“I’m youth, I’m joy. I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.” - J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan)
Agelessness is something humanity has sought throughout its history. Since we have had the ability to tell stories there have been tales of everlasting beauty, myths of eternal youth; our search for solace taking the role of the apocryphal amidst our battle with the second law of thermodynamics. While the quest for the undying spring may be a hopeless task, there are some who represent a certain juvenescence, a modicum of hypothetical resistance to the entropic slide that surrounds us.
To watch Nilmar Honorato da Silva play football is to watch a man defy the inevitability of time. Constantly thought of as an exciting young talent despite now being a relative veteran at 26-years-old, the Brazilian striker plays the game as if a product of J.M. Barrie’s imagination; uncynical, joyous, innocent and determined not to grow up. While that may sound to some like a criticism, I could not mean it with any more of a positive intention.
In a sport that is all too often framed by conflict and controversy, to see a player seemingly so free of fear and in tune with his artistic freedom is incredibly refreshing. Fresh-faced and taking as much pleasure in the simple act of playing football as I have seen any player, the Villarreal forward’s coy smile after every goal speaks volumes of the pure enjoyment he clearly gets from his profession.
Indeed, Nilmar’s performance against Bayer Leverkussen in the Europa League on Thursday night encapsulated the unpolluted brilliance that he can possess. Brought off the bench with 21 minutes to play, the Brazilian’s first contribution was to mesmerise the German back four with a deliciously deft touch before spinning through on goal and beating René Adler. 2-1 Villarreal.
Gonzalo Castro equalised, but the game would be decided by another glorious Nilmar moment. With El Submarino counter-attacking at speed he received the ball and flitted through a gap; as he advances on goal he lifts his head and, waiting until the last possible moment, slides it under the onrushing Adler. 3-2, and the boy with the individualistic shadow had won the game.
Perhaps the biggest factor in favour of Nilmar is that the early part of his career seemed to slip into a wormhole located somewhere not far from the greater Lyon area. When he really was just a boy the Brazilian tried to make his way in Europe as he joined the Stade de Gerland outfit, his free-spirited style burning brightly for a short while before fizzling out when faced with a wall of managerial indifference.
Just two goals in 32 games made Nilmar’s time in France wholly unmemorable, but it is arguably the sheer mundanity of that period which has given him the ageless quality he seems to embody. A spectral presence during his first spell in Europe, Nilmar returned when signed by Villarreal in 2009 and has benefited from the collective erasure which surrounded his time with Lyon. That erasure, to whatever extent it may stretch to, has given Nilmar the vitality of elongated youth.
Impish, untainted and intoxicated by the game, Nilmar will go growing old like the rest of us but will, at least in the mind of this writer, continue to be a player suspended in glorious agelessness. He is as though a materialisation of the imagination of J.M. Barrie and I hope that is how he will remain.