What do you give a man who already has everything? Well, Neymar wants more – even if some people may feel he has enough already, albeit not in the way you may think.
The 29-year-old has one trophy missing from his CV – the World Cup. For all Brazil’s seemingly perennial status as the best national team in the world, they have not lifted the greatest sporting trophy of them all for almost two decades.
That represents a problem for the South Americans, and a weight on the shoulders of a footballer who, some say, has lost his competitive edge since signing for Paris Saint-Germain.
Ever confident, yet with a humility and calmness not too often seen on the football pitch, Neymar explains why entering the prime of his career could not have come at a better time.
RSNG Only seven players in history have over 100 caps for Brazil, and you joined the six others against Senegal in Singapore at the end of 2019. What did that feel like? Was it special? NEYMAR “The day and the 24 hours leading up to it were special to me, yes and it’s not like I am not bothered about it since. But once it’s gone, you move onto the next game, whether that be for club or country. Every game is as important as the last, and as milestones go I like to tick them off… but the next challenge is always around the corner.”
RSNG Nonetheless, to climb onto the stage with so many greats must give you confidence and satisfaction? N “Of course, yes. No matter what people say of footballers, we are all creatures who need to feel wanted, valued and in demand. At times in life you can lose that feeling and it is important to get it back and feel that you can still make people happy in the same way that you did before.”
“And sure, yes, to be alongside Brazil legends such as Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Claudio Taffarel, makes me feel special, as well as players who I have played alongside like Dani Alves, Lucio and Robinho and I know how good they have been."
"When I talk about the first trio, they had the opportunity to lift the World Cup and that team reward is far greater than any individual accolade. That is the one I want.”
RSNG So, the World Cup is the aim for you before you retire? N “I would have to say yes, most definitely. It’s incredibly difficult because you are playing against the greatest players in the world. Obviously, every trophy that I am fortunate to win as part of a team is brilliant and I would never turn those down, but to win the World Cup with your country is huge and it would put Brazil onto six wins for all-time World Cups and what that would mean something amazing for all Brazilians back home and all around the world.”
Because beach soccer is so popular, there is a real level of technical ability that we are lucky to have in Brazil – it’s a big advantage
RSNG What is it about the Brazilian spirit that has always seen them as challengers? N “I think Brazilian football is built on an addiction to the game at all levels – from the rich suburbs to the back streets, it is always the game on everyone’s mind.”
“I also believe because beach soccer is so popular, there is a real level of technical ability, and we are lucky to have that in Brazil because it is completely to do with the geography of the country. Without that technical ability, football can be a very difficult game, so to have that almost as a guaranteed part of our football genetics is a big advantage. Now we just have to prove it again!”
RSNG How do you keep focus with all of the distractions that come along with the game? N “When I am not playing football, when I am not around the game itself, I don’t think too much about it. I just try to enjoy life and be with the people who make me happy and who I can enjoy life with.”
“In order to be in the right frame of mind and be able to concentrate when you are playing in high-pressure situations and also in big, important matches, you have to relax and enjoy the downtime when you get the chance. Constantly being ‘in the zone’ or having to deal with pressure all of the time is very hard and it’s all about how you prepare; it’s about how you allow your body to take the strain.”
“To me, it means that I take my career very seriously and I always try as hard as I can to make those people who support both me and the teams that I play for see a great goal, a piece of great skill and win football matches.”
Sometimes criticism is deserved, other times not – you just need to be aware of what the world is like these days
RSNG You have so many fans and supporters of your skills and talents with 54 million followers on Twitter, 155 million on Instagram – you’re a household name and a truly global athlete. How does that affect you? N “When you’re out on the pitch you’re not just representing your club, your country or yourself. You’re there with the weight of your family, your children, the clubs fans, your fellow countrymen and women – it’s a huge responsibility to take on and having got to this stage of my career where every time I take to the field the pressure is on to perform, I have to be right in every way for it to happen.”
“When you’re a young kid kicking a ball around the dusty streets – and sometimes, it’s not even a ball as some kids can’t even afford one – you dream of being in the big moments and on the big stage, in front of huge crowds, world television audiences watching. So, every time I go onto the pitch, I need to deliver that for those watching and also, to show the potential stars of the future what is required to get there.”
“It’s true that a lot of people follow me, and I get a lot of love from people – not all, haha, but a lot more than not. But that doesn’t mean that I am better than everyone else or that I don’t look up to others or admire them. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.”
RSNG Who do you follow or admire? N “If there was no Robinho at Santos, would I be the same person? Probably not… Well, I’m not convinced that I would be the same person I am today, but what I mean is that Robinho was a total inspiration to me and I try to be like him in as much as giving back to those who have given me a lot and helped me be where I am.”
“That’s just football. I look up to Will Smith and when I met him, I was like a starstruck fan. I have absolutely idolized him since I was very young and no matter what I have achieved in the world and in my life, I was still nervous to meet him. It was filmed and I’ve seen it since and it made me laugh how awkward I look in it, like I am a young boy all over again. I’m happy that I’ve not lost that innocence in the way that helps to keep me grounded.”
RSNG And when criticism comes, how do you handle that? N “Sometimes criticism is deserved, other times it is not. I think you just need to be aware of what the world is like these days, and the fact is things move along so quickly.”
“When something perhaps goes badly I know there is no point in dwelling on it because a whole new story will be created very quickly, and people forget.”
“I used to be a lot more paranoid and wary of what was going on and what was being reported. These days I just like to keep things to myself, and to live a good, honest life. That’s all anyone wants.”
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