A fairy­tale jour­ney from rags to riches

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

Ney­mar’s jour­ney to a record­break­ing trans­fer fee of $262 mil­lion started in a poor district of south­ern Brazil, a few blocks from the lo­cal dump.

A spec­tac­u­lar move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Ger­main is ex­pected to be com­pleted by the week­end af­ter the 25-year-old striker and his father met with of­fi­cials of the Cata­lan club on Wed­nes­day, in­form­ing them that Ney­mar wanted to leave.

The son of a jour­ney­man soc­cer player for Brazil’s small­est teams, Ney­mar was born in the in­dus­trial city of Mogi das Cruzes, some 60 km north of Sao Paulo, the coun­try’s largest me­trop­o­lis.

He never set­tled there, as his father’s ca­reer as a striker and fam­ily bread­win­ner meant they were al­ways mov­ing on.

When Ney­mar was 6, the fam­ily moved in with his grand­mother in Sao Vi­cente, a beach town 50 km south of Sao Paulo. And when his sis­ter Rafaella was born, the fam­ily moved again, this time to a big­ger house in Jardim Glo­ria, a district in the poorer city of Praia Grande.

Both homes were within reach of San­tos, the Brazil­ian club made world fa­mous by Pele and where the young­ster first known as Jun­inho would start his own soc­cer ca­reer.

While his fam­ily was any­thing but wealthy, Jun­inho was the rich­est kid around at Jardim Glo­ria.

Ney­mar’s house was prop­erly built, not a shack like those of many

He started do­ing some tricks with the ball, tricks that a nor­mal kid would never do. I was shocked.” Bet­inho dos San­tos, a scout for San­tos

of his school friends. His street was prop­erly paved and al­lowed him to play bare­foot all day long, though he didn’t have to walk far to find dirt roads sur­rounded by wild veg­e­ta­tion.

While other kids were lucky to have many toys, he had 50 soc­cer balls in his col­lec­tion by age 14. He even had a video game, which was a dream for most of his neigh­bors.

Ney­mar put down some solid roots dur­ing his nine years at Jardim Glo­ria, and to­day his char­ity — the Ney­mar Jr In­sti­tute — is based in the area.

The lo­cal dump, where some neigh­bors used to earn a liv­ing from re­cy­cling, has been closed and the district has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally since Ney­mar’s fam­ily first moved there more than a decade ago.

As for his in­ter­est in soc­cer, that started when Ney­mar was just 2, ac­cord­ing to his father.

In 1998, at the age of 6, he was spot­ted by Bet­inho dos San­tos, a tal­ent scout for the club San­tos and who had also dis­cov­ered an­other Brazil star, Robinho.

“Ney­mar’s father was play­ing on the beach in Sao Vi­cente, his mother was with the kid in the stands,” Bet­inho said in a re­cent in­ter­view for the player’s in­sti­tute.

“I saw that kid run­ning around and he caught my at­ten­tion. He al­ready had agility and co­or­di­na­tion.

“Of course, he was very, very thin too. Then he started do­ing some tricks with the ball, tricks that a nor­mal kid would never do. I was shocked.”

Bet­inho said Ney­mar had the Brazil­ian soc­cer swag­ger even at that age, and the scout be­gan tak­ing him to play fut­sal — Brazil’s brand of in­door soc­cer that puts a pre­mium on tech­ni­cal skills.

His amaz­ing drib­bling and shoot­ing abil­i­ties were soon no­ticed, with the late San­tos star Zito bring­ing the young­ster into the club.

Jun­inho be­came Ney­mar Jr af­ter sign­ing his first con­tract at 12, a move that made Barcelona and Real Madrid start to take a very close in­ter­est in the young­ster.

On the field, Ney­mar quickly adapted from the in­door game and fully em­braced be­ing a San­tos player de­spite grow­ing up as a fan of ri­val club Palmeiras.

He made his pro­fes­sional de­but at 17, in a match against Oeste in the 2009 Sao Paulo state cham­pi­onship, the start of a ca­reer that is set to make his­tory in the sport.

FILE PHO­TOS

Ney­mar play­ing for San­tos against FC Barcelona in the fi­nal of the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup. A young Ney­mar poses with his idol, Robinho.

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