With the Olympics using the under-23 format for men's Soccer, those who are casual fans of soccer may not have heard of many players in the competition. While many of the teams have young standouts, there is one who has elevated himself to mega-star status thanks to these Olympic Games.
His name is Neymar, and he is the next big thing in the soccer world.
Many of us who follow the game closely have been tracking the rise of this 20-year-old prodigy from Brazil for a couple of years now. But for the mainstream public, many have never seen him play before these mass broadcasted Olympic Games. He plays his club football domestically with the club Santos in his native Brazil and has been a member of that club's A team since 2009 when he scored 13 goals in 43 total games as a 17-year-old in Brazil's top league.
His appearance makes him easy to spot with the flashy mohawk/mullett that he rocks. His play, though, is what truly separates him from the rest.
His dazzling footwork, scintillating speed and his dashing creativity on the ball make him a nightmare for defenders to deal with. Since the 2010-2011 soccer season began, he has amassed 97 goals for club and country as he has terrorized defenses using his deft touch and his no-fear attitude. He is also a talented distributor of the ball and has collected 30 assists since the 2010-2011 season for club and country as well.
Neymar can play anywhere in an attacking position but may be most dangerous on a wing, where he can use his pace, dribbling and technique to attack the end line to cross the ball back into the 18-yard box or cut back and take shots from the center of the field. At these Olympic Games, he is playing as an attacker in a free-wheeling Brazilian offense that sees him move all over the field trying to increase his touches.
During these Olympics, Neymar has not disappointed. He has already scored two goals, including this dazzling free kick, and has two assists in his first three games. The defensive opposition has been sliced and diced by Neymar and his talented band of teammates and Brazil is off to an undefeated start in Olympic play.
Many are seeking to employ Neymar for the foreseeable future after the Olympic games are over. Barcelona and Chelsea are lining up for his signature in the attempt to woo him away from his homeland so that he can join the best players in the world in Europe. Chelsea have already lodged multiple attempts to buy him from Santos, both times having been rejected by either club or player.
According to his club Santos, Neymar has a basic buyout clause of around 45 million euros (over $55 million). Neymar signed a new contract this year locking him up with Santos until 2015. His contract will pay him nearly 1.3 million euros a month and will see his buyout clause increase every year he plays in a Santos uniform.
This type of fee will make it difficult for him to leave Santos unless a major European club is willing to pony up all of the money necessary to get him to leave Brazil. If they are able to do so, they will have signed a player that some, including former Brazilian legend Ronaldo, think will be the best player in the world.
I for one, agree that Neymar has the talent to be on par with players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. If all continues to progress well for Neymar, then in the very near future you will hear all three men be mentioned in the same sentence when you hear discussions about the best players in the world.