Sporting his trademark mohawk and looking sharp in a stylish suit, Neymar manages to come across as both the impish 19-year-old prodigy capable of driving defenders and fans wild, as well as the gifted young man upon whose shoulders much of Brazil’s 2014 FIFA World Cup™ hopes have been laid.
What's more, the Santos starlet has already had a part to play in the build-up to the prestigious tournament, having been one of the draw assistants at 30 July’s Preliminary Draw at the Marina da Gloria in Rio de Janeiro. Rubbing shoulders with other iconic names from the Brazilian scene such as Ronaldo, Mario Zagallo and Cafu, all of whom have lifted the FIFA World Cup with A Seleção, Neymar did not appear awkward or out of place.
And when interviewed by FIFA.com, who caught up with him backstage at the event, where he was sharing a dressing-room with his fellow Amarelinha youngsters Paulo Henrique Ganso and Lucas, Neymar also seemed to be taking all talk of Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 showpiece in his stride. Displaying a remarkable maturity for one so young, Neymar touched on this and a range of other issues, including Santos’ bid for glory at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.
FIFA.com: How did it feel to have already been part of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil almost three years before the event, when you were involved on-stage in the Preliminary Draw?
Neymar: I’m really pleased to have been involved since the qualifying draw. It makes me incredibly happy, particularly as it was held in my own country. I’m also very honoured by the company I was in, including superstars such as Ronaldo, Cafu and Zico, among others.
You were recently involved in your first official competition with Brazil’s senior side; the Copa America. Did you expect A Seleção to find the going so tough?
Most teams are going to play that way against Brazil, by sitting deep and waiting to hit on the counter-attack. There’s nothing you can do to change that. We’re just going to have to start dealing with it and learning how to tackle teams like that. We need to start training with that in mind, so the team doesn’t get caught by surprise again.
Though the tournament did not end the way you would have liked, I assume that it was still a very valuable experience for you and your international career?
Yes, I learned a lot. The experience I picked up at that competition, particularly as it was my first with the senior Seleção, is something that’ll stay with me for the rest of my career. It’s a period which you can really learn from. It’s a little tough at times, but you gradually get used to it.
Having responsibility put on your shoulders is normal in football.
Do you think that people sometimes forget how young you and some of the other players breaking into Brazil’s senior side are? Is it fair to place such a burden of expectation on a relatively young squad?
I think it’s fair. If you look at the work we’ve been putting in and our club performances, having responsibility put on your shoulders is normal in football. We have to face up to that and we’re starting to do so: we’re getting used to it. If it’s God’s will, by 2014 we’ll be more than ready to take Brazil to the title.
On the subject of your club side Santos, how would you describe your stunning goal against Flamengo? How did the move pan out?
It was a move that began out on the left flank, and I dribbled past two opponents. I played a one-two with Borges, dribbled round a third then a fourth opponent and ended up putting the ball in the net. It was a beautiful goal. I’m really pleased to have scored a great goal like that at a stadium, the Vila [Belmiro], which is like home to me – it’s where I started out. It was wonderful. At the time it didn’t really sink in, I only started thinking about the goal afterwards.
Of course we want to get to the final and, if we do end up playing Barcelona, we’d like to go toe-to-toe with them.
As well as the trophies you’ve won, Santos have made a habit of spectacular play since you, Ganso and Co burst onto the scene. With a view to this year’s FIFA Club World Cup, is it feasible to play attacking football should you come up against Barcelona?
Look, taking on Barcelona is a very tough task. I don’t think there’s any particular tactics you can use. We’ll just have to pray, ask for God’s help and give it our best shot. (Laughs)
That said, in recent years, the teams that have managed to beat Barça have set out with a packed defence and looked to nick goals on the break or via set pieces. Do you think Santos are capable of going toe-to-toe with them?
We’re going to play our normal game, that’s the idea anyway. But before we can even think about the final or possibly playing Barcelona, we’ll have to play another very important and risky game first. Of course we want to get to the final and, if we do end up playing Barcelona, we’d like to go toe-to-toe with them. They’re the best team in the world and they’ve got the world’s best player in their side, but we’re going to play our football.