Neymar: Brazilian magician and marketing gold
His pre-teen skills harnessed on the mean streets of suburban Sao Paulo made him an internet sensation over a decade ago, now Neymar is set to dazzle in the French capital for wannabe European power Paris Saint-Germain as the world’s most expensive player.
Neymar’s move from established giants Barcelona and the elite Spanish La Liga to Champions League underachievers PSG and the low-key Ligue 1 has raised eyebrows.
But the French club’s Qatari owners are nothing if not ambitious and were determined to make Neymar their marquee name as part of their drive to finally capture the competition.
To transform PSG into a European super club, they had no hesitation in making 25-year-old Neymar the world’s most expensive player of all-time for a fee that more than doubles the previous record paid by Manchester United for Paul Pogba last summer.
Neymar has come a long way from the waif-like teenager who harnessed his skills playing five-a-side “futsal” before making his professional debut for Santos eight years ago.
Since joining Barcelona in 2013, the apprentice megastar had to share the spotlight with teammates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at the Camp Nou.
The ‘MSN’ scored 228 goals in 110 games together, winning the 2015 Champions League and two Spanish titles.
But it was Neymar who convinced PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi he was worth the massive investment with an inspirational display in the thrilling climax of Barca’s sensational 6-1 Champions League last-16, second-leg, comeback against PSG in March.
His pass for Sergi Roberto’s winning goal was one of the highest quality, having kicked off the late flurry of goals with a glorious free-kick.
– Brazil’s hero –
Neymar’s reputation as one of the game’s best players has been enhanced by his performances in Brazilian colours.
He has scored 52 international goals in only 77 appearances, and led the five-time world champions to victory in the 2013 Confederations Cup on home soil.
He then impressively handled the huge burden of expectation at the World Cup a year later, scoring four goals in five games, before having his tournament ended by a serious back injury that could have left him paralysed in the quarter-final against Colombia.
The hosts famously collapsed in Neymar’s absence to a sensational 7-1 thrashing by Germany in the semi-finals, but the number 10 has helped them recover since and they were the first South American nation to book their spot in next year’s World Cup.
He also turned out for the Olympic side last August, and duly scored the winner in the penalty shoot-out as Brazil beat Germany for gold to earn a small measure of revenge for the humiliation two years before.
– Neymar: the brand –
PSG are paying for one of the most gifted players on the planet, but also the attention and revenue garnered from having a social media phenomenon on their side.
Despite tax fraud cases in his homeland and in Spain over the murky deal that took him to Barca from Santos, the Neymar brand remains strong.
His goodbye video to Barcelona on Instagram received nearly three million likes in less than 24 hours from his near 80 million followers – almost 10 times more than PSG’s own official Instagram account.
At PSG’s club shop on Friday, fans stood in long queues to be among the first to buy a shirt with “Neymar Jr” emblazoned on the back.
“When we look at Neymar as a brand we don’t think what we have paid is expensive,” said Khelaifi, predicting that the player’s value would double in the first two years of his five-year contract.
Major sponsors have flocked to his door for his good looks, happy-go-lucky nature and huge social media following with Nike, Gillette, Panasonic and Volkswagen among Neymar’s big-name brands.
“He is someone that everyone knows, from the 70-year-old grandmother to the five-year-old grandson,” Erich Beting, an expert in football marketing in Brazil, told AFP last year.
“When you reach the status where people want to be like you, that makes you priceless for brands and that is what he has managed.”
His status as one of the most marketable athletes in the is one of the biggest reasons why he commanded a new world record for his services.