by Conor McStay
In what seems like a strange case given the extensive history of Brazilian football and the importance given to players moving abroad to benefit the national team, the player at the minute who dominates the headlines both in and out of Brazil has yet to commit to beyond South America. The footballing world waits with baited breath for this moment to arrive, and if the rumours are to be believed it will happen in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup. I’m of course referring to Neymar. There’s been enough written about not only why he should have moved to Europe by now but also whether he is really as good as what he’s made out to be.
With every generation of new players, there is a new chorus of exaggeration. For every Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, there’s a Robinho or an Adriano. Talented, yes, but for one reason or another they can’t quite live up to their potential. I won’t get drawn into the debate around his talent as it’s one that has been drawn out before and it would feel like I’m flogging a dead horse. As well as this, it’s not an essential part of what I’ll be discussing. I will however say that he is a player that captivates me and it’s clear that he is a talented individual, let’s not kid ourselves.
It’s not just the outrageous flicks; the Puskas Award-nominated goals or the club statistics of 129 in 209 games that show this, it’s also what Santos have become when he’s been there. The Sao Paulo State Championship victory in 2010 ahead of the likes of Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Corinthians stands out. However the 2011 Copa Libatores (the equivalent of the UEFA Champions League) victory is the most pertinent, when he was the undoubted jewel in the team. Not only was he the joint-third highest goalscorer, but he was named Player of the Tournament as well as scoring in the final. For a Santos side that is otherwise relatively average, this must be regarded as his club achievement to date.
The argument that he only gets away with his flicks because no players dare to touch him isn’t exactly accurate, he’s been on the receiving end of some robust treatment as of late. The ‘friendly’ against Mexico for the national team springs to mind, and there is more than enough footage for a compilation on Youtube of reducers that amount to physical assault.
Away from the notion of his talent, I do agree that he needs to move away from Brazil to fulfil his potential. If we take it for granted that he’ll move after the World Cup in Brazil, it will make him 22 years old and probably as good an age in his career as any to move. The club of choice is seemingly Barcelona. A choice that looks good on paper, albeit one that could just as likely be ruinous. The Messi-centricity at Barcelona has seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez and David Villa relegated from the focal point of the attack at their old clubs to peripheral figures which they haven’t, or didn’t, come to terms with. They were all equally as talented as Neymar, and it’s safe to say for any move to bring proper results he’d have to get used to playing second fiddle, at least for a bit of his career.
Secondly, moving abroad would only improve his ability to play at international level, as well as improving as a player. This is by no means a statement which is exclusive to him, but instead it’s best to look at how that has changed two of his international teammates, who are around the same age as him. January saw the move of David Beckham to PSG overshadow one which cost the club €40million more: Lucas Moura completed his switch from Sao Paulo. Admittedly it’s early days for him, but he seems to have settled very well as seen by his solid performances in Ligue 1 and an impressive assist against Valencia in the first leg of their round of sixteen Champions League tie. One thing that playing in the bigger leagues improves is the refinement of the times when it’s appropriate to try an audacious flick or when to keep possession, and Moura represents a case study of this which would also be appropriate for Neymar. It is certainly clear that this criticism has been made of Neymar by European journalists.
If Lucas Moura represents the side of Neymar which is focussed on dribbling and play on the wing, then Chelsea’s Oscar represents how Neymar can develop as a deeper lying playmaker in Europe. Both rose to fame due to their performances in underage Brazil teams, Oscar’s highlights including a hat-trick against Portugal in the 2011 Under-20 World Cup and being one of two players who either assisted or scored every goal for Brazil in the 2012 Olympics. The other player? Neymar.
At Chelsea, Oscar is beginning to quietly blossom into a player who could emulate Kaka, not just because of his eye for a spectacular goal but his precise passing. In the friendly against England a few months ago, Oscar looked a more complete player than Neymar, his first touch seemed better, his passes seemed a bit more crisp and he just seemed a bit more composed on the ball. On the other hand, who knows how his confidence would have been changed if he’d been able to convert one of his chances against England. But certainly, on that night, Oscar looked a lot more to be the realistic future of Brazilian football.
Finally, there’s one more reason that remaining in Brazil for a prolonged time may have a detrimental effect on Neymar. The impact of capitalism on the Brazilian economy has transitioned onto club football. The money is now present to not only attract big name players to play in Brazil, but also to keep the biggest young talent from being so keen to leave. When Clarence Seedorf agreed to move to Botafogo during the summer of 2012, he bagged a contract worth a reported $350,000 a month, making him the highest-paid foreigner in the history of Brazilian football.
As for Neymar, his estimated income from sponsorships is anywhere between €13.8 million and €20 million per year after his latest deal at Santos. This includes an eleven year deal with Nike as well as contracts with Red Bull; Panasonic; Volkswagen and Santander to name but a few. In May 2012, he was even named as the most marketable athlete in the world by Sportspro magazine ahead of Ronaldo and Messi. The flip side of this is that Santos can’t afford to pay his contract on their own. Neymar is reckoned to be earning in the region of £550,000 a month under a new contract at Santos, of which Santos pay £360,000 (£90,000 per week). A collection of seven businesses, including Santander, agreed to top that figure up in order to keep Neymar on home soil. Santander even took out a double page advert in a Brazilian newspaper to proclaim how proud it was to have helped preserve Neymar for the nation.
The impact of this is an intense obligation for him to fulfil demands for sponsors, which serves as unnecessary distraction, which has led to criticism from one of his long term advocates, Pele. From things as simple as his official Facebook page, to his training kit, all are covered in assorted company logos. I wouldn’t suggest that a move abroad wouldn’t exactly cause the sponsorship money to dry up, but with any European club being able to pay his contract single handedly, he won’t have the same contractual obligation to any sponsor in quite the same way.
In summary, the longer Neymar remains in Brazil, it seems that it will continue to have a regressive effect on his development as a player but also as a sporting celebrity. With it being an inevitability that he will be a fulcrum for the Brazilian 2014 World Cup bid it may be too late for them to realise that his lack of experience in Europe could be a far greater hinderance than all the external sponsorship money can justify.