Few players have been so feted so young as Santos FC’s Neymar. At the age of 19, he’s already been shortlisted for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award.
Zits. The face replying to my questions – a reported €6-million-per-year, greatest-hope-of-an-entire-country-to-win-the-next-World-Cup face – is full of zits, of
all sizes and colours within the spectrum from pink to red. It’s understandable given that the face’s owner is only 19. And anyway, the zits are seldom noticed by most people, which is also quite understandable given that only a few centimetres above them, arguably the most outrageous haircut in global football draws all eyes to itself. It is a 1980s-style London punk type of mohawk, which has recently been dyed blond.
Which in turn has caused thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands of young Brazilians to bring despair to their parents by emulating said barnet. This country of 190 million, the self-proclaimed ‘Land of Football’, has its first Gen-Z superstar, backed by in excess of 2.6m followers on Twitter and chased through the streets with Beatlemania-like hysteria.
"To win the World Cup in front of the Brazilian fans would have a truly incredible taste"
As is tradition in Brazil, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior goes by the first name appearing on the birth certificate from February 5, 1992, which means he was two years old when Romário almost single-handedly gave his country its fourth FIFA World Cup back in 1994, and 10 when Ronaldo and Rivaldo conspired to bring Brazil its fifth – and so far, most recent – title in football’s be-all, end-all of championships. Most importantly, it means his shoulders will be a mere 22 years of age when asked to carry a colossal burden: the responsibility of being Brazil’s main player and team leader as the country bids for its sixth World Cup title on home soil in 2014.
“Winning a World Cup has to be any player’s ultimate career goal,” concedes Neymar as we chat in the dressing room of Santos FC’s Vila Belmiro stadium, where his own locker sits just three doors down from the one used from 1956 to 1974 by Santos’s – and, arguably, football’s – greatest player of all time, Pelé. “But to win it in front of the Brazilian fans would have a truly incredible taste,” he adds, appearing unfazed by the task ahead.
In Europe, perhaps only the most hardcore football fans know what Santos FC means. Shortly put, it’s where Pelé – referred to as simply ‘The King’ in Brazil – made many of his club appearances. In total, he scored 1,088 goals of his mind-boggling 1,281 career total for this club. Alone in this coastal city of 420,000 people, with no cross-town rivalry and a rich history, Santos is a club with few haters, almost like a ‘second-favourite’ to most Brazilians, even though its fans are dwarfed by the followers of teams like Flamengo or Corinthians.
Read the full story in December's issue of The Red Bulletin.