Brazilian superstar Neymar was due to fly into Belo Horizonte later Friday for surgery to mend a broken bone in his right foot, while an anxious footballing nation wondered if its World Cup build-up will also need urgent care.
Neymar, the world’s most expensive football player, struck a relaxed pose, putting up a picture on Instagram of himself in a wheelchair with his actress girlfriend Bruna Marquezine sitting on his lap and kissing him.
The image-conscious Paris Saint-Germain star also posted a close-up of his hand, tattooed with a small cross, holding Marquezine’s hand.
Hands could be clasped in prayer across Brazil ahead of Saturday’s surgery at the Mater Dei hospital, where Brazilian national team surgeon Rodrigo Lasmar was due to operate on the striker’s broken fifth metatarsal.
Lasmar says that the fracture in the toe area is more serious than was initially thought when Neymar, 26, went down last Sunday during PSG’s 3-0 defeat of Marseille in Ligue 1.
It means a recovery period of up to three months, Lasmar said, putting Neymar and his golden right foot out of action until worryingly close to the June 14 start of the World Cup in Russia.
PSG, which paid a record 222 million-euro ($264 million) for Neymar’s move from Barcelona last August, will be without him on its make-or-break Champions League clash with Real Madrid next week.
In the heated atmosphere around the operation, Brazil’s Globoesporte website said that Neymar was expected to come by helicopter and had booked a whole wing of the Mater Dei hospital. A local newspaper reported that Neymar and his entourage would take a more modest suite measuring around 80 by 40 feet (24 x 12 meters).
Staff at the hospital, a tall building with mirrored windows, were put on information lockdown, with a ban on using their cellphones anywhere near the star. However, an AFP photographer was given access to a room similar to the one Neymar was due to take — a small suite with basic furniture and a second room for the patient.
– Silver lining –
Neymar arrived Thursday from Paris, travelling with Lasmar, who broke the news that the surgery would require recovery time of “around two and a half to three months.”
“It’s not a simple fracture, but a fracture in an important bone in the middle of the foot,” Lasmar said.
The drama is a big personal setback for Neymar.
He has scored 28 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions for PSG since arriving. But last Sunday he looked to be in tears as he was stretchered off the field at the Parc des Princes.
Now he will feel the weight of a nation’s expectations as he races to recuperate in time for the World Cup, where Brazil are seen as having a good chance for winning a sixth title — and eradicating bitter memories of that 7-1 defeat to Germany in the 2014 semi-finals.
But even if Neymar gets back in time, he appears sure to miss two warm-up friendlies against Russia and Germany in March.
“In terms of performance, the unknown is what level he’ll be at when he arrives at the World Cup,” said SporTV commentator Luis Roberto.
There may, however, be a silver lining in Neymar’s forced absence from competitive games, says Cristiano Nunes, the physio for Brazilian first division club Internacional in Porto Alegre.
“I am very optimistic. He has enough time to recover fully. When you think how exhausting the European season is, he could even arrive fresher than the others, both physically and emotionally,” Nunes told AFP.
“This interruption will give him a bit of a break. Not only will Neymar have time to get back in shape but he’ll return with a real desire to play football and to show his potential.”
The UOL sports website reported that Neymar may recuperate at his residence in Mangaratiba, on the coast of Rio state. The luxury residence has the facilities that would allow the star’s medical team to run a full physiotherapy program, the report said.