From Zico to Neymar - Lasmars remain Brazil's World Cup surgeons

by Rosa SULLEIRO

Sao Paulo (AFP) - Following in his father's footsteps, orthopaedic surgeon Rodrigo Lasmar's operation on superstar Neymar has proved crucial in preparing Brazil's billion-dollar team for their tilt at World Cup glory.

Back in 1986, Neylor Lasmar was called upon to fix the knee of the star of the Brazilian team heading to Mexico and aiming to win a first World Cup since 1970, Zico.

Although just a teenager, young Rodrigo was afforded the privilege of accompanying his father throughout that tournament.

"He met all the players, he was very involved," Neylor Lasmar recently told Brazilian daily O Estado de Minas.

Now 46, Rodrigo Lasmar is carrying on the family tradition and his role in mending Neymar's broken foot is every bit as crucial to the Selecao's World Cup hopes in Russia as his father's skills had been 32 years ago.

Like his father, Lasmar's reputation preceded him and his selection by Neymar for the crucial task briefly made him the most important man in his homeland.

"In the end, it's the patient who decides which surgeon will operate on him -- it's about confidence," Lasmar's predecessor as the Brazil team's chief medic Jose Luiz Runco told AFP.

A measure of Lasmar's importance in a football-mad nation that treats its star players almost as demi-gods was evident in the soap opera that led up to Neymar's operation.

It was a classic tug-of-war between club and country -- and there was no doubt who came out on top.

Neymar's heart is Brazilian yellow, not Parisian blue.

When he suffered the injury on February 25, speculation was rife over what to do, where to do it and who would be given the responsibility.

The 26-year-old had joined Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record 222 million euros ($264 million) six months earlier, but Neymar is a national treasure in Brazil and their World Cup ambitions trumped PSG's Champions League hopes.

Brazilian fans still haven't recovered from the pain of losing their star player to a broken vertebrae ahead of the 2014 World Cup semi-final on home soil and few want to be reminded of how the Selecao coped without him: a humiliating and record-equalling 7-1 thrashing by Germany.

Uncertainty reigned until Lasmar returned from a conference in Russia to meet with Neymar's representatives and PSG management.

When the verdict was announced, Brazilians breathed a sigh of relief while Parisians were left deflated -- and more so a few days later when Real Madrid dumped their Neymar-less side out of the Champions League.

Neymar was going under the knife immediately, but not in Paris and one of its reputed clinics; in Lasmar's home town of Belo Horizonte.

- Accused of lying -

To add insult to PSG's injury, Lasmar stated Neymar's foot had suffered a full fracture rather than the less serious hairline version diagnosed by French doctors.

Neymar would be out for up to three months rather than the "six to eight weeks" previously announced by the player's father.

He was in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup, not to play any further part in PSG's season.

The next day, an article in French newspaper L'Equipe citing sources close to PSG accused Lasmar of having lied about the true nature of Neymar's injury to ensure he would be kept in cotton wool until Brazil needed him.

PSG were reduced to sending their prefered surgeon Gerard Saillant -- renowned for having operated on Brazilian great Ronaldo's knee in late 2000 -- as Lasmar spent an hour and a quarter on Neymar on March 3.

"He faced up to all the pressure very well, he's a very focussed person," said Runco, who passed the Brazil baton to Lasmar in 2014.

Lasmar had joined Runco's backroom staff in 2001 and went to the World Cup a year later.

Ironically, that was where Ronaldo, freshly patched up by Saillant, fired Brazil to their last World Cup success with a brace in the 2-0 final victory over Germany.

Saillant's handiwork had left its mark on Lasmar.

"What impressed me most was the recovery of Rivaldo and Ronaldo, whose presence had been uncertain," Lasmar said in an interview with Hoje em Dia.

Neymar's injury is not as serious as Ronaldo's was, but Lasmar will hope his surgical skills stand the test of time in the way Saillant's did, and that Neymar emulates his striking predecessor.

Whatever happens, one person is particularly proud of Lasmar: his father Neylor.

"For us, it's highly gratifying that he was called upon to operate on Neymar, as I was with Zico before," he said. "It's an honour to operate on a star footballer."

If Neymar succeeds where Zico failed, Lasmar's fame in Brazil will only grow.