Golden boy Neymar gets ready to dazzle Wembley
Published 05/02/2013 | 04:00
Neymar da Silva Santos Junior is 21 today and, with any luck, for a Wembley audience looking forward to seeing one of the world's most brilliant sportsmen take on England tomorrow night, he will celebrate with another of his dazzling party pieces.
Everything about Neymar's play as a teenage phenomenon has been to drool for – the speed, the control, the technique, the touch of magic. There have been moments when the idea that he is Messi with a mohawk has been joyously realised.
Yet you have to shudder at the burden that Neymar must face in the 18 months leading up to the World Cup, which he is expected first to decorate, and then to win for Brazil, on his home turf next year.
Neymar is the symbol of a nation's pride and ambition as the first real superstar of the Brazilian game to turn down the irresistible lure of the Euro.
Last weekend it was reported that Neymar will definitely join Barcelona in July. Yet, Brazil has heard all this before. Last year, it was Real Madrid, the year before Chelsea, and still the lad just avows: "I'll be in Brazil until the World Cup. Some say you have to leave to develop but I don't agree."
Santos president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro cannot understand why a player earning more than $10m a year in an increasingly buoyant Brazilian economy, one healthy enough to woo back old footballing aristos such as Ronaldinho, would need to prove himself anywhere else.
"He makes a lot of money, has even bought a yacht already (apparently worth $8m). What else will he want? Two cars? A plane?" said Ribeiro. "It is better to stay in Brazil than to go to Europe to deal with violent players and snow."
Hence the great debate. Should Neymar stay at home, luxuriating in the comfort zone of an inferior domestic league which adores him or should he brave the snow and the violence to quickly get accustomed to the quality of defending and suffocating marking which he really must experience if he is to inspire Brazil to a sixth World Cup?
He still has much to learn against streetwise defences. The question remains: just how good is he? Ronaldinho is adamant Neymar will soon become the best of all.
Whether he is mature enough to cope with the madness to come, though, is anyone's guess.
Neymar cannot be just another boy from Brazil. Wembley should savour him because this is the one jewel Europe cannot get its greedy hands on. Just yet. (© Daily Telegraph, London)