Neymar, Brazil’s answer to Garrincha and Pele with a modern twang, is carrying an entire nation’s hopes and dreams into World Cup Russia.
Undoubtedly, any star Brazilian players will be compared with Pele, the best of them all. What can be written about him that hasn’t already been said? He’s one of the most celebrated athletes of all time. As a refresher…he was fast in longer sprints and quick in short spaces. He was effective with open-field dribbling and in crowded spaces. He could play long passes accurately, as well as short ones. He had every shot down. He was good with both feet. Despite being around five-foot-five, he was good in the air. And, yes, he scored a couple goals with the bicycle kick.
He wasn’t so much the maestro-in-the-middle type, building up the passing structure in possession, similar to Valderrama, Platini, or Hässler, but, similar to Messi, it seemed like everything he did was the right play for any given situation, be it a simple pass, making a teammate look good, or something amazing as in dribbling past three or four defenders with fake kicks, misdirection, and pure guile. In terms of dribbling, he wasn’t as dynamic with the northsouth savvy that Maradona had and was more of an east-west dribbler. (Though, Maradona had everything Pele did accept the aerial game.)( Maradona’s one drawback was his lack of presence with head balls. Ranking Pele, Maradona, and Messi in the air would go like this (best to worst): Pele, Messi, Maradona. Though, it should go without saying, but said nonetheless, none of them were Oliver Bierhoff)
After Pele, a long line of great Brazilian players followed, including: Zico, Socrates, Junior, Careca, Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho, and Neymar, to name a few.
For Russia 2018, Neymar, who came up with Santos and Robinho (Robinho, whose dribbling Pele liked so much), will have the responsibility of a nation to live up to Pele, along with everyone since, as well as carrying the nation one step closer to a sixth title. While Neymar has established himself as the heir apparent to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (as the world’s next greatest player in the modern era) in terms of World Cups and in terms of how Brazilians view their great players, he’ll be held up next to Garrincha and, of course, Pele, along with all the other salient talents that have adorned the Brazilian jersey. And, undoubtedly, he won’t be considered equal to or greater than Pele without a World Cup title to his name.
Not only that, he’ll need to be a pivotal fixture in all Brazil’s games (with goals and assists) on the march to a World Cup title for people to accept him as Pele’s true successor. That’s just part of the baggage that goes along with leading Brazil.