Brazilian soccer prodigy Neymar has lived up to lofty expectations with his play for FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
Who Is Neymar?
Neymar drew attention for his impressive soccer abilities at an early age. He emerged as a star for Santos FC as a teenager, winning four straight Player of the Year awards while becoming one of Brazil’s most popular public figures. Neymar made the leap to Europe to join FC Barcelona for the start of the 2013-14 season and became a fixture for a club that claimed numerous domestic and international titles. After leading the Brazilian men to their first Olympic gold medal in 2016, the star forward transferred to France’s Paris Saint-Germain the following year.
When Did Neymar First Start Playing Soccer?
Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. was born on February 5, 1992, in Mogi das Cruzes, São Paulo, Brazil. The son of a former professional soccer player, Neymar followed in his father’s footsteps by playing street games and futsal, an indoor version of the game. He joined the Portuguesa Santista youth club in 1999, and within a few years was one of the most highly regarded young talents in the country.
Neymar joined the youth system of Santos FC at age 11. News of his abilities spread to Europe, and he was offered the chance to continue his development with Real Madrid C.F. at age 14, but the Santos team’s management reportedly convinced Neymar to stay put with a large bonus.
Neymar made his senior debut for Santos in 2009 and lived up to the hype by earning the league’s Best Young Player award. He emerged as a full-blown star in 2010, helping Santos claim the league and Copa do Brasil championships en route to the first of three straight scoring titles and four straight Player of the Year awards. That season he also made his debut for the senior national team and debuted a Mohawk-style haircut, which quickly became popular among younger fans.
In 2011, the flashy forward produced what would be voted the FIFA Goal of the Year and led Santos to its first Copa Libertadores championship in 48 years. However, he also began to experience the backlash that accompanies fame. Neymar was criticized for his play during Brazil’s quarterfinals loss in the 2011 Copa America tournament, and was scolded in the media for fathering a child out of wedlock.
Neymar scored his 100th professional goal on his 20th birthday in 2012 and finished the year with a career-best total of 43. Although Santos won its third straight league title, the young star again was subject to criticism when Brazil lost the 2012 Summer Olympics gold-medal game to an underdog Mexico team.
From Santos FC to FC Barcelona
In May 2013, Neymar announced he was making the leap to Europe with a transfer to FC Barcelona, a powerful club that featured superstar Argentine striker Lionel Messi and several members of the Spanish national team.
Soon afterward, the wunderkind silenced a share of his critics by leading Brazil to victory in the 2013 Confederations Cup, indicating his readiness to shoulder bigger expectations on the world stage.
2014 World Cup Injury
Neymar’s performance shined in the 2014 World Cup on his home turf of Brazil but was cut short before the finals. On July 4, 2014, minutes before Brazil won its quarterfinal match against Colombia, Neymar was carried from the field in a stretcher in tears of agony after breaking a bone in his back resulting from a challenge by Colombia’s defender Juan Zuniga. With their star player sidelined, Brazil’s hope for the World Cup title was dashed when they lost their semifinal match to Germany, 7-1.
What followed was a long recovery process for Neymar. The official diagnosis was a lumbar vertebrae fracture. Neymar once alluded to the seriousness of the injury. Shortly after he took the hit, he said in an interview that he “could be in a wheelchair” had the knee come a little to the left. Neymar has always been emotional about the injury. He was sidelined until Aug. 4 that year.
In an interview withThe Player’s Tribune, however, Neymar detailed just how much worse the injury could have been.
“I’ve experienced many moments that haven’t been good,” Neymar said about his World Cup career. “But it’s about the injury. The injury has been my worst moment because of the week I went through there — all that. I just cried at home, I would see my mom, my dad, crying — everyone sad, my friends, family … and this, to me, has been the worst moment.”
After the injury first occurred, Neymar said that he didn’t even want to leave the match.
“… And I remember that I had my head on the ground, and Marcelo [Vieira] was saying, ‘No, no … Get the doctors in.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no. I want to play.’ Because I wanted to score.”
Unfortunately for Neymar, however, it quickly became apparent that he wouldn’t get the chance.
“But I couldn’t manage to lift my legs,” he explained. “I couldn’t move my legs. And the doctor took me out and I started to … to cry. Because it was very painful and I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel my legs, so I went to the hospital that’s in the stadium.”
Neymar then explained what the doctor’s told him, and how close he came to not being able to walk, let alone play soccer.
Then I went to the hospital, did the tests and all, and they told me, “I have two pieces of news. One good and one bad.”
And I was like, “The bad one first.”
“The bad one: You can’t play the World Cup. It’s over for you.”
And I’m like, “What’s the good one?”
“The good one,” of course, was a huge blessing. “‘The good one is that afterward you will be able to walk, because two centimeters to the side … football is over for you.'”
Neymar is back and playing again, and looking ahead to 2018. Of the field, particularly smaller countries, he said: “Yes, I think the level has gotten better. I think they are better prepared to play against stronger national teams, against better players, and I think the preparation is very good because all national teams today manage to come out playing, manage to tie away games, and the football is very tough, very difficult … Eh, [Lionel Messi’s] Argentina … Hahaha! … yet again, suffering a lot.”
Brazil seems equipped to make another run, and with Neymar at the helm, there’s always a chance. Although the World Cup is competitive, it has its edge back. And Neymar provides all the edge that Brazil needs.
Overseas Success in Spain
Neymar lived up to his billing with Barcelona, giving the loaded Spanish club yet another gifted all-around talent. He scored an amazing 39 goals during the 2014-15 season, helping the club achieve the coveted treble by claiming league, domestic cup and European Cup titles. The following year, one week after Barcelona became La Liga champs, he scored in extra time to propel the club to another Copa Del Rey title.
2016 Olympics and 2018 World Cup
For all his individual brilliance, Neymar still faced the question of whether he could lift his teammates to glory on the international stage. He was suspended during the 2015 Copa America, effectively squashing Brazil’s chances of making an extended run. The following year, he sat out the tournament to stay rested and healthy for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a move that worked wonders: The star player delivered several key goals to propel his team forward, before knocking home the winning penalty kick to give Brazil its first men’s soccer gold medal.
The Brazilians again faced high expectations heading into the 2018 World Cup, but Neymar’s return from a broken foot ultimately wasn’t enough, as a tight quarterfinal match against Belgium ended with a 2-1 loss.
Following a controversial transfer, Neymar began playing for Paris Saint-Germain in August 2017. His tenure with the French club got off to a promising start, before he suffered the broken foot that ended his season after 30 games. Neymar then suffered another foot injury the following season, though he recovered in time to help his club win the Ligue 1 title.
Already known for his theatrics on the pitch, Neymar came under fire for his behavior during his second season with PSG. He criticized the officials following a Champions League loss to Manchester United in March, drawing a three-game suspension for upcoming Champions League play. The following month, after another loss, Neymar got into an altercation with a fan who was insulting the PSG players.
In late May, as Neymar was in Brazil preparing for the Copa America, a woman accused the soccer star of raping her in a Paris hotel room. Proclaiming his innocence, Neymar released a series of private messages and intimate photos between them to demonstrate that their relations were consensual.
Neymar and former girlfriend Carolina Dantas had a son in August 2011 whom they named David Lucca.