Yesterday, More than 56,000 people showed up to see a Brazilian guy in a striped shirt hold a ball and say things mostly in a language they could not understand.
Such is the interest in Neymar da Silva Junior, the seventh-richest footballer on the planet and bound to climb up higher as his new Barcelona deal is augmented by further endorsements. The 21-year-old is known around the world merely as Neymar, as little introduction is needed for the player that SportsPro magazine named the most marketable athlete in the world, ahead of even Lionel Messi.
It's not just money. Brazilian legends such as Ronaldo and even Pele are publicly confident Neymar will be considered the world's best soon. Barcelona broke the bank to get him, prioritizing his signing over that of a centerback to bolster its leaky defense.
But there are huge hurdles to overcome. He must adapt to another country, another language, another culture, another league. Not just another league, in fact, but a better one, as he moves from the Brazilian league (still quite a strong league) to the Spanish league (indisputably one of the top three in the world.)
He will have to go from being the biggest star in the entire country, to perhaps not even the fourth-best player on his team. Will he be able to share the ball with Messi? Would his reportedly sizable ego be frustrated?
And there he was, holding a ball and smiling at the Camp Nou as thousands cheered. He greeted the admirers in Catalan, a language that holds symbolic power for Barcelona as its citizens attempt to maintain their distinct cultural identity within Spain. The first words the Camp Nou faithful heard from him were simple, but they were in the language that suggests allegiance.
When interviewed, he switched to his native Portuguese, which most of the crowd could barely understand. However, their meaning was exactly what they were waiting for. Neymar repeated he was happy and excited, and tellingly, said Messi was the best player in the world. Neymar's objective? "To help Messi continue to be the best in the world."
Neymar came off extremely genuine and humble, in stark contrast to the murmurs about his ego. A flashy player with strange, attention-grabbing haircuts in Brazil, he was perhaps judged unfairly by those who had not seen him talk. He's even toned down his haircuts, on advice from Barcelona reportedly, to fit in better.
There may not be an answer to the Neymar questions for many years, but he passed the entrance exam with flying colors.
The weight of the world must be on Neymar, but he did not show it at all. Rather, he said he was extremely happy to accomplish one of his dreams. Catalonia may see him as one of the final pieces of the puzzle, but on the other side of the world he is seen as the first piece to be put down.
Hard as it is to believe, the real pressure on the young forward will only start next year.
Brazil are pinning much of their World Cup hopes on Neymar, who is going to be playing his first World Cup. The most powerful national team historically speaking, Brazil are eager to win after missing out since 2002 as they host the 2014 edition.
But they are also on one of their most barren runs in recent memory. Brazil sit at 19th in the FIFA World Ranking, behind the likes of Greece and Belgium, and just ahead of such teams as Bosnia and Ghana. Despite a star-studded squad, the Brazilians have not really looked like contenders for an uncomfortably long time for a nation accostumed to always being a superpower.
Neymar's scoring record for the national team, 20 goals in 33 appearances, is great for a 21-year-old. Yet, some have questioned his game whenever he's been less than exceptional for the Canarinha. Joey Barton, the controversial Marseille midfielder, even tweeted "Neymar is the Justin Bieber of football. Brilliant on the old YouTube. Cat p**s in reality." His was just one of many tweets and comments that attacked Neymar for being "overrated."
So he's done a fine job in the media and with the fans. Now the real test finally begins. Can a player so young make such a big adjustment and live up to gigantic expectation? All logic points to no. At least, not for a while. Yet, he's already surprised people. Is this kid for real? Who knows? Barca - and Brazil - can only be patient.