TOKYO (AFP) - Tokyo caught “Neymar fever” on Thursday when the Brazilian superstar jetted into the Japanese capital sporting sunglasses, baseball cap and designer stubble on a whistle-stop visit to sign a sponsorship deal with a bed manufacturer.
The 22-year-old Barcelona forward, still recovering after fracturing a vertebra at the World Cup, was greeted by 700 screaming fans at Tokyo’s Haneda airport before being whisked off to a television studio, which rolled out a red carpet for his arrival as if for royalty.
"My back is getting better and I’m hoping to join up with my team-mates as soon as possible,” Neymar told reporters later as he perched on a foam mattress the makers claimed had secret relaxation properties.
"I have to make sure I continue the rehab and get my back fixed properly so I can be at 100 per cent. I’m really looking forward to next season,” he added.
Neymar will form part of arguably the world’s most fearsome strike-force alongside Lionel Messi and new Barca signing Luis Suarez.
"It’s always been my dream to play in Europe and win as many titles as possible. I’m not striving to be the world’s greatest player - just the best player I can be in order to help Brazil.”
Dressed in black with his cap on back-to-front and wearing a chunky gold chain, Neymar appeared on Japan’s Fuji TV, triggering bedlam in the studio as guests and audience members in replica Brazil jerseys lined up to have their shirts signed.
The Brazilian pin-up, still wearing a protective corset for his injury, looked sheepish when asked if he liked Japanese women, replying diplomatically: “Japanese ladies are very pretty. But I’m Brazilian so I think I prefer Brazilian girls.”
Once he had left and order had been restored to the studio, several Neymar “lookalikes” were wheeled out - including a farmer, a roofer and a noodle chef.
Neymar carried the hopes of host nation Brazil on his shoulders at the World Cup but his involvement ended in tears as he suffered his injury in the 2-1 quarter-final win over Colombia, pictures of him being airlifted to hospital by helicopter sending the country into shock.
Without their talisman, who had scored four goals in the tournament, Brazil suffered their most humiliating defeat ever when they were pulverised 7-1 by eventual champions Germany in the semi-final.
The world’s top athletes often criss-cross the globe for lucrative endorsements in Japan. Real Madrid heart-throb Cristiano Ronaldo recently visited to plug a facial muscle trainer, while former England captain David Beckham still enjoys huge marketing power in the country.