In the career of every star player there is always a moment, a flash of brilliance, that makes everyone sit up and take notice and which serves as the point when promise and potential become genuine greatness. Neymar had one such moment. It came two days after his 18th birthday, against a legendary goalkeeper in a Sao Paulo derby, and it shook Brazilian football to the core.
With just a matter of hours to go before the Brazilian ace finds out if his name is on The Best FIFA Men’s Player award for 2017 at The Best FIFA Football Awards™, FIFA.com looks back in detail at an audacious piece of play that took one of the greats of today on to a different plane.
Match: Santos 2-1 Sao Paulo
Stadium: Arena Barueri, Sao Paulo
Date: 7 February 2010
Competition: Sao Paulo state championship
*The event *With seven minutes to go to half-time and the game still goalless, the referee awarded a penalty to Santos. The competition’s leading scorer with six goals at that stage, Neymar claimed the ball and prepared to take the spot-kick. Facing him was 37-year-old goalkeeping idol Rogerio Ceni, a winner of 25 domestic and international titles and a player so legendary they called him O M1TO.
Neymar ran up to take the kick, only to come to a complete halt just before making contact with the ball, selling Ceni an outrageous dummy. “A paradinha!” cried the commentator on Brazilian TV as Ceni dived to his right. With O M1TO lying helpless on the ground, the ice-cool Neymar rolled the ball into the vacant side of the net and peeled away to dance a jig of celebration with his team-mates.
Ceni did not like it one little bit. “I spoke to him because you can only do things like that in Brazil, and he’s going to be on his way to Europe,” said the keeper on interview at half-time a few minutes later. “That wasn’t a paradinha [Portuguese for “little stop”]. That was a complete stop.”
Watching the game from Madrid was an irate Kaka, a Sao Paulo idol, who tweeted: “The paradinha gives the taker an advantage. And how does the keeper get his advantage?”
The rest of Brazil was in shock at the teenager’s cheeky show of brilliance. Despite having spent less than a year in the Brazilian top flight and having only just begun to show his rich promise, he had the nerve to take on and outwit a legend of the game. It was an act that triggered Neymar Fever.
Shortly afterwards, Santos organised the launch of a range of miniature figures of Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Robinho at a shopping centre in Sao Paulo, an event at which they were expecting a crowd of no more than 500. As it happened, ten times that figure turned up to see Neymar, an indication of the huge buzz he can create.
In May that year, however, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which determines the Laws of the Game,* *decided to ban the paradinha, instructing referees to show a yellow card to any penalty-takers who feint as they are about to strike the ball and to disallow goals scored in such a way.
Now with Palmeiras, Edu Dracena was the Santos captain that summer afternoon. Speaking to *FIFA.com *about Neymar, he said: “He made a big impact on me right from the start. He was full of energy, happiness and charisma. He was a unique talent. He got us thinking about how far he might be able to go. With all the goals he scored, he got all the attention.”
Neymar’s cheeky penalty that day left his team-mates open-mouthed. “We’d seen him do it in training, but we never thought he’d try it against such an experienced keeper as Rogerio,” added Dracena. “But he went and surprised us again. It was a special moment because he dived before Neymar even touched the ball.”
The Best of them all?
With The Best ceremony at the London Palladium just around the corner, Dracena gave his opinion on the Brazilian star’s performance last season.
“It was really good,” said the Palmeiras man. “He gave up that supporting role to play the leading part. He did it in a lot of games too, like the one against PSG [Barcelona’s stunning comeback against the French club in the Champions League].”
But can he win the award? “He’s right up there with the very best,” came the reply, "but I think he’ll make it to the top next year, especially if Brazil win the World Cup.”
Dracena, who knows what it means to pull on the captain’s armband, sees Neymar as a leader who can take Brazil to a sixth world title, regardless of whether he skippers the side or not.
“Tite is right to switch captains for every game and give everyone a chance,” he said. “Leadership is a natural thing and it’s not about being the captain the whole time. And Neymar is a leader in terms of his skill and technique and he commands a lot of respect from all the players. He’s a very dear friend to them.”
Though the impudence and love for the game that the teenage Neymar showed back in 2010 is still very much part of his make-up, Dracena sees him as a more rounded player today: “He’s more mature and aware of his importance, not just as a player but as a leader and a main man.”