Neymar Jr poses for a portrait at Neymar Jr’s Five World Final in Praia Grande, Brazil on July 21, 2018. Photo: Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool
The Brazilian can’t wait for Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five and the new season.
With the 2021 edition of his global football tournament now well under way, we caught up with Neymar Jr in a brief moment between national duty for Brazil and pre-season training for PSG to chat about his pride in Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five, his thoughts on this season and his hopes for the future.
What’s given you the greatest satisfaction in the evolution of your tournament so far?
It’s amazing. I remember as if it were today, when they showed me the proposal for the tournament, rules, boxed goals that brought me back to when I was a kid. The objective was transforming Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five into a reference for football players whenever they think of 5-a-side games, and I think we’re on the right track. There have been more than 400,000 people over the last four years, dozens of countries in the qualifiers. It’s very cool to see more female teams and more women involved in the tournament, always at the highest level. And this is just the beginning of our journey.
What are you most looking forward to about Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five this year?
What I most want to see is everybody having fun as much as I have. It’s amazing to be able to see everybody together, after waiting for so long. Every nation united around a single passion: football.
Football has been very important for many people this past 18 months, will this make the tournament even more special?
To me, the most special thing is getting our activities back at full steam, getting the tournament working again. It’ll be a sensation similar to when we were back on the pitch after lockdown. I really missed this tournament, it’s very special for me. There’s a unique atmosphere about it. I’m sure that everyone will have a lot of fun.
Congratulations for signing a new contract with PSG. Going into your fifth season, in which areas are you a better player then when you joined?
Good question. I believe that, physically, I’m even better than when I got to Paris for the first time. I’ve matured, so these four years in Paris may have had some very bad moments, like the injuries that I’ve suffered, but those moments offered me times of reflection that changed me me as a person and athlete. I believe that I’ve changed for the better.
Players are staying at the very top level for longer now – Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 39, Cristiano Ronaldo is 36 and Leo Messi is 33 – for how long do you hope to be in the prime of your career?
The three athletes that you mentioned are reference points. I believe that I’m on the same path as them because I take care of myself a lot and I work hard. I know that I need my body ready to play at the high level that I demand of myself. I’ve just extended my contract up until 2025, so up until then, I have to maintain my physical, technical and tactical level.
Your coach, Mauricio Pochettino, said you remind him of Maradona and Ronaldinho, and you are currently at the same level as Messi and Ronaldo. What kind of manager is he to work under? What special qualities does he have?
Pochettino is a great coach and a wonderful person. Ever since the first day of work, he showcased his qualities and put the team in the palm of his hand. He asks a lot from us, both physically and mentally, and that makes us evolve professionally, day after day, practice after practice. I gained another master in my career and a great friend in my life.
You edged closer to the Brazil goalscoring record in the Copa America, is this something you hope to break leading up to the World Cup in 2022?
I never thought that I’d reach Pelé’s numbers, but now that I’m close, I’ll chase it. Not for personal reasons but, especially, to honour and celebrate the life and career of the greatest of them all, Pelé. If I reach his mark, his name will be the one celebrated.
PSG are looking really strong this season having already signed Sergio Ramos, Gigi Donnarumma and Lionel Messi on free transfers. Messi wouldn’t be a bad signing for your Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five team would he?
[Laughs] It’d be a great signing for my team. We’d be unbeatable!