Blog by: Naveen
Barcelona’s last-gasp win last night at the Camp Nou, against a similarly erratic Sevilla, was, in essence, the kind of performance we have been witnessing from the Catalans since Gerrardo “Tata” Martino took charge.
With a patchy defence, the team is not completely at ease with the subtle(and yet very telling) tweaks Martino has made to their system. However, they were able to come up with moments of inspiration when it mattered the most. At a quick glance, it looked like a typical Barcelona performance – another three points in the bag with talisman Lionel Messi on the score sheet again. The night, however, belonged to their most recent acquisition – a certain Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior.
Gareth Bale’s galactico adventure, together with Mesut Ozil’s dynamite move to Arsenal, had taken the spotlight off the biggest story of the summer (his move to Barcelona as well as his Golden Ball winning performance at the Confederations Cup all wrapped up neatly, pretty early on).
The former Santos prodigy knows too well how bright the glare of the spotlight can be, but the confidence and promise of youth has never really let him blink in the face of all the scrutiny. Even so, he seems to be glad that he is no longer the biggest fish in the pond, and his performances have displayed a measure of maturity, which is refreshing.
In the first quote attributed to him upon his arrival at the Camp Nou, the Brazilian said that he was –“here to help Messi remain the best player in the world”. A telling quote indeed, even if the pecking order at Barcelona had never really been in doubt.
Most deemed it a PR exercise, one that was supposed to bring to rest the incessant opinions that have been popping up from the time Neymar first put on a Barcelona jersey. Most prominently, of course, it was Johan Cruyff, the man credited with Barcelona’s footballing philosophy, who opined that the two superstars were “too young” to complement each other, and even suggested a ridiculous Messi sale! One can see the merit in the Dutchman’s reservations, which only makes Neymar’s seamless transition all the more commendable.
Prodigies inhabit a different universe to the rest of us, their genius often overshadowing every other aspect of their lives, leading to an emotional vulnerability complemented by a sense of entitlement. Egotistical and typically displaying a disregard for rules, the modern day wonder-kid can be a disturbing influence in a team sport such as football.
Typically given a free rein all through their lives on account of being blessed with that stroke of genius, the transition to an already successful world class team can be overwhelming. Acting out against authority coupled with a sense of loss of identity and an ego the size of Mount Vesuvius – and you begin to see why so many of the gifted players have melted into a sea of mediocrity in due time.
Maradona was always the lead actor wherever he went and Eric Cantona has always got away with far more than anyone else who ever played under Sir Alex Ferguson. The wily Scotsman understood that given the right environment to thrive, the mercurial Frenchman was capable of delivering the goods – as the four titles in his five years at United suggest.
Closer to home, Pep Guardiola instilled a hitherto unseen discipline in a precocious Lionel Messi’s off field regimen– and the Argentine now has a stunning four Ballon d’Or titles in his resume to show for. It takes a skilled hand to manoeuvre the fickle lady of genius that resides in these kindled souls. A little too much here, a little too little there, and one runs the risk of derailing what is often an irreversible process.
What is so surprising about Neymar is that he seems to be all alone in this roller-coaster ride, and the youngster hasn’t flinched at all. He has carried around the tag of the Prima Dona for as long as anyone can remember; for even though he has had powerful footballing influences (Luiz Felipe Scolari comes to mind), he seems to be all alone at the top.
His entire time at Santos was characterized by the club’s reluctance to hold back the youngster in any way, either on the field or off it. Brand Neymar has walked, talked, laughed and danced his way to the cauldron that is the Camp Nou, and it is only now that the world sits back and says – Hey! This kid is definitely something else entirely!
Out there on the pitch, in the firm glare of an unforgiving public, Neymar has let his feet do the talking. His poise and adaptability have relegated even his scintillating skill on the ball to a spot in the background – no mean feat in itself. Sure of touch and always looking for teammates to feed, the Brazilian has integrated himself remarkably well into Barcelona’s system.
There was one moment of jaw-dropping skill too, last night. Out on the left flank, standing nonchalantly as the ball came to him, he executed a perfectly timed Cruyff turn – a thing of beauty that left opposition fullback “Coke” Andújar, who he terrorized all night, bamboozled.
He seems to be genuinely respectful, and in awe of the chance to play alongside the best players of this generation – while able to understand that his own name will be uttered in that company, one day soon, if he gives the club the dedication it deserves. That level of emotional maturity is refreshing for someone who has been treated like a demigod all through his young career, and it certainly says that we can expect great things from the Brazilian in the not-too-distant future.
His displays for the Brazilian national team have been nothing short of spectacular. The effortless manner with which he waltzed Brazil to the Confederations Cup title is a testament to how special this young man really is. The dark cloud of mutiny that surrounded the tournament was not lost on him, and he admitted, in the wake of his sensational goal in the tournament’s opening fixture, that he wanted desperately to win this title for the people, to put a smile on their faces in the midst of the economic crisis.
His willingness to carry the burden of lifting their spirits, when the tournament, as well as next year’s World Cup, are all considered “elitist” events by the people themselves, and more importantly, his ability to deliver on that promise- that shows a personal belief in football’s ability to unite and bring joy.
Barcelona knows they have amongst their ranks the most highly rated young player in the footballing world today. What the world is finding out, slowly and surely, is that this is a man who not only has his feet on the ground, but also his heart in the right place. There is a whiff in the air, one of infinite promise and potential. And it is decidedly Brazilian in flavor.