Neymar an embarrassment to both football and himself

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At a time when the world should be lauding Neymar for grabbing this World Cup by the scruff of the neck and leading his country’s charge to an unprecedented sixth trophy, we are simply left seething by his histrionics.

For all of Neymar’s innate ability with the ball at his feet, his often mesmerising Samba flair, his talismanic status within a footballing nation steeped in such rich history, there is one sizeable problem which is losing him fans by the thousand with each passing tumble.

His record-shattering move to Paris Saint-Germain last summer was, to all intents and purposes, an attempt to leap out of the imposing shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona.

After all, this is a man who, at 26, should be at the apogee of his powers. But, sadly, his football remains the sideshow.

On Monday, after both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had been knocked out of the World Cup, all eyes centred on a man who supposedly yearns to enter the two-horse race which has dominated the Ballon d’Or for the last decade.

At a time when the world should be lauding Neymar for grabbing this World Cup by the scruff of the neck and leading his country’s charge to an unprecedented sixth trophy, we are simply left seething by his histrionics.

For all of Neymar’s innate ability with the ball at his feet, his often mesmerising Samba flair, his talismanic status within a footballing nation steeped in such rich history, there is one sizeable problem which is losing him fans by the thousand with each passing tumble.

His record-shattering move to Paris Saint-Germain last summer was, to all intents and purposes, an attempt to leap out of the imposing shadow of Lionel Messi at Barcelona.

After all, this is a man who, at 26, should be at the apogee of his powers. But, sadly, his football remains the sideshow.

On Monday, after both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had been knocked out of the World Cup, all eyes centred on a man who supposedly yearns to enter the two-horse race which has dominated the Ballon d’Or for the last decade.

But instead of waxing lyrical about the golden child of Brazil during their last-16 showdown with Mexico, we were all reduced to watching through our fingers as he writhed in ‘pain’ and jerked awkwardly on the ground, doing everything in his power to destroy the beautiful game before our very eyes.

The offending incident was when Miguel Layun dared to graze Neymar’s £198million ankle with his stud, applying little more than a thimbleful of pressure. Was it naughty from Layun? Yes, of course, and no one is condoning stamping here. Did it warrant the reaction? Absolutely not.

He yelped, squealed, threw his arms in the air, cried as though the doctors would have to lop his foot off there and then to save him from the drastic blood loss. In fact, it would have been a huge feat for him to even move if he had hurt his ankle as badly as he would have liked us, or the referee, to believe.

He is a diver, a play-actor and perhaps the most frustrating footballer in modern times. A cheater? It’s a strong word and perhaps the incorrect one, but there is more than a case to say he has blatantly tried to con the referee into administering a larger punishment to the Mexican player.

An embarrassment? Yes. Undoubtedly. An embarrassment to both football and himself. It is exasperating to see a man who is so obviously and naturally gifted and who gives fans so many special moments when in full flow wailing like a child following even the most negligible contact.

There was a time when even Ronaldo drew attention for his own brand of theatrics, but Neymar has taken it to a whole new, Oscar-winning level. It is a crying shame he has not done the same with his football – as Ronaldo did.

 

Mexico’s Edson Alvarez in action with Brazil’s Neymar during the match at Samarana Arena in Russia, July 2, 2018. /REUTERS

Whether it is the eyes of the world zeroing in on the World Cup or just that the tournament draws out the worst in him, but Neymar’s much-maligned play-acting in Russia has made it open season for his detractors – and rightly so.

We were all left open-mouthed after his risible diving during Brazil’s group game with Serbia, which is likely to go down in meme and gif history alongside the likes of the Sol Campbell ‘never-ending slide tackle’.

He was challenged close to the touchline before tumbling and rolling four or five times while screaming to the gods. It really is quite astonishing that he has lived to tell the tale.

In the game against Costa Rica, Giancarlo Gonzalez made the schoolboy error of breathing on Neymar in the box and the Brazilian threw himself backwards while appealing to the referee for a penalty. You can make your own mind up about whether that is cheating.

But his piece de resistance, his showstopper, his Academy Award-nominated performance came in his last outing against Mexico.

It speaks volumes that no one is speaking of the goal he scored in that game which helped set Brazil on their way to the quarter-finals. It begs the question, would any of the other supremely talented Brazilians have transcended to icon status if they had behaved the same way Neymar has?

The ghosts of World Cups’ past certainly threaten to loom over him, the victorious Brazilians whose names are now immortalised in footballing history books: Pele, Garrincha, Bebeto, Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho.

If he ever wishes to be spoken of in the same breath as Messi, Ronaldo, or indeed any of his vaunted fellow countrymen who have gone before him, the football must now start doing the talking. Because time, and everyone’s patience, is running out.

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