Neymar - Brazilian, 20, Soccer (17)
Never let it be said that SportsPro cannot spring a surprise. Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior – Neymar to his friends – is not the biggest name on this list. Not yet, anyway. But right now, the Santos star may fit the criteria used to compile it better than any athlete ranked in the past three years.
The rise of Brazil, a traditional sporting nation with a rapidly maturing economy, will be the story of the industry in the next five years. Its most compelling strand will be the soccer team’s attempt to exorcise the ghosts of 1950 in the grand manner by winning a successful home World Cup. Neymar is at the heart of all of that.
The most exciting player in Brazil has certainly emerged at an opportune time commercially. The headline client of Ronaldo’s 9ine agency has already racked up deals with Nike, Panasonic, Lupo, Guaraná Antarctica, Santander, Claro, Unilever, Heliar, and most recently, with Volkswagen in April.
At 20, Neymar is a national demigod but where his many predecessors could only find fame in Brazil, he has already made a fortune – and not just for himself. “It is clear that the value of our shirt with Neymar is different to that without it,” said Santos president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro as the club upped its shirt sponsorship deal with Banco BMG from US$10.3 million to US$13.8 million a year last November.
Bigger stages await, not least with the national team: at London 2012, where Brazil are desperate to land the one title still to elude them, at the 2013 Confederations Cup, and then, of course, in 2014.
Pelé, the former Santos player to whom Neymar is so often and inevitably compared, has already claimed that the striker is better than Lionel Messi. Viewers of last year’s onesided World Club Cup final might dismiss that as the great man’s customary bluster and Neymar perhaps does not need the endorsement. The 100-odd career goals he has scored in his distinctive, rapid style – an electric eel dressed as a skunk – are introduction enough.
Depending on who you believe, a down payment already resting in the Santos account is part of the fee that will take Neymar to Barcelona in the summer of 2014. There is a prospect that can sell itself.