Flair, creativity, swagger, speed, nimble footwork and a devastating eye for goal. Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior possesses all of these essentials in abundance. Blessed with the blistering pace and audacious skills of Cristiano Ronaldo, along with the stamina and awe-inspiring finish of Lionel Messi, this Brazilian wonderkid has it all in his locker. Not a week goes by without Santos’ star man being raved about all over the globe. Whether it be an impudent trick, an expertly-worked assist or a breathtaking finish by the little conjurer, football fans just can’t seem to get enough of him. At the tender age of 20, Brazilian compatriot Lucas Moura has already completed his big-money move to Europe (via PSG) to immerse himself in the ranks of the world’s elite. Neymar will most certainly be following in Lucas’ footsteps, although not necessarily anytime in the immediate future. Many believe that Neymar Jr. is making a wise move in staying at his boyhood club Santos, as he will give himself an opportunity to develop as a player, mentally and physically. As a striker in Europe, the intricate winger-cum-striker will need to make sure he is up to the task, as robustness is a key factor in the modern game, although Barcelona have managed to defy such a statement.
Growing up in Sao Paolo, football is a huge part in the life of most young boys. They all aspire to be the next Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, or Messi. Futsal is the preferred game of choice for youngsters in Brazil, and it has allowed for successful South Americans such as Falcao (Futsal Player) Robinho and Neymar to hone their skills before actually stepping out onto a real pitch. Neymar inherited his name from his father who is a former professional footballer, and his father has since become Neymar Junior’s advisor. In 1992, he moved to Sao Vicente with his family and soon began to participate in Portuguesa Santista’s youth system. Being touted for stardom and known nationally as hot property, Neymar began to draw attention from Brazil’s more established clubs. In the year of 2003 he signed for Santos FC. He was only 11 years old at the time. What many people don’t know is that the cunning speed demon had trials at Real Madrid when he was 14. He assuredly passed the trials, and was on the verge of sealing a move when Santos decided to pay him a fee of approximately €370,000 to stay with his club. The teenager accepted the lucrative sum of money, and it seems as if he has the reaped the rewards of not making the move too prematurely in his career.
After signing his first professional contract for Santos at the age of 17, Neymar was ready to become an integral cog in the first team, and cement his place there. He did just that, and a little bit more. In the season of 2009, Neymar made his professional debut. He scored in only his second game for the club, and ended the year on a high with a tally of 14 goals in 48 game. Not bad for a spotty-faced teenager eh? In 2010, the Brazilian continued his ascendancy in the game, and bagged 5 goals in an 8-1 rout against Guarani in the qualifying stages of the Brazilian cup. Later that season, Neymar was subject to a reported £12 million bid from West Ham United, and also a £20 million bid from Chelsea. Both offers were rejected, with Neymar pledging his loyalty to Santos. The thought of European football was enough to make the striker think twice, but he concluded that he would be better off staying in his home nation, waiting for the right time to make the big leap. Having ended 2010 with 42 goals in 60 games for Santos, Neymar was once again becoming a major talking point in European football. Such a goal-scoring record said a lot about the type of player Neymar Jr. was, and rumours were constantly circulating over his future with his club. He also made his debut with Brazil in a friendly against the United States in 2010, scoring a header only 28 minutes into his first game for the Canarinho (Little Canary).
When 2011 came a-knocking, big things were expected for the little man, and he produced ample performances to suggest that he is one of the world’s best in his preferred position. Neymar brought his side to the final of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League. Santos faced Uruguayan outfit Penarol in the final stage of the competition. After the first leg being a stalemate, 0-0 draw, Neymar knew he had to perform in the return leg to bring home the gold. He opened the scoring for Santos in the 46th minute, and his side held on to record a 2-1 win over the Uruguayans. This was the first time Santos had experienced such success in this competition since the great Pele won it with his Santos side half a century ago. In a game against Flamengo later this season, Neymar scored after a stunning solo effort, in which he left 4 defenders for dead, before coolly dispatching a trivela-type dink over the onrushing goalkeepers’ outstretched legs. This heavenly goal helped Neymar to win FIFA’s 2011 Puskas Award for the best goal of the year. Pundits went googly-eyed over the ability of this sensational teenager, and he was soon being recognised in every corner of the world.
Neymar continued to dazzle in 2012, and managed to claim another nomination for the Puskas award, only narrowly losing out to Miroslav Stoch’s insane volley for Fenerbache. He was in inspired form for Brazil’s U-23 side that travelled to London for the 2012 Olympic games, and he stood out from a star-studded Brazilian squad that slipped up only against Mexico in the Final. He found himself victim of constant booing from onlookers of his matches, but he claimed that this did not bother him.
If Neymar were to have one major downfall, it would undoubtedly be his insatiable knack for diving. When he feels a brush of air sweep past him, he seems to go down sometimes. This is discouraging, although it can be fixed over time, with a simple slap on the wrist. He is also guilty of over-zealous behaviour at times. He got sent off for running to the crowd after scoring and taking a mask of himself only to put it on his face, he then received his marching orders. The attacker also can hold onto the ball too much at times, and when he has an off-day, he can be immensely frustrating to watch. His confidence is what makes him so unique, and some would say that he is reminiscent of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
But the boy-wonder has many of his best years ahead of him yet, and with Barcelona and Real Madrid suspected to be closing in on a deal for him, he looks to have the world at his feet. He’s certainly no Messi as of right now, but if he continues to keep on keeping on, the sky’s the limit.