Reaching God level: Neymar’s Olympic opportunity
Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.
Olympic football is a funny thing really. One of the most lucrative games in the world, like golf and tennis it is seen by many as an unwelcome addition to the games. It nod’s to amateurism through an U23 rule but is heavily caveated thanks to an exemption giving nations 3 over-age players (in the men’s game, no restriction exists in the women’s game). It often struggles to claim column inches, competing as it does with the rest of the Games and the packed footballing calendar. Club transfers and preseason action often overshadow the tournament, and 2016 may be no different (at time of writing Paul Pogba's mega transfer still hangs in the balance). But on the eve of this tournament, there is one fascinating storyline that dwarves all the others, and makes this edition of Olympic football essential viewing: Neymar and his quest for football immortality.
It's been an interesting career for Neymar. Declared the golden boy of Brazilian football, but injured on the side-lines as the country suffered its greatest footballing heartbreak at their own World Cup. Playing at the pinnacle of club football, but overshadowed by one of the greatest of all time in Leo Messi and one of the world’s most prolific in Luis Suarez. When the 24 year old made his decision to skip this year’s Copa America in favour of the Olympics it was clear he had one thing on his mind; cementing his own legacy. He has the chance to become the player who brought Brazil the one footballing accolade they are yet to win, men’s Olympic Gold, on home soil no less.
As Neymar takes the pitch in Rio, he will be simultaneously the player with the biggest reputation and the greatest expectations. With a country breathing over his shoulder only a gold medal will do. If he achieves it, he has the potential to elevate himself to the very top table of global athletes. In a country where football is religion he could truly reach god level, a living legend in his own country and a household name across the world.
The Olympics may be traditionally the home of amateurism, but a win for Brazil could incredibly lucrative for the young star. He's already one of the most marketable sportspeople in the world (named by City A.M as the second biggest draw at the games), but a win would take him to a whole new level. He could very well become, at age 24, the single biggest athlete on the planet. When he takes the field in Rio he’ll be driven by his heart, with a rabid nation cheering him on to glory, but in his head, he may just know that this is the tournament that could take his personal brand into the stratosphere.