There is usually no place for patriotism in high-end football. The best clubs on the planet have very little connections with their country. Teams like Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea were bought by foreign billionaires who never thought about the nation or city the club represents. The teams have so many players from so many countries and continents that you sometimes forget where they're from.
But patriotism still exists when it comes to Barcelona. This club is an institution that represents Catalonia. They don't call themselves a Spanish club, and games against Real Madrid aren't just a football rivalry; they put together two completely different ideologies. Two countries collide, even though they aren't officially split. The Catalan people are proud, and they rely on their biggest club to show that pride in the way they play and act. The love Barcelona has for its territory is real, and it shows everywhere.
For a foreign Barça player, patriotism also applies. Neymar Jr. is a proud Brazilian. He loves his country and his level of performance and concentration are always at an all-time high for games in which he represents his nation.
The UEFA Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich will provide him with an opportunity to wear the Amarelinha underneath the Blaugrana kit, so to speak. Champions League games are a valuable commodity in Brazil, and to watch them you have to sign up for cable network. Brazilian people don't have cable as much as people from the United States, for instance, where that type of TV is just something natural to everyone. For most of the year, a large portion of the population doesn't see Neymar play in La Liga, Copa del Rey or UCL, since they have to pay for it.
But the latter stages of the European Cup are being shown in national television this year, which has been the case for the past three seasons. Globo and Bandeirantes TV, the two biggest television networks in Brazil, are going to broadcast the two clashes, which will give the entire country the opportunity to see their golden boy.
The relationship Brazil has with Neymar is different. The connection they have is something the Argentine people doesn't have with Lionel Messi, for instance. Messi left his country so young that the nation couldn't see him shine within the confines of their domestic competition, so they didn't feel as strongly about him as they should. This guy is the best player ever, and he's more beloved in Catalonia than he is in Argentina. Which has changed lately since the Argentine people began to take ownership of their guy, but the truth is every football fan has once thought that Messi was Spanish.
That's not the case with Neymar. Brazil saw him grow into one of the best players on the planet in their country. Santos FC games were nationally televised, and all 200 million Brazilians fell in love with that happy and bold kid who dribbled his way into stardom. Neymar is the biggest sporting superstar since Ayrton Senna, a Formula 1 driver that became the reason why Brazilians sat in front of the TV set every Sunday morning. Senna is an untouchable legend in this country, and his passing during a race is still one of the saddest moments the nation has ever experienced.
I live in Brazil, and what I see is a country divided. The ones who have to work like crazy just to buy dinner (like 90% of the population) resent the ones who live a more comfortable life without much effort. The corruption in politics and the unstoppable rise in violence saddens this hard-working nation that needs to fight everyday for a reason to smile.
The only thing that truly unites the Brazilian people is the sport they grew up loving. They truly live vicariously through their football team's success. If Brazil wins, we're happy. If Brazil loses, the country cries. You can imagine what happened when Germany beat us 7-1 in the World Cup.
Right now, the people are skeptical towards their national team. But the one guy they tune in to see play is Neymar. He is literally the reason why we watch Brazil matches now. We don't care about the other ten guys on the field; as long as Neymar is playing, we're watching.
Brazilians are invested in what Neymar is doing in Barcelona. The sports shows always highlight what's happening in Catalunya, and every Neymar goal is replayed, and replayed, and replayed...
Starting on May 6th, when the whole nation sits in front of their television sets to watch Barça vs Bayern, they won't give a damn about Pep Guardiola's return, how good these two teams are, the treble or Messi and Suárez. Neymar will be the needle-mover. Brazil loves his kid. The kid loves his country. It's a unique bond, that not a lot of people understand. But it exists. Neymar unites this country like nothing else does. After two games, he may or may not make us smile. But you better be damn certain that all 200 million of us will watch it.