Brazilian soccer’s conquering hero Neymar has announced that he will step down as captain of the national team after leading it to gold medal glory in the Rio Olympics.
The Barcelona forward lived up to his billing as the team’s star player and on-pitch leader, scoring Brazil’s one goal and netting the winning penalty kick that saw Brazil edge Germany in a packed gold medal match at Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium.
Neymar was appointed the Selecao’s captain by former coach Dunga, following Brazil’s disastrous campaign at the 2014 World Cup it hosted two years ago.
But speaking to Brazilian media after Saturday’s gold medal match, the 24-year-old suggested he had reached the pinnacle in terms of being the team’s on-field leader.
“Today I have become a champion, and I give up the captain’s armband,” Neymar said in an interview with SporTV. “It was something I received with honor and affection.”
“It was an honor to be the captain, but from today I stop being captain. I will send a message to [Brazil’s senior coach] Tite that from now he can look for another captain.”
The Rio Olympics proved third time lucky for Neymar, having been injured in the run-up to Brazil’s traumatic elimination at the World Cup by Germany two years ago and suspended during the 2015 Copa America, in which Brazil also fell short.
With his club Barcelona clearing him to take part in just one tournament this summer, Neymar sat out the Copa America Centenario, instead prioritizing the one major vacancy remaining in Brazil’s formidable trophy cabinet – an Olympic gold medal.
But it was anything but an easy tournament for Neymar, with fans openly criticizing him and comparing him unfavorably to Brazilian women’s player Marta, who also wore the iconic No. 10 jersey for Brazil at these Olympics.
“Now my critics will have to shut up,” Neymar said.
“I can’t believe to describe my feelings. I have fulfilled my dream, and to have fulfilled it in my home country makes me very proud.”
Neymar now adds Olympic gold to his own considerable list of honors, which includes La Liga and Champions League titles with Barça, a Confederations Cup with Brazil and a Copa Libertadores with Santos.
Despite renouncing his captaincy, Neymar still is expected to be a key player as Brazil resumes its troubled campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.