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Brilliant Neymar easy to admire but hard to love

The world’s most expensive player already has 57 goals in 89 appearances for Brazil, along with 37 assists.

Neymar reacts to a challenge during today's Brazil-Mexico game.
Neymar reacts to a challenge during today's Brazil-Mexico game.
Image: Sergei Grits

MAKE NO MISTAKE about it, Neymar is a footballing phenomenon.

The world’s most expensive player already has 57 goals in 89 appearances for Brazil, along with 37 assists.

Following a slow start to the World Cup, the 26-year-old has improved with every game.

Today, against Mexico, he looked close to being back to his best, scoring the first goal and setting up the second, as Brazil won 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals.

There is no doubt he has great game temperament in the sense that he thrives under pressure — he was central to Barcelona’s miraculous Champions League comeback against PSG last year. Can you think of another player who has had a better 10 minutes of football in such pressurised circumstances, scoring two and assisting another as Barca secured an improbable 6-5 aggregate win.

Given all he has achieved so far and the fact that his best years are seemingly still ahead of him, there appears to be no one in football closer to matching the level of greatness consistently shown by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo than the brilliant Brazilian.

Yet Neymar is not there yet and if reports of his off-field lifestyle are to be believed, he could be in serious danger of seeing his potential unfulfilled and burning out prematurely, in a manner akin to several Brazilian stars of the past, including Ronaldinho, Robinho and Kaka.

Equally frustrating is the star’s behaviour on the pitch. His annoying antics have been a feature of this World Cup as much as his superb individual talent.

There were several totally indulgent and unnecessary moments in the Costa Rica match, while there was one in particular in the Mexico game today.

Miguel Layun didn’t cover himself in glory either, but the striker totally overreacted and exaggerated the incident.

You could argue Neymar is trying to draw attention to the indiscretion, but there is no real need for him to do so.

The Brazil boss and the player’s fans may try to frame it as the type of Machiavellian behaviour needed to win matches and go far in tournaments — after all, trying to slow down an encounter when the team is winning is commonplace in football, and routinely referred to as intelligent ‘game management’.

Such ruthlessness likely contributed to Neymar’s rise, but in essence, what he is doing is cheating by feigning injury to try to get a fellow professional sent off.

Yes, it could potentially help Brazil, and granted, this World Cup is full of other examples of players less high-profile than Neymar also behaving poorly, but it remains a trait that many fans will find hard to accept, particularly from one of the game’s indisputable greats.

In addition, does Neymar really think it is worth persisting with play-acting in the long run? The advantage it gives his team is marginal, while the reputational damage it causes is significant.

Consequently, for all Neymar’s extraordinary feats, the player’s supreme ability is tarnished by his frequently undignified actions.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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