Published On: December 30, 2017

Neymar Jr. Institute

Share This


A Summer Games for children held its opening ceremony at the Neymar Jr. Institute, founded by the star who led Brazil to its only Olympic gold medal in football. Neymar is attempting to resuscitate his ravaged childhood neighborhood in Praia Grande, a coastal city an hour outside of São Paulo. The area surrounding his youth institute is called Garden of Glory, but it is a poor and dangerous community troubled by drugs, prostitution, and a lack of good schools and jobs.

The Neymar Institute, with its classrooms, turf fields, and high white walls, opened in December 2014, a few blocks from where Neymar once lived on B Street, playing football on a road that was not yet paved. He has spent more than U$6 million of his own money to build the institute, in addition to securing sponsors.

Each day, before school or after, 2400 boys and girls ages 7 to 14 come to the Institute for two hours. They read and write and work on computers and study English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Older children come at night. Parents are invited, too, for vocational training. A dentist and doctors are available, and no one is asked to pay. Recently, 32 children were given eyeglasses free of charge.

Institute officials stressed that this is a facility for developing opportunity, not athletes. “It is not a football school,” said Altamiro Bezerra, the institute’s finance director. “Neymar’s family wants to change the conditions here and give these children the basics: health and education and hope. When you are young, you need to believe in the future, that there is something good in the end.”

The white house is where Neymar was raised. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

The white house is where Neymar was raised. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Away from this neighborhood, where Neymar lived from ages 7 to 13, he has a more elegant life. He is one of the world’s best players, swift and cunning, immensely popular with his 56 million followers on Instagram. Playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez in a fearsome front line at the Spanish club Barcelona, he won a European Champions League title in 2015 after beginning his career at Santos, the Brazilian club made famous by Pelé. Earlier this year, Neymar rocked the world of football when he became the most expensive ever signing, as he moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.

However, Neymar’s rise to stardom hasn’t always been perfect. He was not chosen as an 18-year-old for the 2010 World Cup when Brazil fizzled in the quarterfinals. He sat out with a broken vertebra in his back when Brazil lost to Germany in the semifinals in 2014. And at Barcelona’s request that he play only one tournament, he vacationed during the Copa América Centenario. Without him, Brazil was ousted in group play and the team’s coach, Dunga, was fired.

Recent off-the-field news about Neymar has also not always been flattering. In March, the Brazilian news media reported that he had been found guilty of tax fraud by a federal court in Rio in a case related to contracts with Santos, Barcelona, and Nike. According to the reports, he was ordered to repay about $52 million in fines and back taxes. He has said he paid all the taxes he owed.

After being grilled by reporters about his partying with celebrities during the Copa América, Neymar said it was his business what he did on vacation. Tartly, he asked reporters: “Imagine you’re 24 years old, earning what I earn and having all that I have. Wouldn’t you be the same as me?”


However, the Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 gave Neymar a prize that even Pelé does not have. Brazil defeated Germany in penalty kicks, thanks to Neymar, to win the gold medal and avenge their loss to Germany in 2014. “Neymar needed to win the Olympic gold medal more than the Brazilian team needed to,” Milton Neves, a sports commentator at the Brazilian TV network Bandeirantes said.

At the Neymar Jr. Institute, Ana Paula dos Santos made the sign of the cross as she came to deliver an Olympic T-shirt to her granddaughter. When Brazil won soccer gold, “it cleansed my soul,” she said. “I could sleep peacefully.”

Nadine Goncalves, 49, Neymar’s mother and the chief executive of his youth institute, said that as she watched Brazil lose to Germany in the World Cup in 2014 at home with her injured son, she could see questioning in his face along with shock and sorrow: “What if I was there? Would I have been able to change what happened?”

Children playing chess at Neymar Jr. Institute. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Children playing chess at Neymar Jr. Institute. Credit: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times


More than a match was lost that day. A brightness about Brazilian football dimmed, along with a certainty that flair and improvisation could always overcome an opponent’s technical and tactical resistance, said Flavio de Campos, a professor of the sociocultural history of football at the University of São Paulo. “People pinned their hopes on this magic thing that we believe our football has,” Flavio said.

Many Brazilians believe that the Olympic gold medal didn’t come close to redeeming the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup. “Erase 7-1? Never,” Nilson Luiz de Marco, 56, said as he stood near the Neymar Jr. Institute. “The only way was if we defeated Germany 7-1.”

“If Germany had beaten us in the Olympics,” Bezerra, the Neymar Institute official said with gallows humor, “I’d be moving to Germany.”

The children at the institute seemed far more excited about the mini-Olympics of their Summer Games than any outcome at the actual Olympics. Guilherme Sousa Gomes, 9, said: “This place is safe. Outside it’s not safe. There are a lot of robbers walking around.”

Giovanna Moreira Andrade, 10, said her mother got a job showing other women how to apply makeup after taking a vocational class at the Neymar Institute. Her life has gone “from worse to better,” she said. Her family has bought a barbecue grill, and she dreams of a pool.

[This article appeared in slightly different form in The New York Times]



Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>