Like any young Brazilian attacker, the fuss around Neymar can often seem disproportionate to his limited international experience. He is one of football’s highest earners (from wages and endorsements) anywhere, has had offers from Chelsea and Real Madrid and in May this year, was named the world’s most marketable athlete in SportsPro’s annual list. All this although he is just 20, has played all his club football inside South America, and earned the bulk of his 19 Brazil caps in friendlies.
Yet, even with Neymar’s limited record outside his continent, it has become amply clear that his is no ordinary talent. A product of the feted Santos academy, Neymar made his debut for the senior team at 17, his reputation from youth level already sizeable. His pace, directness, ball control, and finishing drew inevitable comparisons with another Santos legend, Pele. In only his second season (2010), he managed 28 goals in the national league and cup, and the next year led Santos to its first Copa Libertadores (South America’s equivalent of the Champions League) title since, rather ominously, a Pele-inspired 1963 campaign.
Neymar was widely expected to make the Brazil team for the 2010 World Cup but was left out, despite a public outcry, by Dunga. But once Mano Menezes replaced him at the helm, the youngster has become a regular. He has scored nine times in his 19 senior games, and comes into the Olympics in good form, as evidenced by his starring role in the warm-up victory over Great Britain on Friday.
“There is a great expectation at home for us to win the gold medal,” he said. “It is very important because we have never won it before.”
Although the Games will be another great shop window, Neymar has stated on several occasions that he does not wish to move overseas immediately, and earlier this season extended his contract at Santos to 2014. Should he win the gold, Neymar's already substantial value will — it can be safely assumed — simply go through the roof.