Weird as it may seem, Neymar has much to prove ahead of new season

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Just over a year ago, the stage was set. ‘El no se queda’ after all, as Neymar wouldn’t be staying at Barcelona despite Gerard Pique’s bullish claims that the Brazilian wouldn’t leave the Nou Camp.

A world record fee was what it took, and Brazil’s footballing poster boy swapped the red-and-blue of Barcelona for the red-and-blue of Paris St. Germain. Word was Neymar had had enough of being in Lionel Messi’s shadow, and was pining to take ‘main man’ status somewhere else.

At PSG, the welcome, the unveiling, and the collection of a previously assigned number 10 shirt, showed he was going to have that status, all that was left was the little matter of delivering on the pitch.

On paper, it looks like he well and truly did. 28 goals from 30 games, from a player who predominantly plays out wide, and missed the last three months of the season, makes for good reading. But you wouldn’t fool even yourself if you said all went well.

Neymar’s first flashpoint as a PSG man came against his own teammate, the Brazilian and Edinson Cavani having a mini-kerfuffle over a penalty kick against Lyon in September, a developing form of player-power that was just about the beginning of the end former manager Unai Emery’s tenure.

His second flashpoint came in his sending off in Le Classique at Marseille, a game where PSG were heading for defeat until Cavani grabbed a stoppage-time equaliser with a free-kick- no prizes for guessing the fate of that late free-kick had Neymar still been on the pitch.

Ultimately, it mattered little in terms of the league, which PSG steamrollered to. But domestic dominance is the barest minimum at the Parc des Princes, European glory is the sought-after prize.

The club from the French capital hadn’t made it past the last eight since the arrival of their Qatari owners, and in Neymar’s first season it would be no different, a 5-2 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid sent them crashing out in the last 16.

Neymar was absent for the second leg of that tie, having gotten injured before it, but in this often black-and-white sport, he was bound to be remembered as having played a minimal part in the first leg. Simply put, Neymar didn’t perform when it mattered the most.

That was also his case with Brazil at the World Cup. In 2014, Neymar stood out in rather flawed Brazilian side as the star man, and, after his injury at the end of the quarter-final against Colombia, La Selacao crumbled.

Four years on, Neymar stuck out in a more-rounded Brazilian team with his antics, his tendency to dive and overplay contact subjecting him to as many memes as it did him derision, and it all came crashing down after Brazil were knocked out in the last eight by Belgium.

According to many, that game showcased the fact that Eden Hazard is the better footballer, and that it was the Belgian captain whom Real Madrid should be interested in, not, if reports are to be believed, Neymar.

That seemed a bit absurd in truth; the concept of giving verdict over two players subject to comparison by means of a game between both men’s teams will remain underrated in its ludicrousness, but those who made those judgements weren’t without their points.

Hazard had stuck to business with the ball, gave the Brazilian defence a torrid time, and was the one who headed for the semi-final, while Neymar had gained more spotlight with his play-acting than his playing, his style seemed to be an unnecessary hindrance to Brazil at times, and he and his nation were heading home.

Ego, a point to prove ahead of the new season. The onus is on Neymar to deliver, all eyes will be watching him with as much fondness as Nigerians have for their politicians, the Brazilian is now that footballing villain who’d do anything to get his way- a tag he could well use to his favour. .

There’s nothing so wrong with having off-the-ball antics on the pitch, Diego Costa’s ability to rile defenders up is as key to his game as his goal-scoring exploits, but as Costa himself knows, without the on-the-ball qualities to complement the despicable acts off it, you’re the subject of derisive mockery.

And that’s Neymar’s task ahead of the new season. Does he necessarily have to put a stop to his frolics? Perhaps not. Does he have to match them with consistent displays with the ball and proof that he can be a leader in his team’s quest for glory? Definitely.

His exclusion from the top 10 nominee-list for September’s ‘The Best’ award is an indication of his fall, yet also a source of motivation as he joins up with the PSG squad after his exploits in Russia .
The talent is as undeniable as the attitude is debatable.

About Olakunle Ajao 260 Articles
Olakunle Ajao is a Mass Communication student at the University of Lagos. Commonly known as 'The Major' by friends and fiends alike, he has quite the obsession with football, watching, reading, writing and playing- although he's not very good at that last part.

1 Comment

  1. You say you have an obsession with football in your profile, but this entire article makes that obsession sound poorly informed at best. This piece reads like a summary of cheap, sensationalist talking points from pundits, without any critical analysis of what was actually going on. “Penalty-gate” was a ludicrous overreaction by a media already hostile to this player; they acted like athletes have never fought over penalties before. And on top of that, Cavani was no victim in this situation. HE rejected Neymar’s request for the penalty, not the other way around. Neymar even asking for the penalty kick was apparently some kind of crime. His sending off at Marseille was controversial, not a black-and-white affair in which he was the sole villain. The defender in question fouled him twice in rapid succession, causing Neymar to get up angrily and turn toward him. The subsequent contact, being between two dudes standing in place, without any acceleration, was not enough to result in the reaction of the defender. THAT was what got him sent off, a situation where he was more sinned against than sinning, but yes, frame it as if Neymar was the only person at fault. (I’m not saying Neymar should have shoulder-bumped the guy, but I’m noticing this constant trend in football where people get outraged at a player for finally losing their temper while saying nothing about the constant provocation they experience before that.)

    Next, don’t act as if Neymar’s “player power” got poor, innocent Unai Emery fired. What got Emery fired was his inability to get PSG far in the Champions League for two years in a row. If you seriously cared about football, you would maybe remember that the manager is responsible for strategy, and Emery’s just wasn’t good enough to deliver. Neymar in the first leg of the match against Real Madrid performed a good assist that resulted in their goal and continued to be dangerous in building attack throughout the first leg. That is his job. He was NOT responsible for his own team then subsequently conceding three. What kind of football fan blames defensive failures on a team’s attackers? Or worse yet, blames it all on one player in a team sport? For all this yammering about the importance of being a team, people such as yourself seem awfully keen on forgetting this when there is a player you clearly disdain. The failure of PSG in that match against Real Madrid was a strategic one, and the “blame” is easily spread around the entire team. Look, here is an analysis of the match that you may find interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nd6oJEtaK78 (first half), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3Zn7GmRnZM&t=32s (second half).

    As for Brazil: yes, the 2014 Brazil team wasn’t as strong as 2018’s, but everyone seems to have forgotten that Thiago Silva was also unable to play in the match against Germany. Neymar being there probably would have meant a few more goals, but the “7” part of that 7-1 score sheet was because the defense appeared to fall apart without Silva. Beyond their skill-related contributions, the two players appeared to have had some kind of intangible, morale-related effect on their team. I’m not saying Neymar wasn’t important for Brazil 2014, but people have over-exaggerated and mis-attributed this importance, apparently for the sole purpose of blaming just him whenever Brazil loses.

    “Neymar didn’t perform when it matters most” is probably the most ignorant and cruel statement in the entire article, coming right before a paragraph in which you downplayed his nearly career-ending injury during the 2014 World Cup, from a red-card-deserving knee to the back that wasn’t even punished with a yellow. You basically blamed him getting his back broken, rather than castigate the reckless and dangerous tackle that stopped him from performing. And while we’re on this not-performing thing: if he doesn’t perform when it matters, what was the Remontada against PSG last year? What about those Barcelona matches where Messi was injured and Neymar took up a larger attacking playmaker role? What about getting Brazil the Olympic gold?

    Neymar as a player has only improved since 2014. Post-WC analysis of his performance based on actual data and not personal antipathy or thoughtless bandwagon-jumping found that he was the best left winger of the tournament (https://www.whoscored.com/Regions/247/Tournaments/36/Seasons/5967/Stages/12763/Show/International-FIFA-World-Cup-2018). An analysis of Brazil during the WC also raises the important point of not confusing player style with player performance, a thing many “football obsessives” seem utterly unable to do: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/make-no-mistake-brazil-is-dominating-this-world-cup/

    As for the Brazil vs. Belgium match: did you watch the match or are you just going by the results? Undoubtedly Hazard is an excellent player. But to pretend that Brazil, and Neymar in particular, did not give the Belgium defense multiple panic attacks is ludicrous. For a good part of that game, Brazil controlled the flow. They had so many chances (many of them from Neymar either directly or through key passes) that it was sheer bad luck they didn’t get 3-4 goals. You’re going to look at Augusto Renato’s serious blunder (where he was one-on-one with the keeper and could’ve netted Brazil goal #2 but instead shot the ball somewhere over the rainbow), or Gabriel Jesus’ utter inability to score, or that own-goal from Fernandinho, and you’re going to come away with the conclusion that NEYMAR and his play style is an unnecessary hindrance to Brazil, essentially implying he’s the reason Brazil lost? The Brazilian *national team lost*, ok, not friggin’ Neymar. Team sport, remember?

    The diving and “overplaying” contact accusations against Neymar at this WC has turned me from someone who didn’t even care all that much about this player to someone who will write a long comment in response to articles like yours. I’ve had it up to here with the sanctimonious, self-righteous attitude of a punditry and fanbase more angry that someone goes down than at violent conduct. Neymar was fouled so many times during the Switzerland game that it aggravated his existing ankle injury. His so-called exaggerated roll came from a dangerous tackle on him while he was running, and therefore he hit the ground with considerable momentum that would carry a relatively light player pretty far. If you people actually cared about the supposed scourge of diving and aren’t just using it as an excuse to hate Neymar, you would have paid more attention to the shameless dive from Pepe of Portugal, where he dropped to the ground after a Moroccan player patted him on the back, while both players were *walking*. Or how about the roll in the middle of Iran vs. Morocco, where the player *changes direction* while rolling, meaning he had to actually exert pressure on the ground and wasn’t just carried by momentum? Of course there was some desultory irritation, but did they turn into increasingly un-funny memes? Did South Africa’s KFC or Portugal’s emergency service get involved in the action? And you’re going to blame the *player* for negative media attention and Twitter trolls, instead of, I don’t know, the MEDIA and those trolls for making a huge deal out of something that didn’t even seem all that exaggerated unless you’re a person who knows nothing about physics? The situation against Mexico, if people weren’t already frothing at the mouth in their gleeful desire to tear this player down, should have been a red card for Layun because he stepped on Neymar’s ankle (the one he injured) with intent. Instead, I watched in disbelief as the entire English-speaking world did cartwheels attempting to say that it was probably an accident, and also Neymar reacted TOO SLOWLY (in a slow-motion replay), and also it can’t possibly have hurt that much because we are all connected to Neymar’s brain and know exactly how he feels. Layun was wearing cleats and bending down to pick up the ball with his foot on Neymar’s ankle. That position puts all of the weight on the balls of his feet, which is why his heel can be on the fourth official’s foot but the latter doesn’t respond, whereas Neymar would definitely feel it.

    Your entire argument hinges around the idea that Neymar “has something to prove” because his on-the-ball exploits can’t back up his “despicable” acts off it. As I have just argued, both parts of this idea are false: Neymar’s skill more than backs him up, and his so-called “despicable” acts aren’t even all that despicable. Most damningly, it doesn’t occur to you that much of this negative attention and the ghoulish desire to villainize Neymar might be completely unwarranted, coming at least partially from a place of toxic masculinity. It certainly occurred to me after the upteenth comment along the lines of: calling for someone to break this crybaby’s legs, accusations that he’s unmanly, or that he deserves the fouls for having the body of a 12 year old but daring to play a “man’s game.” (And that’s not getting into comments revealing a deep-seated hatred for Brazilians.) Neymar is a player who succeeds with agility and technique rather than strength and physicality. Consider the players commonly ranked at the top and ask yourself how many of them are 5’9″, slender, and 149 lbs. Instead, you either have a lot of powerful men 6′ or over, weighing anywhere from 160 to 180 lbs, or else you have the Maradona-Messi types, with very low center of gravity and superb balance (and pain tolerance). Neymar’s body type works against him, and yet he has still managed to play at the very top level, considered widely to be the third best player currently active, that silly FIFA award notwithstanding. On that note, it is very odd that you are placing so much importance on an award that is essentially a popularity contest. CR7 somehow managed to win best player last year despite having an abysmal performance in the latter half of 2017. Not having Neymar on that list feels more like petty “punishment” or caving to public perception (FIFA is largely about marketing, after all), rather than any serious assessment of his performance. (To be completely fair, it’s actually probably because his injury knocked him out for three months, but that doesn’t explain CR7.)

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