TORONTO — Videos showing Neymar punching a fan in the standings while he was walking to the ceremony podium of the Coupe de France after a penalty-kick loss by Paris Saint-Germain against Rennes went viral.
PSG lost the title after drawing 2-2 in regular time against a team that has a market value almost nine times inferior to the reigning Ligue 1 champions. It was a disappointing result for a squad that worths €927.45 million (approximately CA $1.04 billion) that is supposed to “win it all” national wise.
In the occasion, Neymar, who was playing only the second game after recovering from an injury that kept him out four months, scored once and had an outstanding assist. He was the man of the match.
While Neymar was PSG’s best player on the field, he called all the attention negatively off the field for hitting someone in the stands who allegedly called him “A bad player”.
That’s another challenging chapter for Neymar’s career recently.
For different sort of reasons, the Brazilian player has seen the pressure around him growing drastically. A pressure that he might not be able to handle.
Naturally in sports, when triumphs and titles happen, the clubhouse and the entire environment surrounding it are calm, funny, and entertaining. But when disappointing losses happen, specially for those who are technically-gifted references in the roster, different types of questions come up.
Unless a player/team wins everything every year, there will be uncomfortable questions during the press conferences. That’s how things work in sports. And the best players on the team, who the fans tend to icon as a leader, are supposed to know how to deal with that.
Going back to 2014, Neymar saw perhaps the starting point of a scenario that put him under more pressure year by year.
He suffered a competition-end injury in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals and was out for what ended up being a devastating competition for Brazil despite playing at home. Indeed, Neymar wasn’t on the field and probably wouldn’t make any significant difference in Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany, but the Neymar’s era in his national team will always carry the worst defeat in country’s soccer history.
Four years later in the WC played in Russia, Neymar was healthy but couldn’t avoid another frustrating loss. The Belgiums defeated the Brazilians 2-1 in the quarter finals. Actually, it was quite the opposite, once his struggling performances continued, it increased the pressure around him and also damaged his image.
While Neymar entered the 2018 World Cup looking forward the FIFA Ballon d’Or award (given to the best soccer player in the world), he left the tournament criticized for his free-kicks simulation and for holding the ball too much.
Also, all the investment made by PSG recently has the goal of winning the UCL, Europe’s highest rated competition. Neymar was bought to be the leader of this journey. However, the French club has failed to reach the semifinals in the last two seasons and Neymar (injured) didn’t play in any of the second matches against Real Madrid and Manchester United in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Brazil now hasn’t won the World Cup since 2002. Neymar has played in two editions in this period but unlike other once-in-a-generation Brazilian players, hasn’t won the most important trophy for his country. Pelé won it, three times. So did both Romário and Ronaldo.
With the next World Cup happening in 2022 when Neymar will be 30 years old, that may be his last chance to win it.
For his club, he has failed to be PSG’s leader in Europe biggest competitions, while names like Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Salah (Liverpool) are facing an opposite situation.
Neymar’s technique is unquestionable, as well as his professional career accomplishments thus far.
The 27-year-old has established himself a winner no matter what colours he was wearing. When playing for Santos in Brazil, he won three state championships, one Cup, and one Libertadores.
In European ground, he was even better, winning the Champions League once and the La Liga twice alongside Messi in Barcelona, plus two Ligue 1 championships in his current club PSG.
But a player of Neymar’s caliber aims for more.
Being a great player brings a ton of responsibilities on and off the field. On the field, the pressure is enormous. Neymar is the most expensive player ever and consider the greatest Brazilian soccer player of the past decade (at least). Off the field, he’s a reference for millions of people.
And Neymar’s answers when asked about the negative occasions are usually the same — when there’s one. He posts a message on Instagram for his hundreds of millions of followers.
His acts show that he has yet to learn how to deal with criticism in adverse scenarios such as disappointing losses or even injuries.
Despite the fact that his behaviour in these situations won’t affect what he has done as a player, it might hurt his future. More than that, it might separate him for being the leader that usually excellent players become, even the ones who don’t win frequently.
For instance, Ronaldo’s Portugal is clearly one step below the top tier of national teams in the world. Salah’s Egypt isn’t even in the conversation. And Messi might be Argentina’s soccer second biggest icon ever (behind just Maradona) even though he’s never won a national-club title.
The latest incident in the French Cup shows how much pressure Neymar has been facing at this point of his career.
His momentum in PSG is not the ideal nowadays. Not to mention in Brazil’s national team. And even his body has shown some flaws.
So far, he hasn’t pronounced specifically about the latest incident. Neither Brazil’s national team manager Tite, who will announce the final squad for the 2019 Copa América, which will happen in Brazil, on May 17.
What will happen next?
Tite didn’t answer, either, about whether or not his best player will be on the roster for the tournament. Physically and mentally speaking about Neymar, this question makes sense.
The answer, though, is predictable and will add a pivotal chapter in the Brazilian player’s journey.
He can either be part of a roster that historically will have fallen once again or win a title that Brazil hasn’t reached since 2007, making everyone forgets about the recent events until the next World Cup. Then, the pressure would be all over again on winning a big title for PSG.
That’s how things work in sports.