RIO DE JANEIRO, 13 JUNE: Neymar, the latest diamond extracted from Brazil&’s mine of footballing 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 €57m. 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 lustre. 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 footballer talks about his private life on social networking sites. There are photos of him with his young son and romance with 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 sportsman 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 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 argued. Football flows through the veins of Neymar and he knows nothing else. As a child, he asked for a football every birthday, honing his outstanding 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 ($225). His parents gave 10% of that to a church. Despite his relatively small stature — just 1.74m — Neymar turned professional in 2009 aged 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 bursts 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 open their Confederations Cup account against Japan on Saturday. Despite a decent record so far (19 goals in 31 matches), Neymar was part of the team knocked out at the quarterfinal stage of the 2011 Copa America and also the losing side at the Olympics.
Japan a threat : Pele
Rio de Janeiro, 13 June: Pele has warned Brazil not to underestimate Japan in the opening match of the Confederations Cup in Brasilia slated for Saturday. Despite backing Brazil as one of the tournament favourites, Pele believes the clash at Mane Garrincha stadium could be among the host nation’s most difficult, reports Xinhua. And he warned Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team that their emphatic 3-0 victory over France last Sunday would mean little during the event considered a World Cup dress rehearsal. "People say it will be easy for us because they (Japan) are not a traditional football country but the fact we played well against France doesn’t guarantee anything," Pele said Wednesday. "There is nobody that doesn’t know our team and the way we play. All the sides know each other well and for that reason every match will be difficult. I hope we can be champions but let’s not underestimate Japan in the first match. It’s going to be tough." agencies