Brazil were eliminated in the quarter-finals in a penalty shoot out after Neymar was subbed off.
2012 was another good season for Neymar; Santos won the Brazilian first division title. Neymar was top scorer with 20 goals and the player of the season winner.
The summer arrived and Neymar was set to join the Brazilian under 23 squad for the London 2012 Olympics. This young Brazilian team consisting of talents such as Oscar, who would sign for Chelsea, Sandro, Ganso and Lucas Moura had been dubbed the future of football.
The under 23 squad was expected to easily win and defeat every other nation in the way. The whole world’s eyes were now officially watching Neymar play at the second biggest stage in sport; the World Cup being the first.
For the most part the script was going exactly as planned; Brazil had won each of their group games with Neymar scoring twice. Neymar scored again in the quarters against Honduras, Brazil won 3-0 against South Korea and the gold medal match was against Mexico.
Everyone expected the Brazilians to win but the Mexicans scored in the first minute of the game. They repelled attack after attack, and scored again in the 75th minute and it looked like Neymar and Brazil were dead in the water. Ot just wasn’t their day.
Hulk scored a 90th-minute goal, finally breaking through Mexico’s great defence. But it was only a consolation goal as Mexico lifted hold and Brazil got silver with Neymar visibly upset after the game.
I was in London at the time, and even thought I couldn’t get tickets to the Game I was able to witness from afar Neymar’s growing influence in football. In hindsight you can say losing the Olympic Final helped make Neymar’s next tournament all the more sweet.
In 2013 speculation had reached fever pitch that Neymar was finally going to leave Santos and join a big club. Critics had been stating that it was now or never for Neymar, or else he may not develop any higher by staying in Brazil.
Unlike a few years ago Neymar had won all there was to win at Santos and was already certified as a club legend. The time was now for Neymar to make a career changing decision.
Finally, on May 27 it was announced that Neymar had agreed to join FC Barcelona in time for the 2013-14 season. The transfer fee was 57 million euros, a massive amount for such a young player.
Neymar has followed in the footsteps of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho by joining Barca and it may prove to be a masterstroke. Now the new question is whether Neymar will be a success in Barca with Messi as the main man? The answer is that only time will tell, but personally I can’t wait to see Neymar play against Cristiano Ronaldo and in the Champions League.
The 2013 Confederations Cup which just took place was the official crowning of Neymar as football’s next big thing. Neymar chose to ditch number 11 and wore the iconic number 10 shirt used by Pele, Ronaldinho and Kaka in previous times.
He and Brazil were able to comprehensively defeat every team they came up against. He had a supportive coach in Luis Scolari and able team players such as David Luiz, Thiago Sliva, Paulinho, Hulk, Fred and Oscar.
Brazil won the first game of the tournament against Japan with Neymar scoring the first goal, and then Neymar vanquished the ghosts of London by defeating Mexico 2-0 scoring in the ninth minute.
Neymar proved to the world how good he was by scoring an awesome free kick against Italy’s goalkeeper Buffon, who is considered as one of the top keepers of all time.
Brazil won all three of their group matches and played Uruguay in the semis. Although Neymar didn’t score in that game Brazil won 2-1 and were off to the final against Spain, the dominant team of this generation.
This game was treated like a preview of next year’s World Cup Final with both teams carrying full squads into it. No one could accurately predict what was going to go down.
This game was the most anticipated game since the 2010 World Cup final due to the fact that Spain and Brazil play each other very rarely yet are considered the best in the world.
Fred scored early on in the game for Brazil in front of a massive home crowd of almost 75.000 people, with millions watching around Brazil, let alone the world. The game tightened up and it looked like Spain might level the scores.
But then the defining moment of the game arrived: Brazil, while attacking, had Oscar play a smart pass across the Spanish defence and Neymar controlled the ball on his left foot and smashed home a career making goal against Iker Casillas to make it 2-0 before half time.
Spain never recovered from that blow, and Fred made it 3-0 and Brazil had won the Confederations Cup.
Neymar was voted the player of the tournament and had finally proven to people that he was the real thing; he took on the world’s best and came out a champion in front of an adoring home crowd.
Now nobody could say that Neymar was overrated or a one-trick pony. He had defeated Spain and had done something Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo haven’t been able to do, and that was to carry his country to a tournament win.
Now as the offseason continues, Neymar’s future has never looked so bright. Soon he will link up with Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and co at Barcelona, no doubt rubbing the Confederations Cup win in at training.
Soon Neymar will be playing against Real Madrid and Europe’s finest in the Champions League, and in a year’s time he will be at big dance, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Will Neymar do the double and lead Brazil to World Cup glory? I think he will, and you’d be a fool to not back the next big thing!