Remember the soap opera that was the ‘Fabregas to Barça – will He/wont he’ story? Remember the years of close-season speculation? The lack of anything else for sports journalists to write about, resulting in EVERY back page of the nationals being plastered with pictures of ‘confused looking Cesc’, ‘confident looking Guardiola’ and ‘concerned looking Wenger’? I think everyone was over the moon when he finally went, meaning we could all get on with our lives.
Well, Brazil’s very own long running soap has finally come to a close. Once again, FC Barcelona played the powerfully rich protagonist, whilst Neymar was the vulnerable sweetheart with fluttering eyelashes who was finally seduced by the attention and overtures from the Catalan giants.
I’m pleased it’s over, to be honest. We think that the British sports press are over the top, but their Brazilian counterparts can out-hyperbole the best of them – and they’ve had their teeth in this little gem for the best part of half a decade!
Neymar burst onto the scene back in 2009 at the tender age of 17, playing for Santos, and made an immediate impact; Setting up two goals in his first appearance as an 80min sub.
As soon as his talent became known it appeared that a move to Europe was both inevitable and imminent. However, thanks to Brazil’s steadily growing economic strength due to it’s burgeoning oil wealth, Santos were able to keep hold of their prize asset. In bygone years, fans would get to see their latest prodigy play one, maybe two seasons, before their clubs cashed in. Fortunately, Santos kept hold of Neymar by (reportedly) paying him European level wages.
In 2011 Real Madrid caused so much strife with their efforts to seize Neymar that both he and his club threatened to report Franco’s Favourites to FIFA. Instead, Neymar agreed an extension to stay with Santos until after the 2014 World Cup. Legend has it that Neymar was invited to a meeting to agree the terms of his new contract and when he entered the room he found Santos’ most famous son, Pelé, seated at the head of the table. Upon Neymar entering the room, Pelé rose and offered Neymar his seat stating, “This is your rightful position – in my place.” Apparently that was what sold it to him – nothing to do with the number 0’s or tie-ins in his contract. I said, ‘apparently’.
But there we were. One week into the new season and about 13 months before the World Cup and he had gone. I know the timing seems a little strange but in all honesty I think he’d had a look at himself and at his development and realised how far off he was from where he wanted to be.
2011’s Club World Cup was a chance for him to share the stage with Messi; we were all excited. The heir to the crown, the Ballon d’Or winner-in-waiting up against the reigning king. It should have been the duel to end all duels. Messi lit the tournament alight, Neymar barely twinkled. Barcelona strolled to a 4-0 win over Santos in the final.
Prior to their outstanding performances in the Confederations Cup, the National team went through a real slump. The players didn’t seem to be up to the (admittedly lofty) standard of previous generations, but they have always had a couple of players who were able to turn on the magic, pull them out of the clarts and paper over the cracks. Unfortunately, once Scolari insisted on playing friendlies against strong teams (as opposed to China, Iraq and S. Africa) Neymar began to struggle. He even struggled to really make his mark back in the Olympics, where he should have had a field day.
I’m not saying that he’s ‘not all that’. He has tons of talent. He has pace, touch, vision, tricks; he really is a player in the Messi mould. If he didn’t have such an abundance of skills Barcelona wouldn’t have been looking at him and they certainly wouldn’t be spending close to €60m to sign him with an additional €100m over 5 years to the player himself.
The feedback I’m getting from Brazilians is a mixture of pride (as always when one of their own moves to a major European club), anticipation (can he now establish himself as the world’s greatest player?) and, more overwhelmingly, relief! Next years’ World Cup is of massive importance to Brazil. When they hosted the World Cup in 1950 they lost in the final to Uruguay. It was a bitter blow, as explained here – https://true-faith.co.uk/?p=732 . Next year is their chance to right that wrong, but expectations are pretty low. They know they need Neymar to be at his scintillating best, but they also know he needs to massively improve before the tournament, and what better place to develop than at the Camp Nou?
In other news, a Brazilian club have become the champions of South America! Amazingly, the club to bring the Taça Libertadores (or ‘Copa Libertadores’, as it is known by our Spanish-speaking neighbours) back to the mightiest footballing nation on the continent isn’t one of the traditional giants like Corinthians, Flamengo, São Paulo, Santos, Fluminense… It isn’t even a club from the dominating footballing states of Rio or São Paulo. It’s a club from the rural state of Minas Gerais, they wear Black & White stripes and their nickname is ‘Galo’ (‘Cockerel’) and they have an ageing 2 time World Player of the Year as captain. I give you: Atlético Mineiro and Ronaldinho! Parabens os Galos!
For the Record, that’s TWO Brazilian Black & White teams who’ve won silverware this year (Botafogo having won the Carioca Championships, and are currently right in the mix for the Brazilian Championship, too). Let’s hope a team with the same strip in England can at least TRY to get close to replicating their efforts, starting at Eastlands on Monday. Ouch.
JOHN MILTON – Follow John on Twitter