The talent, the gossip, the inside track
Neymar da Silva is taking the South American Youth Championships in Peru by storm. Here, TV Globo’s football commentator Jon Cotterill explains why the Brazilian reminds him of the Manchester United icon
“Genius, maverick, legend”. Three words often used to describe the magnificent George Best.
While we all know that the former Manchester United maverick was a one-off, from time to time there have been players who had the talent to come close to matching the Belfast man’s genius. At the start of his career, Ryan Giggs was labelled the ‘new George Best’. More recently it was the turn of Cristiano Ronaldo.
And, after watching Brazil’s Under-20s in Peru this week, it seems there could well be another pretender to the throne: Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior.
The Santos star put on a virtuoso performance scoring all the goals in Brazil’s 4-2 demolition job on Paraguay.
He followed that up with a fabulous individual strike versus Colombia a few days later.
While displays at Under-20 level, however stunning, may not be the most reliable barometer of a player’s potential, Neymar was quite simply several cuts above everyone else on the pitch.
Artistry, grace, sublime finishing, irreverence; the 18-year-old’s performance had it all. It was impossible not to be mesmerized as Neymar put on a display reminiscent of George Best at his most captivating.
Neymar’s build, balance, trickery, turn of pace, close skills, that ability to seemingly walk through a defence and ride a challenge, the drop of the shoulders, and some wonderful finishing. For me the similarities between the two players are striking.
But you can judge for yourself. Take a look at this video on Best and then watch Neymar in action versus Paraguay and Colombia...
Neymar was already well-known in Brazil long before he made his professional debut for Santos. The Vila Belmiro side picked him up as a kid and were soon touting him as yet another wunderkind from the Santos academy.
The forward made his debut versus Paulista FC on 12th March 2009. But His early performances for the Santos first team were less than convincing and it looked unlikely that the youngster could live up to the hype. I even wrote a piece questioning whether Neymar would go on to reach the (relative) heights of Robinho or sink into obscurity like the over-hyped former Corinthians teenager Lulinha.
Now less than two years on, and after commentating on many of Neymar’s games and seeing him develop (at least on the pitch) I’m more than convinced that he’s the real thing.A born entertainer and a flash bugger to boot, Neymar has that mixture of audacity, arrogance, and above all the ability that all crowd pleasers need to perform at the highest levels of world football.
Despite his age, the forward already has an impressive strike record. He scored 13 goals in his first year as a pro. Last season he put away 44 goals. Clearly, there is a lot more to come from a player will only turn 19 next month.
Neymar made his debut for Brazil’s senior side against the USA back in August. The South Americans put on a magical display and inevitably the teenager scored.
But long before he got to wear the famous yellow jersey, the Brazilian had been on the radar of Europe’s big clubs. Last August, Chelsea had an offer of £17 million turned down. Six months on, that’s just enough for a down payment on Santos man’s £38 million buy-out clause.
But as well as the bags of talent, there is a potential for trouble. In September, Neymar had a very public falling out with Dorival Júnior when the coach ordered the player not to take a penalty in the game versus Atlético Goianiense. The teenager was caught on camera lambasting his coach and team mates. Goianiense trainer, Rene Simoês, famously labelled Neymar ‘a monster’. But within days it was Santos coach Dorival Júnior who was on his way out of the club.
While Neymar has already made up with his former boss, it’s clear that the teenager still has a lot of growing up to. Neymar says he’s learnt from his experiences but you get the feeling there’s a degree of waywardness simmering beneath the surface. The Brazilian surprised everyone by turning down a terrific offer from Chelsea and you never really know what he might get up to next.
George Best could be just as unpredictable. He walked out on United in 1974 when he was just 27 and it was all downhill from then on. But Best belonged to a different era. He was never a diver, never made a fuss about being cropped by defenders and in this respect Neymar has a lot to learn.
The Brazilian could also do with a little of Best's dress sense. Neymar's haircuts go from bad to worse. And, with his array of medallions, trinkets and flashy outfits there's little danger of him making GQ’s list of the 50 most stylish men of the last 50 years as Old Trafford George Best did.
Fashion sense aside, Neymar has what Best had: a rare gift that lifts him head and shoulders above anything else around.
Talking about Cristiano Ronaldo, the ex Manchester United man is quoted as saying: "There have been a few players described as the new George Best over the years, but this is the first time it's been a compliment to me".
Would George Best be equally as happy with the comparisons with Neymar? I'd like to think he would.
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