Brazil backs Neymar all the way

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Brazil backs Neymar all the way

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring the second goal for his team from the penalty spot against Honduras during the London 2012 Olympic Games men's quarterfinal match at St James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, on Aug 4, 2012. Graham Stuart / Agence France-Presse

Neymar, the latest diamond extracted from Brazil's mine of soccer talent, carries the hopes of a nation with one year to go to the World Cup, as well as the tag of "the new Pele" and rock-star status in his homeland.

The flashy 21-year-old star of the Selecao, with his eccentric, perpetually changing haircut, is taking all the attention in his stride, vowing to "make his mark" at Barcelona, where he has just signed for a cool 57 million euros ($75.3 million, 48.5 million).

As if it was not hard enough to be an equal to the legendary Pele, Neymar will also have to shine in the shadow of the brilliant Lionel Messi at Barca - the world's best player whom he hopes to emulate one day.

With an incredible technique and a hatful of goals circulating everywhere on the Internet, Neymar has quickly established himself as an icon in a Brazil deprived of any major star since Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Robinho lost their luster.


The good-looking boy is everywhere in Brazil.

On television, dressed up as Elvis, Tarzan or as a martian, he sells ice-cream or dances virtually naked to launch an underwear brand.

He is on websites and at promotional events. Brazilian teenagers ask for "a Neymar" at the barber's. Fainting girls throw themselves in his path.

The player talks about his private life on social networking sites. There are photos of him with his young son and his romance with a young television soap opera actress Bruna Marquezina at the last Rio carnival.

His fame is spreading worldwide. In February, Time magazine called him "the next Pele" on its cover.

US magazine Sport Pro recently named him as the sportsmen with the biggest marketing potential in the world for the second year running, ahead of Messi and Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy.

Neymar is evasive about whether such attention puts him under too much pressure.

"It's part of the job. It's a responsibility but it's great," he said.

Nevertheless, daily newspaper Globo has dedicated a full page to Neymar - called "Neymarketing" - expressing concern about over-exposure that could harm his sporting prowess.

"Neymar is becoming the Brazilian (David) Beckham," it assessed.

Soccer flows through the veins of Neymar and he knows nothing else.

As a child, he asked for a soccer ball every birthday, honing his astonishing technique through "futsal", the five-a-side game popular in South America that emphasises improvisation, creativity and ball control.

He was discovered at a school tournament and signed at the age of 13 for Santos. His first contract was for 450 reais ($225). His parents gave 10 percent of that to an evangelical church.

Tackled by Pele

Despite his relatively small stature - just 1.74m (5ft 7in) - Neymar turned professional in 2009 at the age of 17 with Pele's old club, Santos.

He set Santos on fire, scoring 137 goals, winning three Rio state championships, a Brazilian cup and a Copa Libertadores, missing out only on a national title.

With his step-overs, overhead kicks, feints and flicks, Neymar is essentially an aerial dribbler and a devastating, cheeky humiliator of defenders. He also has lightning pace and a clean shot that burst nets.

Yet at the same time, he has an incorrigible habit of falling near defenders.

Another black mark on his copy book is that he has not yet performed well for the national side, something he could change when the Selecao opens its Confederations Cup account against Japan on Saturday.

Despite a decent record so far (19 goals in 31 matches), Neymar was part of the team that was knocked out at the quarterfinal stage of the 2011 Copa America by Paraguay and on the losing side to Mexico in last year's Olympic final.

Many people, including Ronaldo, have urged him to try his luck in Europe to toughen up against quicker and more compact defenses.

"In every match abroad he plays badly. They all think they can solve the Selecao's problems. Neymar isn't ready to accept that responsibility," Pele has said.

"It's said he's the best in the world. But he's more concerned with appearing in the media than playing for the team. He's pre-occupied with changing his clothes and haircut."

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