On Tuesday, the Barcelona man wore the armband for the first time in over a year to star in the Selecao’s 3-0 victory over Paraguay
He said he didn’t want to do it anymore. He’d had enough of leading. The expectations of 200 million was burden enough.
But on Tuesday Neymar did it again, captaining Brazil for the first time in over a year, proudly donning an armband he’d elected to give up in August 2016.
And it was, eventually, a heroic return. Neymar starred throughout in Brazil’s 3-0 victory over Paraguay, despite much of his early running seeing him fall slightly short.
He set off on a number of winding runs in the first half, bamboozling the Paraguay defence and repeatedly drawing fouls in dangerous areas.
The Barcelona forward had his penalty saved by Anthony Silva on 53 minutes, but made up for it 10 minutes later with a fine solo run that deserved the fortune of his deflected finish.
The issue of the captaincy had set two very different tones for two very different Brazil coaches, and has played a major role in Neymar’s form for his country.
Previous boss Dunga’s first real act as after his inexplicable 2014 appointment was to strip Thiago Silva of the role without even talking to the PSG defender.
Upon his appointment in June last year, new coach Tite took the heat out of the debate by insisting he would rotate the roll among a “group of leaders.” On Tuesday Neymar became the sixth different captain in eight qualifiers.
And the overwhelming weight of burden appears to have been lifted. In a coherent, cohesive and functional collective, no longer is it simply a case of “Neymar or bust.”
“There was never a dependency on me,” Neymar rebutted this week, gregariously conducting a Brazil press conference for the first time in over six months.
But that said more of Neymar’s humility than it did about Brazil’s recent past. The previous two years had brought little but frustration for the Barcelona man who on form may well be the best player on the planet right now.