Friday, April 8, 2011

The Brazilian Hope - Neymar

Brazil have long been a huge footballing nation with a fiery passion for the beautiful game and a hotbed of talent. The likes of Pelé, Romário, Jorginho and until more recent times, Ronaldinho and El Fenómeno himself have all called Brazil their home.

With the national team boasting a pedigree of 5 World Cups, 3 Confederations Cups and 8 Copa América titles, it is no wonder that the biggest clubs in the world invest heavily in young Brazilian talent in the hope of uncovering the latest of a long, illustrious line of Brazilian legends. However, not every player from makes that exclusive list.

One may remember a certain Kerlon, made infamous by his audacious seal dribbles. He was plagued by a series of knee injuries which hampered his progress at Inter and Ajax. Touted as the new Ronaldinho, he has looked nothing like that part ever since.

Similar hype is now surrounding Neymar da Silva, who spearheads Brazilian side Santos' formidable attacking line-up. He has already been linked to high-profile moves to European soil over the past two years. The pursuit of his signature has now been stepped up following the string of international friendlies over the past week. But will he go on to match the success of his legendary predecessors before him? Or will he flatter to deceive and end up with no more than burgeoning potential?

Comparisons to Pelé and Robinho, both of which featured for Santos at some point in their respective careers, are simply inevitable. With bags of tricks and shimmies, blistering pace and a killer eye for goal, he has been deemed ready for the huge hurdle of European football by many in the business. Some have even gone so far as to claim that he already is of more quality than Robinho. But his lean frame will pose a problem to maximising his effectiveness on the pitch, as has been the problem with most Brazilian players. It will be something he definitely has to work on before heading abroad for greener pastures.

What Neymar needs now is to make an educated decision. The promise of a lavish lifestyle, as part of liberation from the favelas, is especially alluring for the new generation of Brazilians. The rise of the real (local currency) allows them to set their sights even further abroad. Brazil's improving economy injects quality into the local leagues since clubs enjoy more purchasing power and are empowered to build better facilities. But it also drives some of the best members of the next wave of talents away from their homeland in a gold rush-esque chase for a better quality of life. Players such as Neymar run the risk of failing to adapt, being subjected to negative influences abroad and suffering from homesickness; all of which more than able to deal him a crippling blow at this premature stage in his career.

At the age of 19, the diamond that is Neymar is still raw and uncut. The elements of his game are slowly starting to fall into place and the outlook is exceptionally promising. However, he is plagued by a plethora of bad habits. These include florid dribbling, excessive showboating and a hazardous penchant for taking goalscoring opportunities casually. He has a worrying history of fluffing penalties, with his audacious chipped shot against Vitoria in the Copa Do Brasil Final ending horribly in the keeper's grateful arms and lazy attempt against Ceara going nowhere near the net. He is more than happy to theatrically hurl himself to ground with the slightest contact. He treats a football match like a kickabout in the local park. He hogs the ball with a childish insistence on taking on defences all on his own. He vents his frustration with hissy fits and a words that could only be politely described as “colourful”. The imperfections that threaten to compromise the player that he can become.

That said, his maiden outing in the yellow of the Seleção was nothing short of a success. His single goal against the USA in a friendly doesn't even come close to illustrating the brilliant show he put on against robust resistance. Over a few days ago, he gave what was a definite man-of-the-match performance against Scotland, contributing a goal in each half- enough to secure a victorious trip for Brazil. Running this way and that down both wings with guile and lethal attacking intent, he proved to be simply unplayable. With a grin of enjoyment on his face and a spring in his step, he darted in and out of defences and danced around defenders with such flair that Brazil's failed “six appeal” in the World Cup seemed little more than a bad dream. A sign perhaps, that backlines of tough-tackling defenders and midfield destroyers just won't be enough to stop the boy wonder from weaving his beautiful magic.

Neymar's precocious talent and promise means he has to be handled and nurtured carefully. He is one of a select bunch of players that come once a blue moon to set the world stage alight with their craft. It is in his destiny to bear the torch that has been set alight since the days of Garrincha. But the question is, how will he play his cards from here on?

Carlo Ancelotti has recently dispelled rumours of Chelsea's interest in the young Brazllian and Neymar himself has expressed interest in playing for Juventus and Barcelona. Even Manchester United, long peripheral figures in the transfer market, have reportedly been involved in talks with his representatives. A transfer at this point to clubs of such a calibre would surely be an impulsive gamble. It would simply be irrational for a player as young as he to vie for the first-team football in some of the biggest sides in the pantheon of European football.

The direction in which Neymar plots his path from here on can only be left to wild speculation. But all we have to do, really, is to sit back, marvel and enjoy as he grows to become even more devastatingly adept with the ball at his talented feet each passing day and writes his own history as he goes along.

By Joshua Tong Lok