Star faces strug­gle to win over div­ing scep­tics

World Soccer - - Contents - Tim Vick­ery

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

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