The election is only on October 2, but the Brazilian team already has its “president”: Neymar. The number 10 shirt has taken on a leadership role in recent years that goes far beyond technical ability. He became the connection between the most experienced and the youngest and was fundamental in the process of integrating the new generation players.
In the friendly against Ghana, today (23), at 15:30 (Brasília time), the 30-year-old Neymar will have by his side colleagues who were children when he was born to football at Santos. In 2010, when the boy from Vila debuted in the national team, Rodrygo was only 9 years old, Vini Jr. and Antony were 10, and Raphinha was a teenager of 14.
“For us young people it’s very important, when you have a leader, a guy who is a reference for us, giving us this confidence. I speak for myself. Since my first call-up, he was a player who came to me, talked to me , made me feel very comfortable”, says Antony, who became one of Neymar’s pupils in the group.
The Manchester United winger has even been defended by his colleague on the field. In one of the Qualifiers matches, after losing a ball, Antony heard a shout that he should touch the ball more. Neymar intervened immediately. “Let the kid go in! Let him try the individual play,” he said.
For Lucas Paquetá, 25, the leadership of the PSG player is something that has been built since 2018. At that time, when the West Ham midfielder made his national team debut, he immediately felt the influence of his companion in the squad. “He welcomed me very well. It is extremely important today, with more experience, for him to put it out more. It has helped us a lot on the field”, said Paquetá, who became a partner in the celebrations with dances, rehearsed before the games.
In training, Neymar’s posture also changed. If in the two previous World Cups, in 2014 and 2018, he was often seen alone, now he is always looking for the company of the younger ones. During the week of activities in Le Havre (France), the closeness with Vini Jr.
The Real Madrid player had come from a week in which he suffered racist abuse in Spain, and Neymar’s support went far beyond publications and hashtags on social networks. During training, the number 10 always tried to interact with his colleague, staying by his side in warm-up work and even in the “bobinho” circle.
Advice and generational “bridge”
Neymar’s strength over young people is such that he has even become a career adviser. In August of this year, Raphinha was about to sign with Chelsea, when he received an offer from Barcelona. The winger, then at Leeds, had no doubts: he sent a message to Neymar.
“I really asked him for advice on the decision I could make, and he only told me good things about Barcelona, he said that if I made the decision to go there I wouldn’t regret it, not only for the club, but also around the city”. Raphinha listened to the advice, followed it and liked it. “It was a decision I don’t regret one bit.”
Neymar even suggested that Raphinha ask for the number 11 shirt, to “follow his legacy” at Barcelona. But the number was already taken by Ferram Torres, and the number chosen turned out to be 22.
Neymar’s influence doesn’t just reach the youngest. At 29 years old, left-back Alex Telles is already part of the veterans’ group, but he recognizes that his colleague sets the pace on and off the field.
Neymar is the leader of our team in all aspects: tactical, technical and also the experience he goes through, everything he has gone through in the national team and in his career. We follow his beat, and it’s a pleasure to have a guy like that”
Alex Telles, left-back for Sevilla and the Brazilian national team
In addition to Neymar, the selection has outstanding leaders Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Casemiro. With the exception of the Chelsea defender, who turned 38 yesterday, the other two are in the same generation as Neymar – the defender is 28, and the midfielder, 30. But neither of them manages to have such a strong connection with the younger ones.
In the recent history of the Brazilian team, the closest parallel is that of Ronaldo, who was called “president” by his teammates, for being the central figure in the dressing room. Neymar has not yet won the title, but he is increasingly playing the role.