I’ll be honest, my interest in Brazilian football has been seriously waning in recent months what with the Olympics, the Euros and now the start of a new season in England. It probably also hasn’t helped that my apathy for the Brasileiro has often seemed to have been shared by a significant proportion of Brazilians as well. As a result, apart from catching games at Juventus I hadn’t been to watch one of São Paulo’s bigger teams since the end of March.
Until last Saturday that is, when I broke my Brasileiro abstinence by paying a visit to the Pacaembu to watch Palmeiras and Santos.
Well, part of the appeal was the fact that it was a São Paulo ‘classico’. Additionally, my wife is genuinely a hardcore Palmeiras fan (unlike me) and we hadn’t been for a while so it felt like the perfect opportunity to watch her torture herself. But, for me personally, it was an opportunity to watch Neymar play.
Neymar, of course, will be (if he’s not already) THE next big thing in world football. And on Saturday he showed just why:
So there you go, an excellent free-kick and a neat finish, about par for the course for Neymar when he plays in Brazil.
But that, I think , is a problem for Neymar – and it’s not the only one.
Well, let’s first put everything into context. Neymar playing in Brazil is something that would have been very unlikely even just a few years ago, as he most likely would have been whisked off to Europe as soon as a fat contract was shoved in his face.
I guess this is really just a reflection of contemporary Brazil, what with a recent economic boom and the growing stature of the Brasileiro. Santos have been able to convince him to stay, partly through financing a significant wage and also through enabling him to top it via a vast array of commercial endorsements – my favourites are those for foot deodorants and car batteries.
Yes, that’s right, CAR BATTERIES and FOOT DEODORANTS.
Anyway, the point is that Neymar, unlike most other Brazilian players of the past twenty years, has not needed to move to Europe in order to be seek out football’s mega bucks.
Yet regardless of this there’s still a general assumption in Europe that it’s just a matter of time before he leaves Brazil. For example, when I mentioned I was going to watch the Palmeiras and Santos game at least two people from back home said, “Enjoy watching him while he’s still there”.
But is this assumption correct?
As far as I can see it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere, anytime soon. The imminent closure of the European transfer window means that he’ll be remaining in Brazil until at least January and even then the prospect of him moving looks remote.
Well, he only signed a new contract with Santos at the end of 2011. Subsequently, both Santos and Neymar have very repeatedly stated that he won’t be going anywhere until at least after the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
There’s also the fact that Neymar himself seems quite content with life in Brazil – and can you blame him? Let’s not forget that he’s still only 20 yet he’s already richer and more famous than he could ever have imagined. Why rush into moving to Europe when he already has everything he needs right here in Brazil?
Well, I think there are some very good reasons why he should, and they can be summarised as follows:
1) To aid his development as a footballer – for his sake (and Brazil’s).
As I noted above, last weekend’s game was a pretty typical day at the office for Neymar and that’s because he’s clearly so far better than most of the players he is either playing with or against in Brazil. Additionally, as has been noted elsewhere, most of the teams he plays against in Brazil are set up tactically in a way that gives him as much space and time on the ball as he’ll ever need on any football pitch. As such, week after week it is not uncommon to see him running through the midfield and defence of opposition teams before belting the ball into the top corner.
And, as happened last week, no matter how averagely Santos play they can always rely upon Neymar to win them games almost single-handedly. Perhaps the best example of this was two weeks ago when Santos were 1-0 and 10 men down away at Figueirense. Out of nowhere Neymar picked up the ball, skipped past a midfielder and then a defender before curling the ball around the keeper from outside the area. Santos went on to win 3-1.
The issue is that in Brazil it’s all become a little too easy for him and his development as a player is sure to stagnate as a result. In many ways it could be said that this has happened already. For example, when he has played against teams with better players and tactical nous, either in the Libertadores or for Brazil, the space he finds in the Brasileiro is squeezed and he subsequently discovers that there is a much tighter margin in which to operate.
The same thing has already happened to Lionel Messi, but whereas Messi has learnt to adapt to this with Barcelona Neymar is still yet to do so.
Alas, having achieved pretty much everything that is possible in domestic South American football it is for the sake of his development as a footballer, and Brazil’s chances at the next World Cup in 2014, that Neymar should move on – and sooner rather than later.
2) For his health – for his sake (and Brazil’s).
The crazy thing about that goal against Figueirense is that he scored it having pretty much just stepped off a plane from Sweden – where he had played the previous day for Brazil (YES, THE PREVIOUS DAY).
And this is my second concern about Neymar staying in Brazil – his health.
Now, given that I’ve previously moaned about how few games he played for Santos at the start of the Brasileiro it might seem hypocritical that I’m now complaining that he’s playing too many. But, in reality he mainly missed games in the Brasileiro because he was otherwise engaged with the national team.
Because of his absences it is understandable why Santos, who are paying him a fair wage remember, want him to play as often as possible – even if it means playing the day after a game in Sweden.
However, I just don’t think this is sustainable. The fact that he’s never really had any significant injures attests to the fact that not only is he a fantastic footballer but he’s also quite a physical specimen. And that’s fine whilst he’s still young. Yet, there’s only so much your body can take.
Besides the fact that he is already a target for many of the Brasileiro’s more agricultural players, the game against Palmeiras was his fifth in fifteen days. That’s a pretty testing schedule at the best of times, but consider something else – those games were played in four different countries (UK, Sweden, Brazil & Chile) and two continents.
There’s only so long you can carry on with that level of physical exertion. If he does then I’d say there’s a serious risk of him sustaining burnout and / or a serious injury. For Brazil’s sake they cannot afford that risk.
3) For him personally.
I think it’s fair to say that anyone in Neymar’s position, as a 20 year old kid with more fame and money than he could imagine, might end up starting lose touch with reality. At the same time it would be a shame if off-field activities ended up ruining the fantastic talent that he has on the pitch (please see Adriano, Ronaldinho, etc).
And there are hints that outside influences are starting to have an impact. There are the usual stories about partying and so forth, but, more worryingly, there those about his potential financial problems.
Whilst these problems would not necessarily be solved by a move to Europe a change of scene might at least give him fresh perspective ahead of what may be the two of most important years of his career.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. Again, I realise that they are pretty much worth very little in the wider scheme of things, but I’d be interested to hear what everyone else, particularly Brazilians, think about him and what I’ve mentioned above. Cheers.