Neymar is one of the most recognisable faces on the planet and has been for some time. He's tipped to become the best footballer in the world when the day finally comes that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are no longer around, and he's the best 'next Pele' that Brazil has yet seen.


Despite having only recently celebrated his 25th birthday, Neymar is a relative veteran already.

It was a full eight years ago that he made his senior debut for Santos, on this very day in 2009.


The youngster from Mogi das Cruzes in Sao Paulo state was barely 17 at the time and played the final half hour of a Campeonato Paulista (Sao Paulo state championship) clash with Oeste.

Brazilian football star Neymar, of Santo

He was supremely confident even then, placing faith in his obvious talent developed in the futsal arena and on the street and honed by the same Santos youth system that produced Pele. Just eight days later Neymar scored his first senior goal in a state match against Mogi Mirim.


A star was born. The teenager finished his debut year with 14 goals in 48 appearances across all competitions. The following season, still only 18, he netted an incredible 42 times in 60 games as Santos won the Campeonato Paulista and the Copa do Brasil.


Neymar was the name on everyone's lips in Brazil and national team coach and World Cup winning captain Dunga was placed under huge pressure - from legends like Pele and Romario as well as 14,000 fans who signed a formal petition - to take the prodigy to the 2010 World Cup.

Brazilian football star Neymar, of Santo

As it was, Dunga stuck to his guns, but Neymar was selected by new Selecao coach Mano Menezes immediately after the tournament in South Africa as his star continued to soar at club level back home.


2011 saw Neymar win another state title with Santos, while the Copa Libertadores followed - the club's first continental glory since 1963 and the days of Pele - while on a personal level he was presented with FIFA's prestigious Puskas Award for a goal scored against Flamengo. He was also named South American Footballer of the Year and was still only 19.


Real Madrid were sniffing around and there were even rumours that Neymar had accepted a pre-contract agreement with the Spanish giants. He stayed put, though, and enjoyed another incredible season with Santos in 2012,scoring 43 times in 47 total appearances.

Santos' Neymar, celebrates his goal agai

By the time he eventually did leave Brazil for Spain and Barcelona in one of the highest profile transfers in history, Neymar had scored 136 senior club goals. He was just 21 but was destined for superstardom in Europe. Even now we've still only seen the beginning.


Former Brazilian international Lima, a room-mate of Pele's and coach to a young Neymar in Santos' youth ranks, revealed in 2014 that Neymar's success was largely down to a lot of hard work and his motivation to better himself and succeed.


"He always worked hard. If you said to Neymar he had to do this to become better, he would say 'okay, I will do it'. He was never a problem as a kid. When training had finished he was always the one who wanted to stay out and keep practising," Lima told the Daily Mail.

Neymar, of Brazil's Santos, celebrates a

Neymar joined Santos at the age of 11, moving with his family across the state of Sao Paulo having first started his junior career with Portuguesa Santista several years earlier.


He began his life in football as an out and out striker - it was actually Lima who converted him into the deeper playmaking forward known around the world today - and would apparently stuff himself full of junk food. Burgers and soda were particular favourites.


That was eventually all changed and Neymar went from strength to strength, quite literally in one aspect. Now he's Brazil captain with 50 international goals to his name - Pele's record of 77 will surely be broken in a matter of time - a veritable footballing icon already.


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