Brazilians fear cost of Neymar's brand plan

Ineffective performances for Santos and Brazil have seen the Selecao sensation come under the microscope, with fans afraid his commercial commitments are hampering his progress
By Fernando Duarte

When analysing David Beckham’s abilities, many Brazilian pundits and fans still mockingly say that the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan player's best attribute is selling shirts.

It would be quite excusable if English counterparts were now to say the same, as the biggest pin-up in Brazilian football, Neymar Jr, faces his own man-versus-brand conundrum. 

After a very quiet 2012 season in Brazil and recent lacklustre performances for the Selecao, the striker has been the subject of criticism from several quarters. Cries of 'bottler' were directed at the player (in Portuguese of course) during Brazil’s 1-1 draw against Russia at Stamford Bridge, while he also heard boos from Santos supporters at their last home game.
Like Beckham, Neymar is a golden goose. Good looking, youthful and unarguably skillful with a football, he has become the object of desire for sponsors and assorted enterprises in Brazil. At 21, he now endorses more than 11 different brands, from car batteries to shampoos for itchy scalps. Major global companies that back Neymar include Nike, Volkswagen, Panasonic, Red Bull, Unilever and Santander.






It helps to explain why he is often featured on world’s best-paid players' lists (earlier this month the Rich List had him at number 33, with estimated annual earnings of 24 million).
More impressive is that Neymar earns so much money while still playing in Brazil. His marketing potential has played a crucial role in preventing him from simply following in the footsteps of so many fellow countrymen and team-mates. According to football industry insiders in Brazil, Santos only chip in with 15 per cent of his earnings.
This has led to a scenario where even a growing desire to be tested at the top level – he has never hidden his admiration for Barcelona and reportedly signed a pre-contract with the Catalans - might not be merely Neymar’s decision. Aside from a contract tying him to his current club until after the 2014 World Cup, sponsors whose heavily invested money is tightly connected to his domestic visibility, play some metaphorical ball and chain role.
While the situation has certainly been a blessing in financial terms, the decision could be a curse in disguise for Neymar. While the Brasileiro has seen its technical level increase greatly in the last few years, the country’s best players are still abroad. By not facing the world’s best players in Europe week in week out, Neymar may well be hampering his own development.
Off-pitch commitments seem to have taken a toll, with Santos boss Muricy Ramalho concerned over too many distractions and national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari promising to hide him from the spotlight at international level.
Brazilian pundits and even legends like Zico have said that the striker has already done all that he can at domestic level and urged him to move to Europe and test himself against tougher tactics and a better level of opposition.

In fact, even domestically Neymar seems to have struggled in recent times. Since breaking into the Santos first team in 2009, he has lifted five trophies, including the 2011 Copa Libertadores, a title that the club last won in 1962 when a certain Pele was still gracing football pitches.
But he has yet to score in the yellow of Brazil this season and Peixe are far from gunning for big trophies – their best finish in the last five seasons was eighth place in 2010 and 2012. They will not be playing proper continental football in 2013, which means he will only test himself internationally with Brazil.
His face may continue to adorn billboards in his homeland, but ultimately it will take a switch of continents before Neymar is truly recognised as the genuine article, rather than a mere marketing tool of the corporate giants.