Neymar: The last of the Brazilian greats?

Neymar Jr celebrates one of his 42 international goals. Picture: Deportes Sopitas
Neymar Jr celebrates one of his 42 international goals. Picture: Deportes Sopitas

Neymar looks like a pigeon. There’s no escaping the fact.

There’s also no escaping the fact that, despite his avian appearance and penchant for amateur dramatics, he is a pretty special footballer.

Netting his 43rd international goal in just his 62nd appearance, last Thursday night against France, showed that despite the massive expectation burdened on his scrawny shoulders from such a young age, he is more than capable of living up to the hype. He’s already the fifth highest scorer in the history of the national team.

Couple that with 17 La Liga goals for table topping Barcelona (the league’s 3rd best return behind behemoths Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), you wouldn’t be laughed at for arguing that Neymar Jr is up there with the world’s very best footballers.

Can the same be said about his countrymen, however?

The five-time world champions laboured to a 1-0 victory over South American rivals Chile in front of 60 000 people at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with a goal from Roberto Firmino.

Roberto Firmino - who? Picture: Guardian
Roberto Firmino – who? Picture: Guardian

Now, I like to think I know a bit about football, but I’m open enough to admit that I’d never heard of the Hoffenheim striker before. I don’t spend my Saturday’s wanking off to everything Borussia Dotrmund do, or get further than the first fortnight in a new game of Football Manager, both of which clearly make you a footballing expert.

While it was made embarrassingly obvious last July that Brazil aren’t the footballing force they once were, when they suffered the footballing equivalent of being fisted by Wolverine by losing 7-1 at home to Germany, I asked myself the question: where have all the great players gone?

When you look through the starting 11 that lined up against Chile on Sunday, it would be hard to say that more than three of the Brazilians on show were real world beaters, with defenders Marcelo and Thiago Silva gracing the field alongside the aforementioned Neymar.

Granted, it was a friendly match; but this was their final warm-up game before this summer’s Copa America, so a strong showing was paramount.

If you take Neymar out of that squad and replace him with World Cup 2014 fall-guy Fred, the spectacle would have probably been even more tedious than the foul-infested match already was.

Neymar is probably the first great, Brazilian attacker to play in Europe since Kaka lost his ability to play football somewhere above Europe on the two hour plane journey from Milan to Madrid in the summer of 2009.

It seems to have been false dawn after false dawn for the seleção in the last decade or so, despite early signs of promise in the careers of Adriano, Robinho, Alexandre Pato, Ganso and Leandro Damião, none of whom currently play in Europe – with the exception of Ligue 2, Le Harve’s Adriano.

You probably have to go back to the ultimately unsuccessful 2006 World Cup in Germany to find the last really exciting Brazilian team in terms of stars worth paying the entrance fee for. Roberto Carlos, Lucio and Cafu were the defensive presence that allowed the then fantastic Kaka, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo to do their thing.

The 2006 Brazil World Cup squad, complete with 6 FIFA World Player of the Year awards. Picture: Megasabi
The 2006 Brazil World Cup squad, complete with 6 FIFA World Player of the Year awards. Picture: Megasabi

Although they only made the quarter-finals in Germany, it’s worth noting that the three attackers mentioned above combined for a staggering six FIFA World Player of the Year awards and another three Balon d’Or’s (the two were merged in 2010).

How many will the class of 2015 win?

There was almost a sweet sense of justice when Brazil were pumped by the German Mannschaft in the Massacre of Belo Horizonte, as had they prevailed and went on to lift the World Cup trophy for a sixth time, they probably would have been not only the worst Brazilian team, but just the worst team period, to have won the competition.

Dunga’s Brazil have won eight games on the bounce and are clearly feeling a bit better about themselves after a disappointing end to what was supposed to be their summer, last year. But without the big names that Brazil have always had, will they have to rely on Neymar Jr’s brilliance to succeed?

Ronaldo had Rivaldo and Ronaldinho; Romario played with Bebeto and Dunga; Zico, Socrates and Falcão made up part of the best Brazilian team that never won the World Cup, while Pele and Garrincha also played with some great talents around them.

Neymar has David Luiz.

David Luiz - Neymar's partner in crime? Picture: The Express
David Luiz – Neymar’s partner in crime? Picture: The Express

Brazil have become far more functional over the past decade, with an increasing number of combative midfield players in the mould of Manchester City’s Fernando/inho (I’m sure they’re the same player.) While players such as Chelsea’s Oscar and Willian are undoubtedly talented, I fear that they lack that special something that those that came before them had, capturing the imaginations of millions across the globe.

What if something happens to Neymar? You know, like someone farts and he’s blown over, breaking his leg – then who is going to be the shining beacon of hope for Brazilian football?

Neymar after he was scratched by a kitten. Picture: Daily Mail.
Neymar after another light tackle. Picture: Daily Mail.

Brazil will always draw a crowd because of what has went before, but without a star like Neymar, how many people would be so willing to pay upwards of the £30 it cost for their cheapest ticket for a mid season kick around in London?

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