Brazil forward Neymar will step down as the national team captain after leading his side to football gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The Barcelona star scored the winning penalty in a shootout victory against Germany on Saturday at the Maracana Stadium, much to the delight of the home crowd. In the aftermath, Neymar expressed his intention to let someone else lead the team going forward.
“Today I have become a champion, and I give up the captain's armband,” the 24-year-old told SporTV (via Soccerway, h/t ESPN FC). “It was an honour to be captain, but from today I stop being captain. I will send a message to [senior coach] Tite that, from now, he can look for another captain.”
For plenty in Brazil, this victory was seen as redemption following the team’s humiliation in the FIFA World Cup two years ago, when they lost 7-1 to Germany in the semi-final.
It was a match that Neymar didn’t feature in due to injury, although in the aftermath of the tournament he was given increased responsibility as team leader. Former manager Dunga named the Barcelona man captain in September 2014, and he continued to set high standards in the iconic yellow jersey.
High-profile figures in the Brazilian game questioned whether or not Neymar was the right man to lead this team, though.
Former Selecao right-back Carlos Alberto Torres called for new manager Tite to strip the forward of the captaincy because it “would be better to let him play and free him from the responsibility,” per SporTV (h/t Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC). Ahead of the Games, Zico, another Brazil legend, told Globo Esporte (h/t Sports Illustrated), “The captain of our team is not up to being captain.”
Despite this criticism, Neymar will be etched into history as the man who led Brazil to Olympic gold for the first time in men's football.
Sports journalist Musa Okwonga feels as though his achievements are underrated:
Although the Olympics don't carry quite as much prestige in the soccer stratosphere, for Brazil and Neymar, it evidently meant a lot. There were times when the forward looked emboldened by the captain’s armband, too, although it’s clear by his decision to relinquish the responsibility he wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.
The Brazilian people will be hoping this allows Neymar to operate with more freedom for the national team. Banishing the memories of two years ago with Olympic gold will surely aid in that process.