clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Neymar - Part 3: The Skinny Kid Who Grew To Greatness From The Streets To FC Barcelona

Explosive and extraordinary, Neymar’s skills honed in the streets and indoor futsal pitches, then at Portuguesa Santista and Santos, all in amidst the roller-coaster journey of life, are now making him the epitome of consistency for Brazil as well as Barcelona.

David Ramos/Getty Images

This is the last of a three-part series on how Neymar Jr grew to greatness from the streets to FC Barcelona. The first part, among other things, looked at Neymar's very beginnings, what family means to him, how close he was to signing for Real Madrid, where he trained as a kid, who some of this role models are and Neymar Jr - the person. The second part, among other things, explored a turning point in his life, the memorable days at Santos, just how close he was to leaving for Chelsea, Neymar as a father, some of the mistakes he made and his extraordinary repertoire.

"Neymar is a magnet: he pulls in all the sponsors just like he attracts the Neymarzetes (the screaming girls). There are fourteen companies that have targeted Neymar since he started at Santos... These are the companies that have chosen Neymar as the man to represent their brand." - Luca Caioli

A lot is learnt in the offices of NR Sports located in Santos. It all perfectly encapsulates who Neymar is as a person as well as a brand. There are photos of his father, his late granddad Arnaldo and religious maxims.

Neymar is a marketing phenomenon, and he's got the world at his feet. He made $33.6 million last season, according to Forbes. Yet he doesn't just represent any brand. "My commercial team will never close a deal with a brand I don't feel identified by, be it clothing, headphones or dark sunglasses," said Neymar. The thing about Neymar is that he no doubt sells. He has the ability to sell pretty much anything that can be thought of. According to SportsPro magazine, Neymar Jr represents the most commercially valuable and marketable athlete in the world. He is placed above the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt. He is all over social media and "always has a story to tell and a face to pull," as Caioli writes. He's got his own ‘e tois' language, he's in TV series and comics.

Marketing aside, who can forget this incredible gesture when he made a South African kid's day. And there are countless others just like it.

Neymar also invests in property, treasury bonds and shares; however, it's for a wider goal and broader view, according to his father. The aim is not to earn money on the market, but instead to "provide for the future five or six generations of the da Silva Santos family."

Francisco Bosco, a poet, writer and doctor in literary-theory at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro said in Caioloi's book that off-the-pitch, "Neymar shows a charisma which neither Messi nor Ronaldinho had. You can only compare him to David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. At Barcelona, he will be skyrocketed to the absolute heights of stardom."

"CAN YOU IMAGINE WHAT it's like for a boy who used to play in the streets and at the beach to arrive in a strange city aged just 21 and be introduced to a stadium packed with 56,000 people? It was amazing and wonderful!" - Neymar Jr

The big day went smoothly. Off-the-pitch Neymar said all the right things and on it, he did all the right things.

"Happiness, dream, heartfelt emotion, family, help, God, Messi, Messi again, and once more, Messi," these were the words repeated on 3rd June 2013 at his official unveiling press conference, as written by Caioli. He continues: "Neymar had been informed that his life at Barcelona would depend on how he got along with Messi. Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Ibrahimovic and Villa all had to pack their bags when it came to the crunch. Better to bow your head and not overshadow the champ. Neymar was humble and sometimes overdid it."

The big screen had the words, "Benvingut Neymar Jr!" (‘Welcome Neymar Jr!) And there were several banners. The highlight was no doubt, "Florentino (Perez, the Real Madrid chairman), you have no sea, nor Neymar." And the best comment? Then 15-year-old Lamin commented with, "I play with Santos on the PlayStation because he played for them," both gathered by Caioli.

Neymar completed the relevant examinations, had pictures taken, signed the contract, did some tricks, kick ups, booted the balls to the stands and was overwhelmed with hugs from the kids. Of course, finishing off with the well-prepared press conference.

Neymar's first season at Barcelona was very good. He adapted really quickly and had a great relationship with Messi. Also, he was playing more for the team than himself, which was promising. Yet it was a bit stop-start since he missed 15 games due to injury, but he performed in most of the big games, including against Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Manchester City and scored as many times as he assisted in the 2013-2014 season (15). His debut El Clasico was unforgettable. He was widely regarded as being the man-of-the-match. He scored a scorcher and constantly attacked Dani Carvajal, in the end proving an assist for Alexis' stunning goal from outside the box. The match also brought about this memorable line from Ray Hudson, a commentator on beIN Sports: "Bringing Neymar to a football match is like bringing a gun to a knife fight."

Caioli put it eloquently, "The world press had no doubts that a star was born: Neymar shone, and shone bright. The kid from Mogi das Cruzes had made the news and filled the column inches. His photo was everywhere in the sporting press."

Many things went to plan. After a banana was thrown at Dani Alves, instead of showing his annoyance, he bit into it. The marketing prodigy immediately took a picture of himself, his son and a banana, with the hashtag #WeAreAllMonkeys on Instagram and it went viral. It was later revealed by the Brazilian media that it was all a stunt dreamt up by Neymar's publicist. Nothing happens by accident. Yet everything didn't go to plan. Barcelona were knocked out early in the Champions League to Atlético Madrid, lost the Copa Del Rey final to Real Madrid and ended the season without a trophy. To be fair to Neymar, he was often found playing out of position (on the right-side), he was still settling in and he must have missed Brazil, even if only slightly.

Criticism comes from all walks of life, and no one is immune from it. Johan Cruyff, a vocal opponent of Rosell said, "Barcelona have created a problem: They have signed a 21-year-old who earns more than everyone else and who has already got it all. Everyone has to learn at 21 - there is no such thing as a 21-year-old God."

"At a corner kick, one of their players said something to my son, trying to aggravate him. But Juninho played along, blew him some kisses and kept his cool. The TV replayed those kisses again and again. That was funny." - Neymar Sr

The Copa America 2011 didn't go to plan and Santos lost the Fifa Club World Cup 2011 to one of the best teams of all time. "Today we learned how to play football. Barcelona were the better team. Its players are amazing. It's the best team in the world. This is the match which we learn from," said Neymar. The London Olympics 2012 didn't go to plan either and it remains the only trophy that Brazil haven't won. Many Brazilian legends have tried, including Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Bebeto and Ronaldinho, but none have succeeded. "I cried uncontrollably after losing the gold medal match to Mexico at the London Olympics 2012." There's always 2016.

The Confederations Cup 2013 is when Neymar really started blossoming into a world-beater. The stage was set and Neymar took full advantage. He showed the world that he's the real deal. He was absolutely terrific. He was awarded with four man-of-the-match awards out of a possible five and won several other awards. Apart from scoring in the final, he drew the foul which got Pique sent off and absolutely terrorised Alvaro Arbeloa to the extent that Vicente Del Bosque decided to replace him at half-time. The golden boy grew into a man.

Caioli writes: "In the heart of the Maracana Stadium on the evening of 30th June 2013, the dream photo could be taken: Neymar biting the three trophies he so desired: the Confederations Cup, the Golden Ball for best player and the Bronze Boot for the third best goalscorer."

Yet he wouldn't have won it without the rest of the team. As Neymar Sr stated, "Ever since he played futsal as a child, Juninho has learned that you need to work within the group. It's the old story of all for one and one for all. That's also how we run our company: we all work for Neymar Jr, and he works for us."

Outside of playing for Brazil and Barcelona, Neymar is also a member of Nike, of course, it does help that the two respective sides are sponsored by Nike, but Neymar was supported by them way before that, indeed, throughout his journey from Santos to superstardom. Nike's motto, "Sem risco não há vitória," translates to "without risk there is no victory," an accurate phrase that embodies Neymar's approach to football. It's Neymar in a microcosm - skill, speed and samba.

Neymar Sr loves his children unquantifiably and is incredibly proud of them. He'd go to the moon and back for them. Neymar and Philippe Coutinho memorably set sparks flying and fireworks off in the Mediterranean International Cup 2008. Their partnership was fantastic, something to behold. A similar occurrence occurred in the under-20's South American Cup 2011, where Neymar and Lucas Moura were outstanding. Indeed, Neymar's talents were even recognised by the Argentinean press. After scoring all four goals in a 4-2 win against Paraguay, he was described as "Neymaradona" by Olé in a front-cover headline. His father was immensely proud. His only wish is that there would be more time to spend with his daughter Rafaela, yet they both acknowledge that it's difficult at the moment, but that they will hopefully do so more in the future.

"Diehard Barca fan Jordi Cases is much more than a season-ticket holder on the Camp Nou terraces. The forty-something pro-independence Catalan, who is a pharmacist in a town half an hour outside Barcelona,  has stirred up one of the most significant institutional crises in the club's history. For better or worse, his name will forever be linked with that of Neymar Jr." - Luca Caioli

Jordi Cases single-handedly forced Sandro Rosell to resign, he did so by pushing the club to explain the transfer to shareholders and the courts, in an attempt to find out how much was paid for the Brazilian prodigy. He has often been referred to in the Barcelona camp as "El Diablo"- "The devil" for taking the club to court. He tried to get to the truth, and it must be said, that he did in the end; he achieved his desired aim. He has since dropped his lawsuit against Barcelona for the Neymar transfer (October 2014), but not before the whole saga scandal threatened to erupt beyond all proportions.

It almost did too, even to the extent that Rosell had to resign as a result of it; his reasoning was "to protect the club's image." You can't make this stuff up. What Barcelona did is inexcusable; the lies, the excuses and the incompetence. It was overall awfully handled by Barcelona, Rosell and the board, but a lot of the media decided to target Neymar Sr. History won't be kind on Rosell as Barcelona's president. As Sid Lowe put it: "He will be remembered as the man who sold Eric Abidal and sold the shirt to Qatar Airways. The man who fell out with Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola and even Messi." For those unaware, Barcelona were charged £7.5 million in tax fraud evasion over the deal. To top it all off, Barcelona later released evidence that the transfer was at £74 million rather than near the £50 million mark. Barcelona also confirmed that £34 million of that amount went to a firm owned by Neymar Sr but that there were no wrongdoings on that count.  And Barcelona did pay £11.2 million "to cover eventual interpretations" soon thereafter.

Going back to Neymar Sr, he started getting attacked from all sides like a shield being peppered by arrows. Santos' ex-president Luis Alvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro (LAOR) came up with all sorts of defamation about some sort of an orgy being organised in London as part of the deal. Absolute nonsense. His hate was plain for all to see when he told ESPN in Brazil: "I thought Neymar's father was my friend, but today, if I saw him in front of my car, I might step on the accelerator." Just goes to show what jealousy and greed does to you. For those who have seen the film ‘Nebraska' (2013), it reminded me of the jealousy and greed Ed Pegram had towards his ‘friend' Woody Grant when he found out he had a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize. Also, to a lesser extent the jealousy experienced in ‘Her' (2013), in another relatively underrated film.

Not only this, but one or two of the Brazilian, Spanish and British media (others worldwide too, no doubt) seized on this opportunity like a dog with a bone and started documenting it as if it was all but fact. Astonishing.  You also had Santos' current president Odilio Rodrigues criticising Neymar Sr, describing his deal with Barcelona as being "unacceptable" and "an ethical error." Neymar wasted little time in defending his father.

"I am sick and tired of this ... I've had enough of all this talk," he wrote on his official Instagram page. I am a fan of my dad for having put me where I am, and if he makes millions from that, what's the big deal? He worked for it; it didn't just fall in his lap."

He added: "I am totally disappointed with the ex-president LAOR and the current ODILIO. Enough is enough. Sorry, Santos fans, but my love for the club won't change because of ‘one or two people'."

"First comes God, then family and then Neymar." - Rayellen Andrade

He is absolutely idolised in Brazil. 200 million Brazilians are constantly rooting for one man. The Neymar effect at its very best or worst (depending on your perspective). Robinho is one man who knows all about ‘Neymarisation.'  "I can only say that my son, Robson Junior, who is five and plays futsal, says to me every day that when he is older he wants to be like Neymar. ...One time, I went into his room and there he was with a ‘Neymar' haircut: Mohican style. I told Neymar that it was all his fault that these kids do such stupid things." He's right in the sense that it's not only his son who's copied it. It was a haircut inspired by Neymar's hairdresser from when he was fifteen, Cosme Salles, explained, "He wanted something new so I suggested the Mohican."

Its plethora of variations was a complete hit. As Caioli explains, "Twenty cuts over three years struck a chord and spread like wildfire. Babies, kids, fans and players both in and out of Brazil copied the look. It was an enormous success." It just goes to show how influential idols and role models can be.

Neymar wants his son, Davi Lucca to have idols and role models, yet he doesn't want him to be so infatuated in them that he forgets his own father, but he thinks that it will probably happen. It's inevitable. "I'm already preparing myself for that, because Davi probably won't say he's a fan of Neymar Jr. But I have no problems admitting that I am a proud fan of Davi Lucca," writes Neymar.

In reality, it was the World Cup 2014 which marked a turning point of sorts at Barcelona, the one that transformed him from ‘very good' to ‘great'. Whilst there were conflicting opinions about Lionel Messi's World Cup (not sure why, to be honest), there was no doubting that Neymar had a great World Cup in carrying what was a fairly toothless Brazil World Cup team (minus him) to the maximum it could achieve. "I could have ended up in a wheelchair," he says before bowing his head and wiping the tears in silence.

Everyone's worst fears were confirmed and the tournament was over for Brazil's number 10. Juan Zuniga's knee ended Neymar's World Cup prematurely and Brazil self-destructed in a 7-1 trouncing against Germany in his absence. The headline in the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo was "Massacred" and it just about sums it up. Of course, they would endure another humiliation in the third-place play-off against the Netherlands. The game ended 3-0 and the nation had enough. The press and social media channels lambasted the Brazil national team, everything from the coach to the players, and Neymar was the only one to escape unscathed. Not only that, but he also became named Brazil's captain at the tender age of 22; he's a natural at coping with pressure.

Yet Neymar knew that this presented the perfect opportunity for him to rest, recharge his batteries and return better than ever. "This is going to be my year, I will perform more," he said. And boy has he performed. He has already scored more club goals this season (17) than he did last season (15). And in 21 games less. He is the third top scorer in La Liga, behind, you guessed it, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, including goals against the likes of Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and PSG - clear evidence that he makes a difference in the biggest of games. He has also assisted 5 goals in all competitions. The team clearly misses him when he doesn't play.

Away from all the stats and records, it's something else that has really made Neymar stand out this season. The other side of things that is so often overlooked. As Kevin Williams of the Barcelona Football Blog perfectly put it: "...The things that he brings to the game: intelligence, associative play, an almost too-reverential view of teamwork, toughness and of course, absurd quality have made him more even than those who believed in him suspected. He's even tracking back much more effectively this season."

This was best illustrated in the recent Atlético Madrid match where he was on the end of foul-after-foul, and "somehow managed to play the full 90 minutes with basically a (bloodied) hole in his ankle," as Bostjan Cernensek of SB Nation's Barca Blaugranes described it. He could easily have gone off, he could have been sitting on the substitutes' bench with two feet up and an ice-pack taped to his ankle. And no one would have batted an eye-lid. But he didn't. He plays for the team, he loves playing the game and he's got gladiator-like spirit.

"He improvises and does not follow the established rules of football. In the beginning, I watched him closely; I wanted to see how far he could go. Well... every day he would create something new. The end result is that we haven't seen everything Neymar is capable of." - Muricy Ramalho

"Neymar 2.0 is more mature, and physically strong, like a bull," as per Sport. Not only did the Barcelona medical team advise him to bulk up, but Dr Caesar Augustus also removed his tonsils to help him on two counts; a two birds with one stone situation. Thus, to help prevent infections as well as to assist him in adding weight. The results are there to be seen, he now weights approximately 5 kilograms more. You ask Neymar about it and there is no showing off. Instead, as expected it's another modest reply. "It's not so I can boast, that doesn't interest me," the 22-year-old said. "It's so I can be more efficient. What I want is to be the best on the pitch; it doesn't matter if people see me as good looking or not," he told Sport. This "physical evolution" can be compared to other South Americans, such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Messi. Neymar is disciplined, and there is no doubt that he can keep it up. And that's exactly what he will be looking to do in the year ahead, where he'll look to gain another 5 kilograms.

I have been covering the FC Barcelona attacking player ratings for almost all of the season so far and Neymar never seizes to amaze. He is always smiling and it's easy to see why he is such a brilliant role model to millions around the world. Further to this, he is the epitome of consistency.  His rise has been magnanimous. Stratospheric and meteoric almost doesn't do it. Just as with Messi, we are slowly but surely running out of superlatives to describe him. He has crystallised the potential that was apparent even going all the way back to his days of playing in the streets, futsal pitches and the humble Tumiaru social club. And the wonderful part is that he's still got a long way to go. Neymar is a technical marvel, magical wizard and a humble genius. Nothing short of a ball of destruction. His pace and dribbling with the ball is otherworldly, he is brilliant with set-pieces, havoc-like on defences, has a rare rocket for a left and right foot and his finishing is absolutely clinical.

"We don't want to wait till Neymar retires to start the project. It's important to build it while he still plays. We'll bring education to the entire family, so the parents can help their children to make the right choices. The family must grow and stay together." - Neymar Sr

The Instituto Projecto Neymar Jr, a private non-profit association dedicated to social causes, has very recently been opened (December 2014) in Jardim Gloria, a place where Neymar grew up. It's a place fraught with "juvenile delinquency, prostitution and drugs. It's a real problem zone," as per Caioli. The purpose isn't to find "the next Neymar", but it is instead to educate and bring families as well as communities together so they can grow in a better environment, through sport. They want to be able to help 10,000 kids and it all stems from Neymar's tough childhood. In his own words: "When I was a kid, all I wanted was a place like this to go to, but there was nothing like it anywhere near." He is now "helping to write new history both on and off the pitch."

Neymar used to play in the streets, was skinny & unhealthy, inconsistent, too selfish, poor and unsure of himself. In contrast, he now plays for arguably the best team in the world as well as for his beloved national team, is strong & healthy, consistent, reliable, rich and sure of himself. He sure has come a long way. Just as interesting is looking at what hasn't changed. He is always joyful, loving, humble, modest and one of the kindest souls around. Yes, he's naturally matured, but some things never change.

Throughout all the highs and lows, Neymar Sr has been an immovable object by his son's side. As Fernando Duarte put it: "He wants his son to touch the stars and to realize the dreams he had since he was a child, but he will never allow Neymar Jr's feet to leave the ground. Football could do with more case like that." I couldn't agree more.

* * *

Paulo's friend, a fellow schoolkid, Lucas, pauses for a brief moment and takes in the question before saying something that far surpasses his tender years. "His time will come. Read (the plaque). There will one day be 50 Baroque Angels on display." Wow. Children bring light to the darkest of places.

Whilst Neymar hasn't quite reached legendary status yet, don't bet against it happening. He finished 5th in the Ballon d'Or in 2013 and 7th in 2014. More importantly though, he's a player who has time and time again shown that he's more than capable of making the difference, for both club and country. Barcelona and Brazil are in safe hands with the phenomenal Neymar.

Outside the Pacaembu stadium, the vendors are mostly selling the number 10 of the gold-and-green shirt belonging to the latest poet and superstar of Brazilian as well as European football. Neymar's number 11 shirt is the second most sold in Barcelona currently, after; you guessed it, Lionel Messi. He's always joyful and smiling. Playing in the streets, on the beach and futsal has allowed him to blossom into the player he is today. Caioli was spot on when describing him as the greatest new number 10 (and even 11). Neymar is now well and truly here.

Not that it means much anymore, but injury-permitting, he seems a certain future Ballon d'Or winner. Yet it's not one of Neymar's ambitions. He just wants to bring happiness to the fans of sport. As his father rather modestly put it, if they wanted him to be the best, then they would have complied with what people told them. "To be the best, you have to play against the best. If you go to Barcelona, you will always be in Messi's shadow."

It's only right that Neymar Jr has the last words: "I can't promise goals, victories and titles, because it doesn't only depend on me. But I can promise to fight with all I've got. Football is not only about victory draw or defeat. It's much more than that. It's not just we versus them. Football is a child's game that grown-ups take seriously. But it doesn't need to be serious all the time. I want to have fun. I want to make people happy. I want to keep playing, dribbling and scoring. If a child has a dream, he must chase it. And never give up, even if people say it will never come true. I want to be the boy who never stopped dreaming."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Barca Blaugranes Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Barca news from Barca Blaugranes