He's been heavily linked to Chelsea but the latest news suggests Brazilian forward Neymar has joined Real Madrid. Here's why they call him the New Pele...
Ripping a Scotsman a new one may not, in the grand scheme of things, be on a par with Pele announcing himself to world as a 17-year-old in Sweden in 1958, or even a buck-toothed Ronaldo dancing on the pitch with his victorious squad mates in 1994. Yet there can be no mistaking the fact that the performance of Neymar at The Emirates when Brazil played Scotland last season branded his name on the frontal lobes of football fans the world over, and also onto the shortlists of the glamour clubs of European football, with Chelsea and Real Madrid said to be at the front of the queue.
Despite being only 19 and possessing one of the worst haircuts to ever sit atop a Brazilian shirt (and there have been some howlers) Neymar has been knocking around for three seasons, in which he has played 119 times and scored 59 goals for Santos.
As the latest in a long line of diminutive and free-scoring strikers to play in the famed white shirt, comparisons with Pele and Robinho have been widespread. And not just from Pele himself, 14,000 Brazilians signed a petition to try and force Dunga to take him to the World Cup in South Africa last year. Dunga, the arch-pragmatist, refused to buckle to the pressure and seasoned observers of Brazilian football count this refusal as a huge nail in the coffin of the former World Cup winning skipper. Yes, even bigger than THAT jacket he wore.
And how they could’ve done with him. Luis Fabiano is a good striker, but he is only that, a penalty box assassin who needs constant service to give him the chances that he expertly finishes. Neymar, all lateral movement, perpetual motion and possessing the speed of thought and peripheral vision that help him pop up in key areas with alarming regularity, would’ve have added the X Factor to a Brazilian attack that seemed more intent on auditioning for Brazil’s Got Talent.
Ramires and Luiz have ample opportunity to sell London to him while on international duty and, one would presume, wrestle Robinho to the ground when he starts slating Eccles Cakes and banging on about trattorias and boutiques.
Regarding the comparisons to his two famed forebears at Santos, Neymar may resemble Robinho in stature and, at times, startling trickery, but he is much more direct than the whining Milan player and has no problem putting his head in when the muck and bullets fly. Whereas Robinho, despite his clever footwork and finishing prowess, can often be accused of showboating in the place of scoring, Neymar just wants to hear the net ripple.
A modern forward in the sense that he also drifts wide in search of possession, he has a something of the Tevez about him in his desire to head straight to goal and then use his low centre of gravity to leave defenders and goalkeepers sprawling before tucking them away with either foot. And, despite his diminutive stature, Neymar loves a header, which is where the comparisons with Pele come in.
Of course, 59 goals is a long way from the seven thousand or whatever it is that Pele claimed to score, but when you consider that Neymar netted a Pele-esque 42 in 60 matches in 2010 as Santos won the Campeonato Paulista for the first time since 2007, and is now averaging a goal a game in the yellow shirt, then you can see why Brazilian fans are so excited.
So where will he end up? The player himself has apparently expressed a preference for Juventus, Real Madrid claim to have-signed an agreement and Chelsea have been linked with him for so long that the only surprise is that Abramovich hasn’t sailed one of his mega-yachts to Brazil to kidnap him.
Yet wherever Neymar ends up in Europe, we will have three years to assess him before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a tournament that gives him his first chance to join Pele, Romario and Ronaldo as the man who scores the goals that secure The World Cup.
Gary Caldwell, given the runaround at the Emirates yesterday, wouldn't bet against it. "He has a big future. His movement and the way he brings others into the game is fantastic for someone as young.
"Neymar's composure also struck me. When you get boys of that age they usually have loads of talent but choose the wrong option at times and look a bit immature. But he was the opposite and the two goals showed his quality."
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