Not only are Neymar and Coutinho Brazil’s key players and the most expensive footballers in the world, they are also best friends driving Tite’s ship
Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Sochi
Neymar Jr is only a little bit older than his Brazilian team-mate Philippe Coutinho. The PSG-man was born on 5 February 1992. Exactly four months and one week after, on 12 June 1992, Coutinho was born. They both played for the Brazil U16 side in a tournament in Barcelona, Spain. Their friendship took off from that moment in a city where their professional football careers took important turns.
Coutinho, from Vasco da Gama, left early for Europe while Santos took time to allow Neymar to join FC Barcelona in 2013. The same year saw Coutinho join Liverpool in England. He took time to flourish while Neymar was almost an instant hit with the Blaugrana. Such was their friendship that when Neymar was about to leave Barcelona for a record transfer fee to Paris Saint Germain, Coutinho was approached by Barcelona to tempt Neymar to stay. Similarly, Neymar told his PSG employers to bring Coutinho to Paris.
Both efforts failed. Coutinho reached the Catalan club six months after Neymar had left, as his eventual replacement.
Now the friends are engaged in an effort to make Brazil one of the most formidable sides in the World Cup. Both have scored two goals each and assisted another. The five-time champions have scored seven goals so far. Six of those have either Neymar or Coutinho’s name as scorers and final passers.
The number 10 (Neymar) and the number 11 (Coutinho) play close to each other on the pitch, too. While Neymar is on the left flank, Coutinho, the creator of the team, is more in the place of an attacking left-half. They often pass blindly to find each other in the decisive zone. That spells danger for the opposition.
Yes, Neymar is always under the spotlight, either for his goals and passes or by his theatrics, as claimed by the British press even when someone stamps on his ankle. Coutinho is a cool customer, far away from controversy. He does not dye his hair every day, nor do his words make headlines. One is an extrovert, the other is the direct opposite.
Characteristically, they remind Brazil fans of Ronaldinho and Kaka. These former Ballon d’Or winners from Barcelona and AC Milan were as instrumental for their teams’ success as these two are developing to be.
Felipe Scolari did not include Coutinho in his 2014 World Cup squad. Tite, having taken charge, ensured these two play close to each other on the pitch. Brazil was transformed. Coutinho is silently playing the role of the director while Neymar is happy to be his hero. Coutinho dictates terms, Neymar dances to his friend’s tunes. Wonderful chemistry between these two 26-year old youths, who are, incidentally, the two most valuable footballers in the world now.
Their friendship is the boat trying to carry Brazil to their destination port of ‘Hexa’.