In Brazil, winning ugly is a sin.
So when under Dunga, the team that gave meaning to the term Jogo Bonito (The Beautiful Game), started playing defensive soccer, the country’s uneasiness was palpable. It wasn’t how they wanted to play football; it wasn’t how they wanted to score goals; it wasn’t how they wanted to win.
For a long time, good in Brazil meant great to the world. They produced players of such quality that the world watched in awed silence as they won three World Cup trophies between 1958 and 1970. Bellini, Nílton Santos, Didi, Pele, Zito, Garrincha, Carlos Alberto Torres, Jairzinho, Tostão, Gérson and Rivelino – the names roll of your tongue and these are but a few.
Brazil have won five World Cups – more than any other country, Italy has four. But only when they win in style does Brazil truly rejoice. So when a young boy named Neymar came into the picture, Brazil as a whole saw a vision; a vision of grandeur; a vision of the glory of old.
Neymar da Silva Santos Junior is 19 – thin as a stick with a mohawk that looks cruelly out of place on his head. But he’s got skills. He can swerve, run circles around opponents, create magic where only a dull droll existed and the joy shows. When you watch him play, it takes you back to a time when teams played beautiful football – not necessarily the kind that will win you matches; but beautiful enough to make you forget about defeat.
So how good is Neymar? Is he better than Messi as Pele would have us believe? Is he all the things we want him to be – is he man who will take Brazil back into the Jogo Bonito era?
That’s a lot of questions. But just 19 minutes into the World Club Cup semi-final against Kashiwa Reysol, he gave us a hint of the answer.
He got the ball around 25 yards away from the goal, and faked a shot with his right foot, then cut inside and curled the ball into the far corner for a beautiful goal. It wasn’t the kind of goal that frightens you with power but it was the kind of goal that makes you instinctively stand up and applaud or as the commentator went, go ‘GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAALLLL.’
“As you could see, Neymar is that kind of player. He is a man who can decide the match by putting on a gorgeous show,” said Santos coach Muricy Ramalho, according to the Nikkan Sports daily.
Brazil wishes he was better than Messi. They wish he was as good as Pele or Garrincha. And sometimes, wishes do come true. With Neymar, there’s still that hope — because he’s that good.
And that’s what drives the comparisons. Chelsea want him as do other major clubs like Real Madrid but for now, Neymar wants to stay at home till at least 2014 – when Brazil host the World Cup once again. It wasn’t easy keep him put at home though.
It took a national coalition of sorts to keep him at Santos. He signed a new contract with Santos last month – one that will see him getting around £550,000 a month. This after the club president, Luis Alvaro Ribeiro, called everyone he could to even called on the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, to help after realising that Santos could only afford to pay around £90,000-a-month. That’s the kind of loyalty he inspires.
To win against European opposition, Brazil has adapted a much more rigid mentality in recent times. And Brazil hopes Santos can change all that.
But to many, the wonderkid is just hype created by a desperate nation. However, if Barcelona – the world’s best team — make it to the final, we’ll all have concrete evidence of his greatness. And just the thought of that is pretty mouth-watering.
See Neymar’s goal in the Club World Cup semi-final