It might sound a bit unfair to carry the responsibility of leading the most recognized and decorated international team in history at the age of 22. However, this is the one-time chance for Neymar to add his name to the list of Brazilian football gods.
Neymar is the one host-country player who will be under the most pressure, even if he doesn’t want it. Whether things go well or not, the press is going to look for him, and the fans are either going to glorify or question him. Why? Because most of Brazil's hopes of winning the Hexacampeonato (sixth world championship) are on him.
You don’t agree? Let’s play an easy discard game first.
The fact that Brazil had to rely on bringing back Luiz Felipe Scolari through half of the 2014 cycle makes some believe that the pressure must be on Felipao. You are wrong. Scolari already won the pentacampeonato for them back in 2002 and will always be remembered for doing so.
Scolari is in a similar situation as Mario Zagallo was back at France '98. Zagallo wasn’t crucified and didn't lose his place at the Olympus for that terrible night in Saint-Denis; instead he still is revered as the coach of arguably the best Brazil side of all time.
Who else in the squad that Scolari selected has the talent, the spotlight and the relevance in world football that Neymar has today? No one.
As a matter of fact, those two players felt the pressure in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Both of them failed to live up to the expectations. Yes, they both won the World Cup in 2002, but the pressure wasn’t on them as they were under the wings of mature players like Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Once they were left at the helm, things didn’t go as planned, and in the subsequent World Cup after their failure, they weren’t given a second chance to redeem themselves.
Now that we have established that Neymar has the most pressure in the 2014 Brazil version, let’s talk about the factors that brought the Barcelona forward to bear such pressure.
Mano Menezes took charge of Brazil after South Africa 2010 and called up Neymar, as he saw in him the jewel that needed to be polished and the immediate future of Brazilian football. Menezes introduced Neymar to the kindness and cruelties of being a part of the Brazilian national team.
Sadly for Menezes, he ended up showing Neymar how Brazil was left with cruel press scrutiny after the Copa America early exit and his failure to conquer the gold medal at the Olympic Games.
When Scolari took over, he decided to carry on with the development of Neymar at the national team. And he wasn’t disappointed when he collected the sweet harvest that Menezes had planted. A more mature Neymar exploded at the Confederations Cup and left no doubt that he could be the one leading Brazil to a new reign.
Even Scolari decided that Neymar was ready to take all the pressure once he announced the roster for the World Cup. It was clear that by leaving out Ronaldinho, Kaka and even Robinho, Neymar was the chosen one. In 2002, Scolari gave that same vote of confidence to Ronaldo and Rivaldo when he left out Romario. The difference is that today, no other player shares that trust and confidence with Neymar.
Then there is the money factor. Whether Neymar cost Barcelona €50 or 100 million, or if he earns more or less millions than Lionel Messi, he is one of the most well-paid players worldwide—wanted or not, that adds extra pressure. Making more money means that you are subject to higher demands, which ultimately leads to increased pressure.
And football people are not the only ones looking for Neymar to perform at the highest level. There are also sponsors that pay big bucks in the hopes of maintaining their own brand attached to the perceived beloved hero.
According to FCBusiness.co.uk, Neymar is in the top 10 of the most marketable players and the only Brazilian in the list. That means that endorsement pressure is probably just as high as pressure to do well on the pitch this summer.
Even the protest groups against the World Cup in Brazil point straight to Neymar’s head, with cardboards and chants that say, “One professor is worth more than Neymar!” And those protesters wouldn’t be using Neymar’s name if they didn’t know he is the chosen one, the one under pressure.
Lastly, but no less an important pressure factor, Neymar will likely be wearing Brazil’s most legendary jersey: No. 10. It is a privilege that few have, but it also entails that at the very least you must honor the gods with the Brazilian trademark of "joga bonito" (playing beautifully).
If you really think about it, pressure in Brazil is everywhere, and most of it points Neymar’s way. It is up to his feet to transform such pressure into glory or to let it be his downfall.
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