Former Santos player remembers the day Neymar made pro debut replacing him

Mauricio "Mao" Molina was the one who left the field for the Brazilian to make his professional debut
Martín O'Donnell
2024-03-28 11:10:40

On March 7, 2009, Neymar made his professional debut in a Santos uniform. It came in a Campeonato Paulista fixture against Oeste, with the young winger being only 17 years old.

The one who left the field was Mauricio “Mao” Molina, who initially doubted Ney’s ability to play in the first team. “I remember seeing him and saying, ‘This kid can’t play professional football.’ When I saw him in the first training session with us, I understood that he would play in the next match,” said the Colombian on SiSePuedCast.


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Molina emerged from Envigado in his native country and spent time with Independiente Medellín, Independiente Santa Fe, Monarcas, San Lorenzo, and Olimpia before joining Santos in 2008.

There, he and the rest of the first-team players learned about the excitement Neymar generated in the youth teams. In fact, many of them began to watch him in the youth team training sessions before the forward was promoted to the senior squad.

“When he joined the first team, we already knew he was going to play. You didn’t even have the slightest chance of competing for a position with him at 16; it was incredible,” Molina recalled.

“What he did with kids his age was absurd; we were really going to enjoy watching him. The first encounter I had with him, I entered the gym, and he was like this (adjusts himself in his chair), he was sitting, sitting in a corridor, he sat there so that everyone would greet him.”

The retired midfielder scored 16 goals in 66 matches with Peixe until his departure in 2009 when he went to South Korea. In 2016, he returned to Colombia to finish his career in Medellín.

Molina knew Neymar would be special

He happened to be the player Neymar replaced to make his professional debut, and at that very moment he was substituted, he felt that the one who entered would become a legend: “Today I made way for perhaps one of the best players this planet will have,” he thought.

“When I was on the bench, I knew that the first player who was doing poorly would be replaced by Neymar (laughs). I remember coming off, shaking his hand, because besides being a spectacular guy, but on the way I walk to the bench and he comes in, the first thing he does, a step-over and bam, hits the post”.