He has a lanky build and spiky hair. At first glance, one might mistake him for a playground player with pace and the chutzpah to take shots on goal. He occasionally throws tantrums on the field that testify to the immaturity of an 18 year old boy. But this same petulant youth has been compared with Pele and Robinho and hailed as one of the brightest stars in the emerging generation of Brazilian football. His name is Neymar da Silva Santos Junior and he wears either the number 11 or 7 shirt for the Brazilian club Santos.
Although Neymar has scored 10 goals for Santos in Brazil's Serie A this season so far, and 10 in the preceding season as a whole, his international fame and attention from clubs such as Chelsea and Juventus have rested less on the raw statistics of his goals per game, and more on his unique style of play. For one, there is a boundless energy and exuberance about his movement on the pitch. He plays with the youthful energy of a teenager, bursting forward on the left and right wings and running at the center of defenses as well. The Brazilian press have compared him most frequently to Robinho because of their shared propensity to dribble and cut inward from the flanks without fear of swarms of defenders.
In a style reminiscent of his compatriot Ronaldo, Neymar roams all over the pitch and returns deep into midfield in order to run at defenses. But unlike Ronaldo, he brushes by defenders by relying almost exclusively on an exquisite sense of balance and ball control in contrast to Ronaldo's combination of power, strength and skill. Drawing throngs of defenders in his wake, he solicits the foul, scores from the penalty spot or orchestrates the ensuing free kick and instinctively locates the right place in the box for the killer header or deflection or shot on goal. More often than not, he carves his way out of a thicket of defenders by feigning a move right and then darting left, or employing a similar set of guileful tricks to fool defenders.
Like Ronaldo, Neymar shoots off both feet. Like Ronaldo, he treks back deep into midfield. Like Romario, his balance and goal scoring precision around the box are virtually unparalleled in the modern game. Like Rivaldo, he takes penalties with confidence and success. Like Kaka, he has a sixth sense for the placement of his team mates on the pitch at all moments. But in the final analysis, he is just Neymar, the lanky Santos striker who finds the back of the net from all corners of the pitch and applies himself to his trade with a limitless energy and adolescent disrespect for the positioning and rigidity of the modern game.
In recent months he has scored for Santos in Brazil's Serie A against Atletico Mineiro, Gremio, Avai, Corinthians, Cruzeiro, Internacional and Sao Paulo. And he scored Brazil's opening goal in their friendly against the USA on August 10, 2010 in New Jersey. Nevertheless, Selecao coach Mano Menezes opted to drop Neymar from Brazil's friendlies against Iran and the Ukraine because of his incidents of indiscipline at Santos. At the moment, it's anyone's guess as to whether the Santos sensation will be included in the Brazil roster for the November friendly against Argentina. As every coach knows, brilliance and indiscipline are often coextensive traits that take time for a gifted young athlete to juggle and balance. The question now on everyone's mind is whether Mano and Santos can enable Neymar's talent to blossom to reach its fullest potential and become a complete player that bears no comparison to Robinho, Pele, Ronaldo or Romario, but is just Neymar, the aggressive forward whose creativity marks the fullest embodiment of the beautiful game since Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona and Socrates.
- Arnal Dayaratna, Ph.D.
- This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game. More generally, the blog examines questions of leadership, collaboration, teamwork, mentorship and the relationship between sport and aesthetics.