By Manuel Veth –
It was in Berlin on June 6 that Neymar won his first Champions League title with Barcelona. Neymar was one of the best players on the pitch, scoring Barça’s third goal in the 97th minute in what became a 3-1 win against Juventus Turin.
As soon as the referee had blown the full time whistle Neymar could be spotted with a 100% Jesus headband. The headband would be widely visible throughout the victory celebrations that were broadcasted around the world.
Since February Neymar’s image is also part of an advertising campaign for an optical company called Police. Here Neymar is projected as a trendsetter for the global youth, posters with his feature include slogans such as “My Game My Rules”.
The Transfer Scandal – An Unscathed Image
In 2012 when Neymar was still playing at his hometown club Santos FC he was featured in a commercial for the popular Brazilian soda Guaraná Antarctica. In the commercial Neymar is asked why he has not gone to play in Europe yet. What follows is his thought bubble in which Neymar imagines a cold and snowy Europe with dark gloomy beaches, a scene reminiscent of the b-movie Goal right after the main protagonist Santiago Munez completed his transfer to Newcastle United.
One year later in June 2013 Neymar completed his transfer to Barcelona, one of the most controversial in recent years. While the original transfer costs officially stood at €57.1 million, recent legal issues between Barcelona, Santos, and the Spanish tax authorities have meant that the costs have risen to €158.3 million.
Furthermore, the officials involved in this transaction, including current Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu are under investigation for the transfer, as he allegedly underestimated the value €13 million below the actual costs. Former Barça president Sandro Rosell is also under investigation, and he may face a prison term of up to 7 years for his involvement in the Neymar transfer.
Even when tax authorities in Spain and Brazil zeroed in on Neymar’s father Neymar Santos Sr., Neymar’s image remained unscathed. Barcelona even entered talks with Neymar to extend the player’s contract until 2020, and to double his salary from €6 million to €12 million. This would make him the highest paid player in Barcelona after the Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi.
Neymar has not only managed to stand above controversies but has actually been able to foster his image as the golden boy of Brazilian football. Of course it also helps that Neymar has lived up to this hype and is indeed the true successor of legendary striker Pelé.
World Cup 2014 – The Image Survives
Nowhere else was this more visible than throughout the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Here Neymar’s performance was crucial and he carried a mediocre Brazilian team to the semi-final of the tournament. But in the quarterfinal against Colombia Neymar fractured his vertebra after a collision with a Colombian player.
The injury, which meant that Neymar would miss the semi-final against Germany, shocked Brazil. Before the game against Germany Neymar gave a tearful message to the Brazilian nation, and called on the country to stand united behind the Seleção in order to help Brazil win the World Cup on home soil. In the end it might have been a stroke of luck that Neymar was not able to compete against Germany, as the German Nationalmannschaft tore apart Brazil 7-1, effortlessly winning the match.
As Brazil’s image of the Futébol Nation was destroyed, the image of Neymar as the saviour of Brazilian football stayed intact. In fact Neymar, along with Lionel Messi, has also been the poster boy of this year’s Copa América, and is perhaps the single reason why Brazil could be considered a contender at this year’s South American tournament. Indeed Brazil continues to be heavily dependent on Neymar as the first game against Peru highlighted.
Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr.
When understanding the Neymar phenomena one has to also understand that he is much more than just a football player. As the German magazine 11Freunde writes the relatively unknown scout Betinho discovered Neymar in 1998 while playing for hobby team São Vicente. Betinho was instrumental in helping Neymar develop many of the skills that are visible on the pitch today.
Neymar’s family got involved when it became apparent that Neymar could make it as a professional player. Neymar was 13 when his father hired a professional team of agents to promote Neymar Jr., and constructed the official story that it was Neymar’s family rather than Betinho who had fostered Neymar’s talent from a young age. The reason for this was simple Neymar’s family wanted to ensure that Betinho could not benefit from any future transfers of the wunderkind.
At this point Neymar was already playing for Santos FC, and had already piqued the interest of several larger European clubs. When he debuted for Santos’ first team aged 16, his image was already carefully constructed, and the media was given enough information to fill the pages with stories that helped to build an image of a player who was not just a fantastic football player but also a teen star.
Today Neymar is part of the MJF Publicidade e Promoções S/C Ltda player agency, which is owned by the powerful player agent Juan Figer. With the help of Figer, Neymar the football player has been turned into a small business operation. Its headquarters are located in the town of Praia Grande, where the Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr is located.
The complex includes a football stadium, a swimming pool, and a small indoor arena. The complex acts like a think tank that continuously develops Neymar’s image. Making him not just a football player, but also a carefully constructed brand. Images such as Neymar wearing the 100% Jesus headband, his many advertisement campaigns, his video before Brazil’s game before Germany, are carefully constructed to design an image that fits the saviour of Brazilian football.
While Neymar is certainly not the first player to have utilized marketing tools to grow his image globally, David Beckham will forever own that title, but Neymar may be the first player who has had his image designed from a very young age.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.