Neymar’s name has cropped up in the media so much over the last two years that he appears to have been on the scene for a lot longer than he actually has. A star for club and country at the age of just 20, quite an achievement when the country in question is Brazil, Neymar has nevertheless grown used to the fuss.
The Santos player takes the headlines and the spotlight in his stride, accepting them as the price he has to pay for his inordinate talent, upon which the hopes of a nation are founded as it goes in search of two historic titles. The first of them is the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, where the five-time world champions will attempt to win the one major title still to elude them, while the second is the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Speaking to FIFA.com on the day after he was named in coach Mano Menezes’ 18-man Seleção squad for London, Neymar discussed his expectations ahead of the tournament.
FIFA.com: Do you remember watching the Olympic Games when you were a boy? Was London 2012 an objective in your career plans?
Neymar: I do remember, and not just the football matches. It’s a dream for me to play not just in the World Cup but in the Olympics too, because you’re there with everyone else in the Olympic Village. You want to be there taking part, to be involved in it all, and as far as we’re concerned we want to bring the gold medal back for the very first time. When you’re involved in a huge global event like this you feel tremendously motivated.
It must be very interesting for you as football players to be in contact with people from other sports.
Well, you’ve got Lebron James and Usain Bolt going from one side to the other (laughs). I’ve already told my friends that I’m going to be the biggest fan there, that I’m going to be taking photos all the time. I’m going to be seeing people like Bolt and Lebron James, and I’m going to ask to have my photo taken with them and ask for their autographs. I don’t know what I’m going to say, but I’m going to ask them (laughs).
Do you think this Brazil team has a genuine chance of winning gold, a better chance than ever before perhaps?
We’ve got everything we need to be champions. I think Brazil are always one of the favourites, no matter what the competition. It’s always been that way. We’ve got a very good side too, and players with a lot of potential.
Were you happy with the warm-up matches you played against Denmark, USA, Mexico and Argentina? Did they reveal the areas where you need to improve?
We’re coming into some really good form, even though we were really upset with a couple of results we had (the 2-0 defeat to Mexico and the 4-3 loss to Argentina). The fact is though that we had our Olympic team out against a very strong Argentina team, with some fantastic players in it, and still we nearly beat them. All I think we need to do now is iron a few things out in training.
You’re one of the stars of the full national side now so it’s logical to assume that you’re also going to be the key player in the Olympic team, isn’t it?
I think they’re all key players and they all have a job to do. Everyone’s important. The 18 players who were picked represent everyone who’s taken part up to here and we need to stick together and be strong.
During those friendlies, though, you must have noticed how differently you’re treated outside Brazil now.
Ah, yes. People recognise me more. I’m more of a marked man on the pitch and people know what I can do. Everyone knows a little more about me, and that means I’ve got one or two players marking me. It’s not easy, but I need to play for the team in situations like that and be aware that the player who’s been left unmarked because of that can decide the game.
Is that something that is more and more obvious to you when you play abroad now?
It’s changed a lot. Hardly anyone knew me when I was first picked for the national side, but now everyone knows something about me.
You congratulated Andres Iniesta on Twitter after Spain won UEFA EURO 2012. Did you watch the tournament, and if so, what did you think of the standard?
The technical standard was very high, just as high as the World Cup. All that was missing were teams like Brazil and Argentina. The Spanish are going to finish with the game at this rate. They really are the best side.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether you’re going to move to Europe or not. When you watch a team like that do you feel the level is much higher than what you’re used to in Brazil?
It’s a bit different because of the type of game they play in Europe. It is different, but you can adapt to it and come away with things so that you can put it into practice here too.
Which other players do you admire?
I really like Iniesta. I think he’s a sensational player. Cristiano Ronaldo is really good as well, and I enjoy watching [Mesut] Ozil of Germany a lot too. He’s a great player and I’ve always been a big fan of his.