The new Pele? Not yet, but Neymar lives up to hype
Brazil's wonder-kid shows the world his potential after leading his team to a Confederations Cup title
It could be the legend truly began here. Brazilian star Neymar has had to put up with the billing “the next Pele” almost since he made his debut for his country in 2010 in the unlikely surroundings of East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Needless to say, the man born Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, scored and, in a country which demands footballing heroes, expectations soared. “We played even better than expected,” beamed Neymar after Sunday’s Confederations Cup demolition job on world champions Spain.
“I am really happy. We made a lot of people happy, but we must keep our feet on the ground,” said the star. Pele may have set the bar impossibly high - one thing Neymar can never do is win a World Cup winners medal at the age of 17 - at that age he was just breaking into the side at Santos, Pele’s old club.
But the way the 21-year-old dismantled an admittedly below-par Spanish backline suggests the youngster does have the self-belief to at least to aspire to the Pele mantle.
The man himself said before the event that the current squad “are not good enough” to win top prizes, but with such outlandish talent at their disposal, Brazil will now start as favourites at a home World Cup next year.
By then he will have tasted the hard school that is La Liga with Barcelona, where he will start alongside Lionel Messi in a pairing that, if it works in tandem, will scare the living daylights out of everybody else in Spain and across Europe.
Neymar bamboozled men such as Andres Iniesta and Xavi, who will be teammates at the Nou Camp next season. “I respect and admire them very much. But today, I was representing my country and family and had to give them a hard time!”
However high he flies after Sunday, even before this triumph US sports magazine Sports Pro ranked him as the sports star with the most potential ahead even of Messi and golfer Rory McLlroy. “That’s just part of the job. It is a responsibility to bear - but a nice one,” said Neymar on learning of that praise.