Pele, Robinho, Neymar: Lightning strikes thrice
Word in Santos is that lightning doesnÃ¢ÂÂt strike twice.
However, the locals are pretty sure that Vila Belmiro has now been hit a third time by the atmospheric electricity discharged by the gods of the beautiful game.
The first phenomenon occured 50 years ago, when a small boy from Minas Gerais nicknamed Gasolina (Portuguese word for gas) first arrived to practice with SantosÃ¢ÂÂ big boys. Less than a year later, at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the world was introduced to PelÃÂ©.
Almost four decades passed before the second bolt came smacking. A skin-and-bone forward, born and bred in Santos, was whisked from the youth team by coach LeÃÂ£o to play in the 2002 Brazilian Championship.
Dazzling the whole country, Robinho helped guide the club to its first modern-era national title Ã¢ÂÂ which they would win again in 2004. PelÃÂ©Ã¢ÂÂs heir, in his own words.
Pele, circa 1960
And now, once again, Santos have another new star. It's the same old story: a young man who's barely left his nappies, a walking skeleton, the good son of a humble family. The name is Neymar. Remember it.
Santos fans don't doubt that he's destined for greatness. Neymar, who has only recently turned 17, has been considered the next big thing for several years. PelÃÂ© and Robinho have been watching him closely Ã¢ÂÂ getting his shot at the big time was merely a matter of time.
So when FourFourTwo was selecting the South American wonderkids for the April special issue - in shops now - Neymar had not played a single game in Santos' first team.
But the starlet's opportunity to shine came soon after. Coach, Marcio Fernandes had already announced his plans to call the young ace up. But he was fired and quickly replaced by talented young gaffer Vagner Mancini, who didnÃ¢ÂÂt plan on delaying Neymar's debut Ã¢ÂÂ if anything he brought it further forward.
Neymar was named as a substitute on March 7, in a Saturday night game against Oeste. The 20,000 fans jam-packed in the Pacaembu stadium in SÃÂ£o Paulo were chanting his name even before kick-off. IÃ¢ÂÂve never seen such an ovation for a player who had yet to play a professional match.
He came on in the 59th minute and changed the game Ã¢ÂÂ from a boring 0-0 to an exciting 2-1 win. NeymarÃ¢ÂÂs smooth passing and raw dribbling skills are very, very similar to a young Robinho.
Ã¢ÂÂI love being compared to him. Who wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt?Ã¢ÂÂ asks the new hero.
The following Thursday, in a home game against Paulista, gaffer Mancini kept his gem on the bench again. Ã¢ÂÂLast game he was decisive and turned the game for us. But heÃ¢ÂÂs still developing. Now heÃ¢ÂÂs our top forward threat, but I want him to come in step by step,Ã¢ÂÂ he said.
Neymar heard his name chanted by the fans until he was thrown on in the second half with Santos trailing 1-0. And, once again, he changed the pace of the game. The home side managed to salvage a draw with a Roni goal. But by now the kid was ready. Mancini had reached the point of no return.
Robinho stars for Santos, 2003
Last Sunday, Neymar started... and scored the last in Santos' 3-0 victory over Mogi Mirim in SÃÂ£o Paulo.
He celebrated by punching the air, PelÃÂ©Ã¢ÂÂs trademark. But it was a double tribute Ã¢ÂÂ to PelÃÂ©, of course, and to NeymarÃ¢ÂÂs deceased grandfather Ildemar. He had the King as his idol. And now the King is a fan of his grandson.
Ã¢ÂÂIt was a trip down to memory lane. The kid who left home at 17, same age as Neymar, coming to practice at Santos and in the same year making the national team. I was touched by NeymarÃ¢ÂÂs tribute. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs one of the good things of life, specially coming from a teenagerÃ¢ÂÂ, said a touched PelÃÂ©.
NeymarÃ¢ÂÂs now bound to start next weekendÃ¢ÂÂs crunch clash against Corinthians... and his idol Ronaldo. Another clash of generations.
After the match last Sunday, I was eating pizza at a restaurant near Pacaembu stadium when a group of three old-school Santos fans entered smiling from ear to ear, greeting every customer, flabbergasted with the win.
One of them was donning the Santos white shirt with the name 'NEYMAR' on the back. The guy was 85-years-old.
From somewhere in the salon, I overheard the comment: Ã¢ÂÂThis Neymar should be the real deal indeed. Our friend here saw PelÃÂ© play, perhaps even Dondinho (PelÃÂ©Ã¢ÂÂs father, also a footballer). He wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt stain his Santos shirt with the name of a John Doe.Ã¢ÂÂ
Hard to argue...
FourFourTwoÃ¢ÂÂs April issue, out now, is a South America special.
It features the 10 best new wonderkids from that continent, including exclusive interviews with Manchester UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs twins Fabio and Rafael da Silva plus Sao PaoloÃ¢ÂÂs ÃÂ£100m-rated Ã¢ÂÂnew KakaÃ¢ÂÂ Hernanes.
There are also interviews with Zico and Socrates; a look at the Boca Juniors academy responsible for Tevez, Burdisso, Gago, Banega et al; and the Lord of the Rings star so dedicated to Argentine outfit San Lorenzo that he bunked off a film set to see them play.