Neymar, the sensational 18-year-old star forward of Brazilian club Santos FC, epitomizes the best of Brazilian soccer: he is marvelously skillful, stylish, charismatic and exudes the joyous spirit of “el jogo bonito.”
He has accomplished much with the Brazilian club and recently made his debut with the Brazilian national team, in New Jersey of all places.
Top European clubs, like Chelsea, Real Madrid and Juventus, covet the youngster, but a 30 million euros transfer fee and the desire of Santos to retain its top star have been stumbling roadblocks that, so far, have stood in the way.
Neymar's popularity and admiration is such that some observers have dared to compare him with the great Pele. Like Neymar, Pele also started his career with Santos FC, and enjoys a close, deeply personal friendship with the young phenom.
Which brings me to one of Pele's latest business activities: promoting the return of the legendary club New York Cosmos.
As some of us of certain age recall, the Cosmos reigned supreme in the late 70s and early 80s as the most glamorous and exciting club in the world. The team led by Pele and Franz Beckenbauer (among other world class players) won several NASL titles, travelled the world and captured the hearts and minds of U.S. fans who were notoriously cold to the world's most popular sport.
After the league folded, so did the Cosmos.
A group led by British investors, including Paul Kemsley, a former vice chairman for Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, purchased the rights to the Cosmos name with the intention of having the team join Major League Soccer in 2013. The recent announcement took many by surprise.
Reactions to the announcement range from those who welcome the idea and think the ownership group is professional and serious, to those that profess skepticism and doubt that the group has the discipline and wherewithal to follow-through with the project.
One thing is for sure: the group has outstanding guerilla marketing operators who know how to create excitement and buzz. The prospective club has been generating lots of traffic on social media outlets and producing hot word of mouth based on their astute use of Pele's image and likeness.
Most recently, the group plastered a giant outdoor ad featuring Pele in Cosmos gear in the middle of New York's Times Square. The group also staged a well attended Cosmos ball giveaway fan celebration at Planet Hollywood, also in the Times Square area.
All of the hoopla and marketing pizzaz is great. But, sooner rather than later, fans —specially New York fans—will start to ask for real, concrete actions that can lead to the creation of a real team with real world class stars, real coaches, a real stadium and really good play.
That is where Neymar comes into the picture.
What better way is there for the investment group to dramatically show they are serious than to leverage Pele's father-like relationship with Neymar and then dig into their pockets to extract 30 million euros in order to acquire the world's hottest young star?
Pele was the face of the first generation New York Cosmos. Why not have Neymar be the new face of the new New York Cosmos?
New York City is a big place with national and global appeal. In order to succeed, a team of any sport needs one, preferably two or more, marquee name superstars.
The Yankees used to have Reggie Jackson now they have A-Rod and Jeter, the Jets used to have Joe Namath, now they have Mark Sanchez, the Knicks used to have Patrick Ewing, now they have Amare Stoudemire. The same thing must happen with the Cosmos.
The investment group is doing well on several fronts.
The prospective club has set up academies in New York and Los Angeles and asserts that it has 2,000 youth players between the ages of eight and 18 wearing the Cosmos colors and logo. The idea is to develop a players farm system similar to those of the best clubs in the world.
The group is in advanced discussions with MLS. However, they must be able to work astutely with the New York Mets ownership group, which in the past has expressed interest in launching an MLS team based in their Queens, New York site.
If the group makes the wrong moves, the Mets ownership group is capable of giving them a “Red Card”, putting them out of the game.
Going back to my main point: Despite all the recent “scandals” [a verbal fight with the Santos coach and a visit by prostitutes] signing Neymar would be a powerful step in the right direction. With Neymar on board, the group adds credibility, more leveraging power in negotiations and is better positioned to move forward.
Neymar made his debut with the full Brazil national team at the New Meadowlands Stadium (formerly Giants Stadium) in New Jersey, the same site where the old New York Cosmos used to play. Could this just be a coincidence? A prophetic event? A sign of things to come?
Having Neymar lead the new New York Cosmos would be a truly inspiring passing of the torch from Pele to the apparent “New Pele.”