Will Serious Character Issues Affect Future of Brazilian Starlet Neymar?

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IFebruary 25, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Neymar of Brazil in action during a Brazil training session at The Hive football centre on February 5, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It was a discussion that sparked into life last week following the comments of Santos and Brazil icon Pelé. Does Neymar have the right attitude to succeed at the top levels of football?

Elite football requires certain physical and technical standards, with Neymar excelling in both those areas but, in order to fulfil their talent, players must also be willing to make sacrifices and dedicate themselves to improving as a player.

This appeared to be Pelé's reminder to the young star this week. Life in Brazil has become very comfortable for Neymar and "O Rei" fears that the youngster may lose focus. He is not alone in those concerns.

Pelé's comments to São Paulo's Estado newspaper that Neymar is "more concerned about appearing in the media than playing for the team" and that his  "major concerns are fashion and his haircut" have provoked an intense media reaction (h/t Independent).

While many at Santos may not thank Pelé for making his comments so publicly, there will be people in high positions who are quietly grateful of his influence. There is no doubt Neymar is Brazil's future—and Pelé's words will always carry weight in his homeland, for better or worse.

While Neymar's agent was quick to come and launch a personal attack on the footballing icon, accusing the three-time World Cup winner of "jealousy," others were not quite so willing to challenge Santos' foremost star (h/t ESPN).

Most intriguingly, Santos manager Muricy Ramalho told his Friday press conference that the criticisms were "positive" and added that Pelé's experience could benefit his 21-year-old striker (h/t Sambafoot). The clear indication is that the manager feels there is at least partial truth to the comments.

It is interesting, too, that the comments came in the week that the Santos forward picked up a red card against Ponte Preta for kicking his opponent. His initial denial of all wrongdoing was poorly advised and, perhaps, an indication of the growing up that is still left ahead of him.

Neymar, though, is in a difficult position. His media commitments are plentiful, but by no means unusual in the modern footballing world. They are, though, a requirement of his staying in Brazil for the time being.

As the focal point of Brazilian football, Neymar is becoming a very rich young man by remaining in his homeland. His Santos contract is largely covered by sponsors and, in return, he has commitments to uphold.

While he may have lost focus during the almost trivial early rounds of the state championship, the use of his media activities to berate Neymar would seem a little opportunistic. His professionalism in training has never been questioned and he is clearly still improving year upon year.

One bad month, though, and Pelé has sought to remind him of the tasks ahead. A little unfair, perhaps.

Another point Pelé made in his assertions was that Neymar is not ready to carry the hopes of the national team and has failed to perform in matches against European opposition. Again, few would argue with the general nature comment.

There have been games in Europe where Neymar has performed, that must be said. However, he has underwhelmed on several occasions against better international opposition. The player himself would doubtless be ready to admit as much.

The suggestion of his predecessor is that a move to Barcelona would help and, for a long time now, that has been the destination that appears most likely as his future pans out.

Any top European club would doubtless welcome a player of Neymar's talents and there is little reason to suggest he would not improve from a transfer to any one of the Champions League elite.

For the moment, given his lack of wider experience, Pelé is right in asserting that it is asking a lot for the 21-year-old to carry the Brazil national side as he has done at Santos. However, that is not to say he cannot play a decisive role.

For some, Neymar is too arrogant. However, this too is a simplistic judgment of the player in a similar way to the manner in which Cristiano Ronaldo is regarded. He is cocky, without doubt, but arrogant is perhaps an exaggeration.

There have been moments of on-field petulance from the young star, with his recent red card a good example of that. However, they are somewhat understandable given the circumstances.

Against weaker opposition, he is regularly physically targeted throughout matches while there is a general feeling of failure if he hasn't achieved the remarkable. Frustrations, therefore, are likely to boil over from time to time.

Looking at recent examples of prodigious footballing talents, a similar pattern can be seen. Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and even the saintly Lionel Messi were prone to allowing their frustrations to boil over early in their career.

They are all very different characters, but all have gone on to achieve great success.

Neymar has frequently used his maltreatment at the hands of opponents to inspire his best performances in a Santos shirt. Occasionally, though, he reacts and it is these incidents that are headline-worthy. The trio previously mentioned have also suffered similarly at the hands of the media, although Messi to a much lesser extent.

The Santos man, though, is well respected by his colleagues and opponents alike, while he comes across as a very level-headed young man in interview.

His father, a former footballer himself, is credited with guiding his son and, at present, he seems to have done a good job given the unprecedented levels of scrutiny he is under.

Pelé's words touched upon some truths, but also misrepresented the Santos star. Criticism of his penchant for fashion and hairstyles merely emphasised the generational divide between the pair, rather than add any depth to the King's critique.

Neymar has previously been lauded by Pelé for his on-field achievements and there is surely little doubt that the retired superstar is still an admirer of the youngster's footballing abilities. His comments, while maybe better made privately, were more of an indication of what Neymar still has to achieve.

As suggested by his coach and close friend Ganso, Neymar can learn from the comments and emerge a better player. He has, previously, learned from his mistakes and was gracious in his praise of Pelé following the furore. Whether the duo are close or not on a personal level, he will doubtlessly listen to his elder's words.

Neymar is not the arrogant, petulant youngster that some prefer to see. However, he is also barely into his adult life. Given the attention and pressure he is under, his mental state is remarkably balanced.

It is fashionable to knock emerging stars as "overhyped" or "arrogant," but Neymar is neither. He is simply a highly talented young player learning his game and making some mistakes along the way. Whom among us can honestly say that we have never done likewise?

Patience is required, but there is little cause for concern regarding Neymar's character. With the young Brazilian it is a simple case of "when" rather than "if" he will succeed at the highest levels.