BRASILIA, 15 JUNE: Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari (in photo right) on Friday threw his support behind Neymar, the under-pressure star widely-regarded as Pele’s heir apparent.
Neymar, who has just signed for Barcelona from Santos, Pele’s former club, has come in for repeated criticism from the media, who feel that he has not produced the goods for the Selecao.
He hasn’t scored for nine games for club and country and will be in the spotlight again on Saturday when Brazil kick-off the Confederations Cup against Asian champions, Japan.
"He does not wear 11 jerseys but one — he is part of a team," Scolari told a press conference on Friday.
"He has done what is requested of him with a lot of dedication. "We want him to be a useful, team player — that is what makes a good player," added Scolari, who expressed some frustration with what he feels is an overly-critical press.
"Everyone from abroad respects us a lot yet here in Brazil people are always saying what a bad team we have.
Yet it is crucial to have the crowd supporting us," said Scolari, as he insisted that the team did not have to feel extra pressure simply because the three-time Confederations Cup winners are hosts.
Scolari said on returning to the job last November in place of sacked Mano Menezes that he was clear the fans would demand success and expect to win both the Condeferations Cup and next summer’s World Cup — also on home soil.
But he said achieving those aims were advancing step by step.
"We must dedicate ourselves to helping Brazil evolve in all areas, not just in terms of football. We must be patient."
Scolari said he wanted to produce attacking, flowing football but said ability to adapt was what counted for him.
"I have to adapt players — obviously they won’t all play the same way they play for their clubs, so we must adapt. We need to give the players freedom to play based on their characteristics."
Saying he expected Japan, beaten 4-0 the last time the countries met in an October friendly, to attack, Scolari added he wanted to pursue a variety of options when it came to Brazil’s own offensive prowess. That meant giving Neymar licence to roam on occasion for the benefit of his teammates, if not his own goalscoring opportunities. "Many times we use Neymar in the middle as a second main striker and sometimes out wide as he also has that skill and has done very well," said the coach.
"If he hasn’t scored he is trying to support others and he does not have to score a goal. He doesn’t have to dribble past 20 players but be a team player. Then everyone will feel great.
"We have not removed his skills, but he has to be part of a team.
He is an idol for Brazilians and we must therefore protect him. He is 21 years old and cannot win on his own."
Not withstanding their recent friendly thumping, Japan are Asian champions and have already become the first side to book their World Cup berth through the qualifying process.
As a result, Scolari says he expects a tough encounter at the Estadio Nacional, an arena also named after Mane Garrincha, a star of Brazil’s 1958 world champions.
"I would not be embarrassed to lose to Japan. We will play our football and play to win but if Japan did not have qualities they would not be here."