Neymar: The ‘new Pele’ or clone of Robinho?

The youngster has been compared to the likes of Pélé and Ronaldo. Can he follow in the footsteps of these greats of the Brazilian game, or is he destined to follow the path of his predecessor at Santos, Robinho?

Pélé. Tostão. Garrincha. Zico. Bebeto. Sócrates. Ronaldo. Ronaldinho. Ok, you get the picture. Brazil produces quite a lot of good players. Barely a year seems to go by without rumours circulating from South America as to who may be the next big thing. The production line of Brazilian talent in recent years has gone into overdrive, with a vast number of players plying their trade worldwide, from Japan to Cyprus.

The latest for the Pélé/Ronaldo comparisons is an 18 year old called Neymar. Being a 5”8 child star at Santos will invite the inevitable comparisons with Pélé, and Neymar didn’t help matters just moments into his debut against Oeste at the age of 17 last year. Picking up the ball to the right of the penalty area, he curled a sublime effort which clipped the bar and bounced out. So close, but with one of his first professional touches of the ball, it was as good as going on a 70 yard dribble and rounding the goalkeeper twice.

Just a week later he scored his first goal against Mogi Mirim, and he was soon selling out the club shop’s supply of his number 7 shirt. At the end of last season, a 14,000 strong petition was handed to Dunga urging him to take Neymar to the World Cup. The former national team coach resisted the pressure.

Just a year later, and he scored on his debut for Brazil in a victory over the USA in August. With skill to burn and a wonderful finisher’s instinct and ability to beat the man on either side, he has scored 21 times in 57 games for Santos. Many have said that he is better than Robinho was at the same age, with more vision and a calmer head.

Many of the top European clubs, including Inter Milan and Real Madrid, have been linked with the Brazilian, but this summer he rejected the overtures of Chelsea to stay with Santos.

However, we’ve been here before. Robinho came through at Santos, made the step up to Europe and has largely failed. Neymar must learn from his predecessor if he is to live up to his reputation. Last month, his club coach Dorival Junior was sacked after a spat with the 18 year old prodigy. Dorival had banned Neymar following his reaction after not being allowed to take a penalty in a victory over Goianese in the Brazilian Championship. Faced with the dilemma of Neymar’s absence for a crucial game with Corinthians, the club sacked the coach instead. But Neymar still found himself suspended for Brazil’s recent friendlies with Iran and Ukraine.

This episode demonstrates the pitfalls Neymar must avoid to progress, either as a footballer or as a person. In recent years the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Robinho have all had to live up to being ‘Brazil’s next big thing.’ Whilst Ronaldo largely excelled, Ronaldinho dazzled the world between 2002 and 2006 before he waned, but Robinho never lived up to expectations. The worrying trend points to Brazilian superstars receiving more money and adulation earlier and earlier in their careers. There is the inevitable fear that the years spent at the top by the best Brazilian talents are becoming shorter and shorter, with Kaka the main exception in recent times. Whether Neymar can live up to the expectations will be a question he’ll have to answer sooner rather than later. The mature decision to progress at Santos rather than go for the cash on offer at Chelsea bodes well for the youngster, and if his debut for Brazil against the USA was anything to go by, we could be seeing a lot more of Neymar in the near future.