One year before the next World Cup in Rio de Janerio, soccer is assessing its stars. At the top of the list: Argentine Lionel Messi, Portuguese heartthrob Cristiano Ronaldo, and a 21-year-old Rio native named Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior—or, simply, “Neymar.”
Lithe, agile, and a little bit mischievous, Neymar fever is engulfing the soccer world (there is already a Neymar dance craze). Last week, Neymar announced he would sign to Spain’s premiere team, FC Barcelona. The week before, he was named the “most marketable athlete” in the world, beating LeBron James, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, and the aforementioned Messi and Ronaldo. Perhaps the most important marker of his rising star, however, is the new Nike “Hypervenom” soccer boot created in his honor.
“A quicker, more agile, more dynamic game has emerged,” explains Nike Football Creative Director Martin Lotti at the launch of the Hypervenom. Lotti singles out Neymar as a prime example of “a new breed” of attacker. “It just puts a smile on your face when you see him play,” he continues.
Made of orange and black “Nikeskin” (mesh bound in polyurethane film), Nike consulted with Neymar, as well as other players such as England’s Wayne Rooney, throughout the design process. “When we’re listening to our athletes, it’s always a very holistic approach—from their style of play, but [also] the style of what they like to wear,” says Lotti. “They always say they will play better if they look better.”
Neymar’s biggest concern, it seems, is tactile: the feel of the ball on his foot. “You need a lot of comfort and nothing to be on your weight to play as you wish,” he tells us. Everyone in the game is improving, he says. “Not only the attackers, but the defenders—it’s on the attackers to prepare themselves to break through the strong defense.” As for his move to Barcelona, it’s something that “came from the heart. It’s a new stage in my life, it’s a new challenge, and it’s always helpful to have challenges to make you better.”