From Monster to Magic, Neymarketing goes global

By Andrew Downie

By Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Many young players from Brazil - particularly those starting out at Santos – have been saddled with the moniker, "the new Pele". Few of them have handled the pressure or come as close to fulfilling the prophecy as well as Neymar.

With an infectious grin, a series of flamboyant haircuts, and an abundance of talent, the teenage Neymar stood out from the moment he burst onto the scene at Santos in 2009.

Within three years of making his debut for the Sao Paulo club, he had led them to their first Copa Libertadores in almost 50 years, won the Puskas award for the FIFA goal of the season, and pinned down a regular spot in the national side.

His ball skills and poise in front of goal made him a top target for European clubs, and Barcelona signed him in 2013.

Supremely confident even as a teenager, Neymar was not overawed at playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez.

In four years in Catalonia, he did all there was to do with Barca, winning the Champions League once, La Liga twice, and the Copa del Rey three times.

He was even more feted at international level, where Brazil coaches Dunga and Tite built their teams around his brilliance.

Neymar grew on the international stage and happily assumed the captain's role, most notably at the 2016 Olympics when he led Brazil to their first-ever soccer gold - scoring a sublime free kick and the deciding penalty in the process.

The responsibility came easy to him and it was no coincidence that Brazil's 7-1 defeat by Germany in the 2014 World Cup came when he was out injured.

He goes to Paris eager to take on a similarly pivotal role, and he appears ready. Now 25, he is no longer the player whose arrogant tantrums and overdone theatrics prompted one rival manager to call him "a monster."

But while there is little doubt he is good enough to lead a team on the field, his move to center stage will also bring him attention off it.

Led by his father and agent, Neymar Sr, he has faced a host of court cases in Spain and Brazil over what investors, former clubs and tax authorities contend are contractual jiggery-pokery.

He has won some of the cases but still faces charges in others. A complex multi-million dollar transfer deal will be sure to throw up more questions and test the mettle – or the lawyers – of a man whose devotion to the bottom line earned him the name Neymarketing.

(Editing by Larry King)