Neymar shrugged off his issues with Paris Saint-Germain to play in three exhibition matches after watching teams from Hungary and Slovakia crowned world champions of his annual five-a-side tournament in his hometown on Saturday afternoon.
The Brazilian superstar, who is facing the prospect of a hefty fine from his club after they claimed he had not returned to pre-season training on time, was back in Praia Grande for the world finals of Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five – a global competition to find the best small-sided amateur men’s and women’s teams on the planet.
It is understood that Neymar informed PSG officials about his commitment to the event – which has been held at his own educational and sporting complex each summer for the previous three years – several months ago.
Neymar controls the ball with his head as he shows off his skills in front of his watching fans
The Brazilian superstar put speculation about his future to one side on Saturday afternoon
Neymar shrugged off his issues with PSG to watch his annual five-a-side tournament
Despite a strongly-worded statement from the Ligue 1 giants at the beginning of the week, Neymar remained in Brazil in order to fulfil his promise and attend the knockout stage of the competition. He is not expected to return to Paris until Monday at the earliest.
Dressed in matching blue t-shirt and shorts and accompanied by his son Davi Lucca, the former Barcelona forward looked relaxed as he arrived to watch the latter stages of the competition unfold at Instituto Projeta Neymar Jr, just 24 hours after teams representing 42 different countries had battled it out for the chance to play in front of him.
Neymar, who is reportedly eyeing a sensational return to the Nou Camp this summer, was originally scheduled to play against both of the winning sides until the ankle injury which forced him to sit out the entirety of Brazil’s Copa America campaign ruled him out.
However, after working on his fitness and rehabilitation over the past few weeks, the ex-Santos man risked the wrath of his employers by taking to the astroturf pitch to thrill those in attendance, which included hundreds of local children and the players who had been flown in from every corner of the globe to show off their own tricks and flicks in Brazil, the home of samba football.
The Brazil star was back in Praia Grande for the world finals of Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five
Saturday’s sun-soaked venue was founded by Neymar and his family in 2014 in a bid to improve the lives of socially disadvantaged children from the area which he grew up in. The institute – which features a football pitch, swimming pool and classrooms – currently offers extracurricular activities to more than 2,000 kids aged seven to 14.
A good number of those appeared to be outside the complex as their hero arrived to a raucous welcome, while hundreds more packed out the upper tier of the viewing area to scream his name and cheer on those who had performed well enough to make it to the knockout stages of the Red Bull competition.
Neymar took to the pitch prior to the men’s and women’s finals, shaking hands with both teams before seeing Slovakia’s women come from behind to see off Japan and Hungary’s men defeat Spain in a hard-fought clash.
The rules differ to traditional five-a-side football in that when a team scores, a member of the opposing side must leave the pitch for good. Games last 10 minutes – or until all players have been forced off – and there are no goalkeepers. Squads are made up of seven players from the age of 16, but only two can be over 25. And the goals are only a metre wide.
It is a global competition to find the best small-sided amateur men’s and women’s teams
It is a unique format, one designed to put the focus on teamwork, organisation and skill. The first goal in any game, as you would expect, often proves to be crucial, although not always decisive. Games are fast and furious, and can often become heated – understandable given it’s the world’s biggest five-a-side competition and the prize is to visit Neymar for a training session, wherever he is playing his football next season.
PSG chief Leonardo admitted earlier this week that Barcelona had made contact regarding a move for Neymar, who would likely command a similar fee to the world record £198million the French side paid for him two years ago.
Unfortunately the dream of visiting the Brazilian in Paris – or Barcelona – died for England’s men in their first game of the day as Panama – a side they had beaten in the group stage the previous day – took advantage of some generous refereeing to fight back from 1-0 down and progress to the quarter-finals with a 5-1 victory.
Neymar returned to the pitch to present trophies to the winners before later taking part in the the presentation ceremony, handing out medals to the triumphant teams.
It is understood that Neymar informed PSG officials about his commitment to the event