Neymar’s burden of expectation is larger than Messi’s

Neymar’s burden of expectation is larger than Messi’s


ONE of the more perceptive observations on this World Cup was made on British television by Patrick Vieira the other day.

Martin O'Neill, the Ireland manager, had said "individuals will help you to win games" after he watched a half-fit Luis Suarez score the two goals that knocked England out. "Yes, but the collective will help you win the tournament," responded Vieira.

This, from a member of the French squad that won the 1998 World Cup, was truly the kind of comment that enlightens the often inane prattling of studio panels.

Vieira knows what he is talking about because he came on as a substitute to help win the trophy. He was 22 at the time, and he set up the third goal for his Arsenal club-mate Emmanuel Petit that sealed Les Bleus' 3-0 triumph over Brazil.

There was a pleasant, almost deferential tone to what Vieira said. He addressed O'Neill as "coach", and he hoped that his correction didn't come across as a smart-ass remark.

Vieira, nevertheless, was smiling.

A few nights later, when Brazil played again and relied, once again, so heavily upon Neymar Jr to beat Cameroon, I thought again of Vieira's words. Yes, of course, football is a team sport - these days a squad sport.

But where would Brazil be without Neymar? Would the host nation that has waited 64 years, waited seemingly forever, to win the World Cup on home soil even have got through the group without the poster boy?

I doubt it. Neymar scored twice against the Africans, just as he scored twice to calm Brazil's nerves and set the country on its way in the opening fixture against Croatia.

Neymar, Neymar, Neymar. You cannot escape him anywhere. His face is on every street corner. His image is lit up the way that the statue of Christ the Redeemer was lit up in Brazil's national colours.

He is 22, the same age as Vieira was in 1998. But Neymar is no substitute, and there is probably no substitute in any country, let alone Brazil, who can do what he is doing.

Brazil have a long way to go, but they are on the road to the Maracana in huge part because Neymar has four goals, and a career span of 35 goals and 22 assists in 53 games for the national team.

Remarkable figures, and a breath-taking transformation from December 2011 when Neymar and Santos were crushed 4-0 by Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the final of the Club World Cup in Yokohama, outside Tokyo.

That night in Japan, the apprentice Neymar walked up to the best player on earth and asked for his shirt.

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