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Neymar: Don't Believe The Hype

Note: This article is NOT about the prospect of Neymar joining Chelsea. This article is the beginning of a weekly series that will attempt to analyze matters in the footballing world outside the realms of Stamford Bridge. Hope you enjoy reading my views! 

Neymar: Don’t Believe The Hype

Whenever I ask someone who they think is the best footballer in the world, the answer is either Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Personally I believe that Messi is a more complete player than Ronaldo, but I can see why people rate Ronaldo so highly. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the fact that the guy’s got loads of talent (the same could be said about Messi). But to be fair to the two of them, let’s just say that at the moment they are, without a doubt, the 2 best players in the world. No one is at their level. But there are quite a few people who believe that Brazilian “wonder-kid” Neymar, currently plying his trade for Brazilian club Santos, can be compared to Ronaldo and Messi in terms of skill. “He’s just as good as Messi or Ronaldo”, is something I hear a lot.

Now I’ve seen Neymar play and yes, he is pretty talented. But he’s still not at the level of Ronaldo or Messi. Brazilian legend Pelé (someone who Neymar has drawn comparisons to) once said this about Neymar & Messi: “Now everyone is talking about Messi; he is a star. But (to be the best ever) he must first become better than Neymar.” This comment is stupid on so many levels, but I won’t go on to blast Pelé. The reasons: 1) I respect him too much as a player, 2) He has been known to say some pretty silly things to the media in the past.

Speaking about the media, Neymar is (without a doubt) a media darling. I’ve rarely (if ever) seen him get criticized in print. All you see is “future superstar”, “magician” etc. His flashy footwork combined with his wacky and outlandish hairdos mean that he is something of a cult icon in Brazil. It doesn’t end there. In 2012, SportsPro magazine rated Neymar “the most marketable athlete in the world” ahead of both Messi (3rd) and Ronaldo (5th).

So far, I haven’t said anything about Neymar that isn’t already known. I’ve actually said a few nice things about him. But I’ve titled the article “Don’t Believe The Hype” for a reason. Everything that I have mentioned above is nothing but hype. And now, I’ll give you a few reasons as to WHY you shouldn’t believe it.

On his day, Neymar can destroy the opposition on his own. It can be quite fun to watch unless you’re supporting the opposite team. But on his off days, he’s absolutely invisible. Now there’s nothing wrong with that. Footballers are only human and are allowed to have an off day now and again. But the problem with Neymar’s off days are that they tend to happen exactly when his team desperately need him to bring his A-game. The FIFA Club World Cup final between Barcelona & Santos in 2011 is the perfect example. The match was hyped as the showdown between 2 of the most exciting talents in the world: Lionel Messi & Neymar. While no one (except maybe Santos fans) actually expected Santos to pull off an upset, many were excited about the type of football that would be on display with such talented players on both sides (Santos’ Ganso was another player dubbed as “one to watch”). The match failed to live up to the hype as Barcelona ran out 4-0 winners. Lionel Messi scored a brace. Neymar had a game to forget.

Another example of Neymar not bringing it when it mattered most is the Olympic 2012 finals. The final was between Brazil and Mexico, and everyone expected Brazil to romp to their first ever Olympic gold in football. However, Brazil ended up losing the match 2-1 and Neymar was nowhere near as involved as he had been in the matches prior to the finals. The match highlighted another flaw in Neymar’s game: he can be a bit selfish.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong in being selfish, especially if you play as a forward. People like Ronaldo and Messi have a certain degree of selfishness to their game and it’s that very selfishness that has made them so successful. But Neymar’s unshakable confidence in himself tends to cost the team at times. During the Olympic 2012 finals, his game became almost predictable. He started the match from the left-wing and almost every time he got the ball he cut across onto his right foot and had a shot at goal. It became frustrating to watch after one point especially because a pass was almost always available to him. Surely it would have made more sense to simply pass the ball to someone who had a better chance of scoring than he did? But Neymar went for glory more often than not and it ended up costing Brazil. For someone who’s supposedly better than Messi, he sure lacks decision-making skills.

Neymar also has a tendency of going down easily when he’s tackled, something even Pelé has admitted to. “A lot of times (when he is tackled) he will fall because he can’t do anything else, but he was overdoing it. Even when he is fouled, he can’t (read: shouldn’t) make a spectacle out of it”. While many may not see this as a massive flaw in his game, I do. Neymar’s eventual destination (as it is for all top footballers) is Europe, whether he goes to Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Chelsea as is being reported in certain tabloids. European football is physically demanding with well-built defenders and midfield enforcers just looking for a tackle. Someone with Neymar’s skill and ability will always have a target on his back as most defenders will look to kick him a bit, mostly because it’s almost impossible to contain someone with his skill. But if he goes down too easily, referees will not award free-kicks or penalties in his favour even when they are legitimate claims of him being fouled. Luis Suarez was a victim of such refereeing when a clear penalty shout against Norwich in a Premier League match was turned down due to his reputation of being a diver. The last thing Neymar wants is the “diver” tag.

And lastly (yes, I’m still not done), the main reason we shouldn’t believe the media hype is because it can be wrong more often than not. Ever since the footballing world has seen Pelé and Maradona dazzle audiences all around the world with their skills, their respective countries Brazil and Argentina have been looking for the “next” Pelé and the “next” Maradona. Players have been erroneously dubbed the next Pelé and Maradona. Argentina’s Javier Saviola was dubbed the next Maradona and while his career included a spell at Real Madrid, he never really came close to matching El Diego. Robinho, the Brazilian starlet who came through the ranks at Santos was dubbed the next Pelé but his career trajectory has taken a massive dive since he left Manchester City. It’s now reached a point where no one really takes such comparisons seriously anymore.

Having said all this, I don’t think Neymar is a bad player. He’s still young and almost definitely one to watch for the future.  But he still has a long way to go before he can truly claim to be the “best in the world”. He’s nowhere near that good.

Shayne Dias 

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