21 year old Brazilian phenom Neymar was introduced as the face of the Hypervenom, Nike’s latest soccer shoe release, last week at an unveiling. This follows in the footsteps of fellow Brazilians Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, who fronted their varied Nike shoe lines. Much of what people know of Neymar outside of Brazil represents the 2013 athlete. His best moments are highly GIF-able and easy to become enamored with on Youtube:
Neymar’s responsibility is especially unique compared to Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, and even fellow Nike soccer spokesperson Cristiano Ronaldo. He got the deal not only early in his career, but before setting foot in Europe (he signed with Barcelona over the weekend). Skepticism runs as deep as the adoration. Anything less than immediate goals, assists, and style alongside Messi will be disappointing. This microscope is a lot of pressure for a 21 year old adapting to a different league and style of play. Ronaldo was a dominant striker by the time he wore his signature Nike shoe for the ‘98 World Cup Final. Ronaldinho got time to hone his skill and adapt to Europe at PSG before heading to Spain and a larger spotlight.
The shoe itself showcases the latest Nike soccer technology. The “Venom” aspect borrows from Kobe Bryant’s “Black Mamba”, creating synergy between the two sports (Kobe’s love of soccer is well known). As advertised above, the boot is marketed for a “new breed of attacker” in Neymar. The dimples in the shoe won’t be mistaken for old school kangaroo leather. This puts the focus and marketing squarely on the next generation of would-be soccer players and fans. Neymar, with this shoe line, is ostensibly the Lebron for the younger generation.
Or so they say. Neymar has two immediate challenges in the upcoming year, one which will have a significant impact on his legacy: the Champions League and the World Cup. The Champions League, especially the knockout stages, will play an important role in public perception. Exponentially more important is the 2014 World Cup which takes place in Brazil. Nothing less than a victory will suffice, with Neymar leading the way.
The weight of expectations could break the most seasoned pro, much less an European and World Cup unproven 21 year old. Ronaldinho was 22 years when he won the 2002 World Cup. But he had arguably the greatest striker ever in Ronaldo playing alongside him. There is no player of that caliber to take the weight of Neymar on this current Brazil roster. Yet the bigger the occasion, the larger the reward. If Neymar is the generational talent Nike expects, he will make the biggest impact in the company’s soccer shoe and apparel history.