Star faces struggle to win over diving sceptics
Anyone who loves football will surely hope that Neymar can shrug off his current problems and come back stronger and better. The challenge ahead, however, will not be easy.
The Brazilian’s quest to be seen as the world’s best player has been blown off course. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are still around, and Kylian Mbappe is on the way up, Neymar is already 26.
And then there is the question of him coming away from the World Cup as a global laughing stock as a consequence of his persistent diving.
Neymar broached the subject in a recent interview, saying: “People were quicker to criticise the one being fouled than the one doing the fouling.”
It is possible here to have a certain sympathy for him, as he is obviously more sinned against than sinner. Every time he takes the field opponents are out to stop him, by fair means or foul. But that is the nature of the game. It is a problem that every skilful player has faced since the dawn of the sport. And Neymar and his generation receive a level of protection from bad tackling that would have been unthinkable as recently as 30 years ago.
It is, then, harder to feel sympathy for
how neymar would improve the game
him when he says: “I can’t be the referee and play at the same time, but there are times when I wish I could.”
Neymar’s problem here is that he is trying to operate outside the codes of the game. In his own interpretation, football is a non-contact sport. He has been hothoused through futsal, where a referee has always been present. And Neymar’s method of defence is to use the referee. Previous generations, who developed through old-fashioned street football, had a better idea of how to defend themselves by choosing the moment to unleash the dribble. In Neymar’s case he often seems to be attempting to draw the foul, frequently in no-man’s land where the award of a free-kick does not benefit his team.
Tostao, a World Cup-winner in 1970, and the wisest voice in Brazilian football, recently gave his thoughts on the matter, writing: “Neymar’s behaviour, which in the beginning was full of theatrical gestures aimed at gaining an advantage, so common in Brazilian society, has become automatic. For this reason I am afraid that if he tries to change he will inhibit himself and stop trying to dribble and look for the one-on-one situation.
“I do not want him to keep falling, as a simulator, or to become a normal, predictable player.”
And this is the problem Neymar now faces. Can he lose the excesses of his game while still retaining the essence?
His PR team have been working hard to think of ways in which his reputation can be rebuilt. But once he takes the field he is on his own, in front of an audience who will be quick to judge him if he gets it wrong.
This could be the most interesting challenge of his career so far.
“I can’t be the referee and play at the same time, but there are times when I wish I could”
Tumble...Neymar goes to ground