Pele: Neymar has improved since Barca move

The three-time World Cup winner thinks the 22-year-old is ready to carry the team on his shoulders and feels there is a great blend of youth and experience in the Brazil squad.
Brazil icon Pele says he thinks Neymar has improved a great deal since he joined Barcelona and hailed the attacker as a "genius."

The 22-year-old joined the Spanish giants from Santos last summer and picked up 13 goals and 11 assists in La Liga and the Champions League. The youngster is expected to be Brazil's main source of creativity and goals at this summer's World Cup as the South Americans look to take the title for the sixth time.

And Pele, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970, feels the forward has developed over the course of the season and feels he can carry the team this summer.

"In 1958, I was only 17 and I played club football in only my country," he told Times of India. "Neymar is 22 and he has the experience of playing in Spain for one year.

"Times have changed now. It helps a player to adapt to different styles of football. I feel Neymar will be a better player following his stint with Barcelona. He has amazing talent. And he has the ability to carry the team on his shoulders like he did during the Confederations Cup. The boy is a genius."

The 73-year-old also discussed Luiz Felipe Scolari's 23-man squad for the summer showpiece.

"There is a perfect blend of youth and experience. The goalkeeper and defenders are experienced while the attackers and midfielders are on the younger side," he said. "It helps, since you need more experienced players in defense, while in attack, the youthfulness of the players can make a difference. They are not afraid to do something unorthodox and that pays in football. Scolari has been there, done that. He has a towering presence over his players. We certainly can win the hexa at the Maracana."

Pele added he feels there are several teams that can challenge for the world crown this year, listing Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Uruguay as contenders.

"Germany can do it this time," he added. "They have been waiting for too many years for their fourth crown. They have a strong side and their footballers have come back from injuries at the right moment, just before the cup.

"Argentina can win it if they play well defensively. The trio of [Lionel] Messi, [Sergio] Aguero and [Gonzalo] Higuain should score lots of goals. Uruguay in South America are always a threat and they proved it by winning the Copa America in 2011. Italy always play well in the World Cup. Spain can defend their crown while Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life. I am so happy for him."

The incredible amounts of money Brazil has spent in preparing for the World Cup against the backdrop of great poverty and social inequality has provoked a lot of anger in the country and protests have been ongoing throughout the country. And Pele feels football and politics shouldn't be mixed.

"It might, but we all pray that such things should not happen. I have my sympathies with the common people of Brazil who are the sufferers," he said. "But World Cup football and these problems are two different things. They should not mix them. People are protesting against the government and its policies which led to delays in getting the venues ready. Football and footballers are not going to be affected by public sentiment.

"I am sure once the tournament starts and Brazil play well, and Brazil play well, people will wholeheartedly support them."