KOCHI: Every superstar had a beginning and the new Kerala Blasters centre-back Jairo Rodrigues has seen the rise of Neymar from close quarters. Rodrigues and Neymar played together for the Santos youth team ten years ago, and the defender is not surprised at Neymar's rise to super-stardom.
"I know him and have played with him before. He is the best player in the world for me. We played in the U-20 team for a season. In the next season, he went onto play for the senior team. I remained in the U-20 team, but every weekend we used to go to training with the first team and he was there," said Rodrigues.
The 26-year-old gives a peek into what Neymar was like during training back in those days.
"He was happy every day and he was an amazing player. He has a lot of confidence, and every day, he used to try something different. This is how Brazilian players work. They try to be different. If he made mistakes, then he tries again and he tries again," said Rodrigues.
While Neymar is the most expensive player in the world, Rodrigues' journey has brought him to the shores of Kochi.
He signed for Kerala Blasters in the summer, moving from Indonesia side Persela Lamongan.
Rodrigues is confident that he will comfortably fit into Eelco Schattorie's system.
"Around the world, everybody likes Brazilian players. Everybody wants to see a Neymar or a Ronaldinho. Every player is different and I have my style. My job is to give the ball to players to create chances. I'm strong, aggressive and like to play with the ball," he said.
Rodrigues will face strong competition for a starting spot as he will be competing with the likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Gianni Zuiverloon and Abdul Hakku. He made a substitute appearance in the pre-season match against Real Kashmir and looked sharp in the centre of defence alongside Jhingan.
"It is not a competition (for places). We are here to help the club. I have my qualities and other players have their qualities," he said.
There is no shortage of confidence for the former Santos youth product and he feels that playing for the Kerala side will come with its own expectations.
"It is a bit similar to my country. The people here are like my people and they love football. It is a big challenge for me. I wanna make history here and I want to make history with the club. I want to change the level of the club. That's what I will try to do," he said.