Neymar. A word like no other - one that divides the footballing world and that's despite achieving superstardom. The world knows him, and that’s enough for some but to truly etch his name in the hearts of Brazilians back home he has to do more, and whether he can or cannot is all up to one man.
The history books may lay a claim to the fact that Brazil is a one man team, but that has hardly been the case in their entire footballing history. They may have had a few superstars scattered all across the world over the years, but it was only the superstar teams that changed the world.
Even the mercurial Pele, Garrincha, Ronaldo, and Zico had a sensational cast supporting them, players who did so much for the team that the pressure was never on one man. Players, who made a rather significant impact on the team, not at just one world cup win but all the five. It’s what truly made the difference, which meant that there may have been superstars in that side but they were never alone. That’s what made Brazil stand apart from the rest.
That's what separated them and that's why they have five World Cups and countless other trophies to their name.
Then all that came crashing down rather spectacularly. It was something that no side ever deserved to have happened to them and it was rather shocking that it did indeed happen. The Selecao still managed to produce great players but they stopped producing great teams and that changed their landscape. There was no supporting cast, no Tommy DeVito to Henry Hill, no Freddie Ljungberg to Thierry Henry and no Sergio Busquets to Lionel Messi.
Everyone who was supposed to be someone disappeared or was overhyped because of a past overflowing with a never-ending supply of superstars. Alexander Pato failed, Robinho failed even harder, Adriano, Elano, and even Maicon, in the end, proved to be nothing more than blips. And that meant that 2006 Brazil and 2010 Brazil could do next to nothing. Well, not nothing, for they still managed to stay a stone’s throw from relevance with quarter-finals berths at the two World Cups, a couple of Copa Americas and a few Confederations Cups, but nothing that anyone would care about.
But then came a whisper about a man from Santos. Like many before him, he was considered to be the next superlative Brazilian superstar and at one look, it did seem that the hype was real. Here was a forward who could score goals at an absurd rate, make defenders look very very silly and never seemed to be fazed by the lofty expectations that lay on his still teenage shoulders.
He took it as it came, walking around as if not just Brazil but the world belonged to him and with that kind of skill on display, few would argue with that. But he was still growing and the Seleção let him enjoy life a little before all hell broke loose. It eventually did in great style and celebration, and a mere three years after the 2010 WC debacle, Neymar moved straight to Barcelona, which only increased the pressure on him.
The move for Neymar had to be the right one – said Neymar SR after the transfer – not just for his present but for his future. Now, whether he was simply saying that because of what was later revealed to be absurd amounts of money that Barcelona paid him or not, we shall never know. But whether he intended it or not, Neymar Sr said exactly the right thing.
It was the right move for Neymar and it proved what everyone else was thinking but too afraid to say out loud because they had been burnt too often before. Yet, it worked as the 2014 World Cup proved they had a superstar on their hands. It was the biggest stage of them all, which was maybe, far too much pressure to dump upon any 21-year-old.
Because playing a World Cup is hard, playing in your first world cup is even harder and doing all that at home theoretically should be easy but it adds an added element of pressure that no-one needs. We all know what happened there. Why, when, where and what happened after that. Not the greatest memory, but it suits our cause perfectly. Because it showed just how influential Neymar could be in a team that had nobody to help him thrive, so imagine what he could do in a team that could help him.
A team that did not include Fred – who never averaged more than 10 goals a season outside Brazil –leading the line, Hulk – whose greatest quality was that he could hit a ball so hard it would burst – on the right-wing, Maicon and Maxwell as full-backs. Not exactly a game-changing team, but instead, it took Neymar and just Neymar to drag them by the scruff of their necks into the semi-finals.
Then in his rather untimely absence, it all fell apart quite spectacularly, which started everything.
Brazil continued to rebuild around Neymar, watching as their future stars grew in Spain. Then came the move to PSG, and the entire plan fell off the board and plummeted into the depths of the ocean below. The world was shocked, Barcelona shell-shocked, but it was Brazil who felt the blow. Everyone else continued to grow as Neymar stood still in France. Brazil had to adapt to it as they brought in somebody who was not Dunga to coach the team and lead them to glory at the 2018 World Cup.
It was supposed to be everything that the Seleção had worked towards, but like most best-laid plans, it flopped. Neymar flopped as well, quite literally, and once again Esquadrão de Ouro bowed out in the quarter-finals. Not what was supposed to happen and yet it did. But for Brazil, it should have never mattered because that was a baptism by fire. They tend to rightfully expect a lot from their players but this was a team that had barely played together.
A team that met six odd times a year and about three odd weeks before a major tournament. It doesn’t allow for a bonding period. That’s where the Copa America 2019 came into play and with Neymar injured it proved to be the perfect proving ground for their squad. No bonafide superstar to help and thrown to the sharks of South America – not as powerful anymore but capable of beating any team – and it worked.
They walked away unscathed, with a new supporting cast and hope for the future. Hope that once Neymar returned to his senses, started realising just what lied within him and in front of him, that he’d lead them to glory. But the only difference now is the fact that he doesn’t feel like he’s the only name on the team-sheet. He has players to protect, help him, and more importantly make him feel like he’s invincible. That just might make all the difference in the end, and give Brazil what they want, glory in the new age. A way to re-establish their dominance in the world and look good doing it.