From a beach to the world

Play­ful, pos­i­tive su­per­star mis­un­der­stood by many fans

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS -

Twenty years ago, a coach named Bet­inho was watch­ing a game of beach foot­ball when he spot­ted a skinny boy of 6 sprint­ing up and down the ter­rac­ing, faster than he’d ever seen some­one of that age. It was Ney­mar.

The boy, who would one day turn into the world’s most ex­pen­sive foot­baller, dashed around that af­ter­noon in 1998 near San­tos, south of Sao Paulo, un­der the eye of his mother. His fa­ther, a re­cently re­tired pro­fes­sional right back, played in an am­a­teur game on the sand.

The ex­pe­ri­enced Bet­inho took it all in.

“This is how I saw it,” Bet­inho, 60, told AFP in the small town of Sao Vi­cente, where he still lives, not far from the beach where he struck foot­balling gold.

“The fa­ther plays well, the mother is tall, so if the boy turns out thin like her, and with his fa­ther’s game, it will work.”

Bet­inho knew what he was talk­ing about.

Eight years ear­lier he’d dis­cov­ered Robinho, who would go on to shine at Pele’s old club San­tos, then play for Real Madrid, Manch­ester City, AC Mi­lan and in two World Cups with Brazil.

What Bet­inho didn’t know was that he’d just spot­ted some­one even bet­ter.

Ap­proach­ing the par­ents, he asked if he could take the kid they called “Jun­inho” – the diminu­tive of Ju­nior, which is how rel­a­tives still call the star – to train with the area fut­sal team, Gremetal. They agreed.

“All my ca­reer I wanted to find a player who could sum­mon up the spirit of Pele. Light­ning struck twice for me,” Bet­inho said.

‘100 per­cent Je­sus’

Bet­inho and Ney­mar stuck to­gether in a jour­ney that led from club to club be­fore the prodigy was signed up to San­tos Foot­ball Club’s train­ing pro­gram at 11.

The slen­der, skilled drib­bler’s rep­u­ta­tion pre­ceded him.

“We al­ready knew who Ney­mar was. They were al­ready tak­ing care of him as if he was a future great,” said his friend Pe­dro Lopes at Gremetal, where they first met 16 years ago.

Ney­mar was only 9 when he ar­rived, but af­ter just two train­ing ses­sions he was moved up an age cat­e­gory.

“In most of our games, we’d pass the ball to him and wait for him to drib­ble through half the op­pos­ing team,” Lopes says.

Lopes and Ney­mar be­came close both on the pitch and in school, but although Ney­mar was a good stu­dent, his destiny was al­ready in mo­tion.

“He had in­nate ta­lent, which has been honed with time, es­pe­cially in the team as­pect of the game, be­cause he was al­ways some­one very hun­gry for the ball. He wanted to get the ball, to drib­ble past ev­ery­one,” said the Gremetal coach, Al­cides Ma­gri.

It was at Gremetal that Ney­mar got his first ti­tle, start­ing a streak that would later in­clude a Cham­pi­ons League, Copa Lib­er­ta­dores and Olympic gold. It was also at Gremetal that he be­gan his tra­di­tion of cel­e­brat­ing cup wins by wrap­ping on a head­band given to him by his de­vout Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian mother, read­ing “100 per­cent Je­sus.”

High life

To fans, Ney­mar has of­ten come across as a spoiled play­boy, never hap­pier than when show­ing off his lat­est tat­too on In­sta­gram.

But those who know him from the start say the star is play­ful and joy­ful, if not al­ways un­der­stood by oth­ers.

“He’s some­one with in­cred­i­ble en­ergy, hap­pi­ness, an ex­tro­vert who al­ways feels good about life. When I’m down, I try to get close to him be­cause he trans­mits huge pos­i­tiv­ity,” Lopes said.

With his dyed hair, tatoos and sim­i­lar love of In­sta­gram, Lopes fits right in with Ney­mar’s band of friends who call them­selves the “Tois.” The gang ral­lied around the Paris Sain­tGer­main for­ward when he flew home for surgery on a bro­ken foot bone in Fe­bru­ary.

“When he suf­fered the sad­ness of that in­jury, he turned to his fam­ily for com­fort, to raise his self-es­teem and to re­cu­per­ate as quickly as pos­si­ble,” Lopes said.

One of Ney­mar’s morale-boost­ing re­quests was for Lopes to bring him a Gremetal shirt to put in his col­lec­tion.

It was a mo­ment of nos­tal­gia. But as his dis­cov­erer Bet­inho says, Ney­mar’s roots are al­ready far be­hind.

“I spent six years look­ing af­ter him, which is a long time. But now he’s part of the world,” Bet­inho said.

Brazil striker Ney­mar laughs dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion at Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur’s En­field Train­ing Cen­tre, north­east of London, on Wed­nes­day ahead of their in­ter­na­tional friendly match against Croa­tia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.