Wednesday 23 August 2017

Neymania 101: Enjoy the surface pleasures of Brazil's stepover-envoy, but let's choose our moments

Monday's sports pages in Brazil were dominated not by domestic goings-on but to the latest exploits of the country's premier stepover-envoy over on the other side of the Atlantic.

Fantástico, the frothy staple of the Globo network's Sunday-night offering, now has a whole section – complete with a horse puppet speaking with what the show's producers clearly believe to be a French accent – in which Neymar's every movement is dissected.

Yes, friend, we are now firmly in the grip of Neymania. It bubbled along nicely enough during Barcelona-apprenticeship years, but now it's a whole new thing. Resistance is futile.

My latest piece for Unibet is on Neymania and its dangers. Read it here.

Monday 21 August 2017

Neymar's breakout year: How the world's most expensive player went from 'butterfly fillet' to Santos star in 2010

Had you asked a hundred Santos fans to identify the club’s brightest star at the start of 2010, you would not have received anything close to a unanimous response.

A good chunk of the vote would likely have gone to Paulo Henrique Ganso, the elegant playmaker with a topographer’s mastery of space. Robinho, back at the Vila Belmiro on loan from Manchester City, would also have been a popular choice. A few contrary types might even have chosen Arouca or Wesley, the side’s midfield dynamos, or arch goalhanger André.

Plenty, of course, would have plumped for Neymar, the wisp of a forward who had emerged from the hinterland of boy-wonderdom in 2009, scoring on his first start and generally looking far more assured than a 17-year-old should. Yet as one decade dissolved into the next, there was no consensus that he – rather than Ganso, say – would be the club’s next big thing.

Twelve months later, though? Well, there wouldn’t be much of an argument then.

I've written a long piece on Neymar's breakout year for FourFourTwo's Year Zero series. Have a read here.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

'We've got a phenomenon here' – how Roberto Firmino went from shy defensive midfielder to Liverpool superstar

Jürgen Klopp clearly loves him: only Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner played more minutes for Liverpool in the Premier League last season.

Tite loves him too: barring injury or a severe downturn in form, he'll be in the Brazil squad for the World Cup next summer.

At this point, the world is Roberto Firmino's oyster. And tonight, when Liverpool play former club Hoffenheim, with Philippe Coutinho exiled, he'll be in the spotlight more than ever before.

But did you know that he used to be a defensive midfielder? Or that he was so shy as a boy that he let one youth coach call him 'Alberto' without correcting him?

In my latest for Unibet, I take a look at Firmino's early years in Brazil.

Saturday 12 August 2017

Mercenary or pioneer? What Brazil thinks of Neymar's world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain

"With the World Cup a year away, Neymar can now play in exactly the same way for his new club as he does for the Seleção: however he wants."

That is a line from one of the many think pieces that have been circulating in Brazil in the wake of Neymar's big-money move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last week.

The move, clearly, has generated great discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. But while much of the fallout in Europe has been fairly negative in tone, there has been a greater degree of sympathy in his homeland.

In my latest for FourFourTwo, I assess the Brazilian reaction to the move.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Chapecoense's miracle man: Eight months after that tragic air crash, Alan Ruschel is a footballer again

"It's a dream come true. Just being able to do what I love again... that's what's important. I want to show people how to celebrate life – to show the joy of living, working, just being alive. I always dedicate myself to my work and today I was rewarded."

Those were the words of Alan Ruschel on an emotional night at the Camp Nou. The Chapecoense left-back had just played for the first time since the air disaster that claimed the lives of most of his team-mates and friends 252 days earlier.

It has been a long road back for the 27-year-old, who was the first to be rescued on that dismal night on Colombia last November. Through it all, he has been a picture of grace and determination, so it was good to see him get his reward on Monday.

For Unibet, I take a look at his heartening journey back to first-team action.

Thursday 3 August 2017

Neymar at Santos: Remembering the best (and weirdest) moments from his breakthrough years in Brazil

Neymar's star power – both as footballer and as cultural artefact – has been glaringly obvious during his time in Europe. At Barcelona, he has gone from scrawny hopeful to genuine global superstar.

But the forward's grace, cheekiness and charm were evident long before he left his homeland, as those who followed his progress at Santos will recall.

As he prepares to make the second high-profile move of his career, this seems as good a time as any to look back at some of the best (and weirdest) moments from his breakthrough years.

Have a read on the Unibet site.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Time waits for no manager: Rogério Ceni & Vagner Mancini the latest victims of Brazil's rampant short-termism

As anyone with even a passing interest in Brazilian football will know, this is not the home of job security.

Managers are rarely two or three more bad results away from the axe. Talk of 'projects' and 'progress' is usually hopeful at best. No one really thinks this merry-go-round is a good thing, yet it is the norm.

Yet while those numbers have largely inured people to the precariousness of it all, there is still the odd case that manages to raise eyebrows – as proved by a pair of controversial sackings in Série A at the beginning of July.

You can read my take on the demise of Rogério Ceni at São Paulo and Vagner Mancini at Chapecoense in the latest issue of When Saturday Comes, which is available in newsagents and online.