This topic has been on my mind for a while now, but ahead of the biggest game in Neymar’s career at PSG to date, I thought I’d finally sit down and write about the player that never gets enough credit, but always gets too much hate.
Neymar is one of a kind player, a generational talent on and off the field who arguably is one of the most gifted footballers we have ever seen. At his peak, only Cristiano and Lionel match or better him. He is must-watch viewing whenever he plays and has exceeded expectations everywhere he has gone. And yet Neymar is somehow consistently disrespected for reasons that have nothing to do with his footballing ability.
Neymar has been labelled the poster boy in world football for diving and sometimes deservedly so, but sometimes he should embellish even more than he does. Neymar has suffered multiple injuries due to horror tackles against him and consistently takes a beating whenever he plays, with little protection from the referee. The 2018 World Cup especially was a breaking point for many football fans in the public perception of Neymar. After one of the best years of his career, in year one at PSG, where he tallied 19 goals and 13 assists in just 20 games due to his season being cut short due to injury, Neymar was expected to lead Brazil to World Cup glory. He was sensational in the tournament, but the storyline wasn’t his play on the pitch, it was his play-acting.
Now there is no denying, some of these dives are outright laughable to watch, but as Neymar himself said, sometimes he has to dive or else he will just continue to be abused. By the way, your favourite player, whoever it is, he dives all the time too. Everyone in football does it, why do we single out Neymar? Sure, he goes over the top sometimes, but no more than say a guy like Arturo Vidal or Richarlison or whoever you want to mention. Again, there is no one in the world of football who is targeted more than Neymar. The guy has already missed at least 10 games due to injury in each of his 3 seasons at PSG yet his stats are still ridiculous.
His diving is annoying yes, but maybe we should place our blame onto the officials instead of the players who are being targeted
Master of Consistency
Now onto his football, outside of Lionel Messi, no player has been as consistently good over the past 4 years than Neymar, not even Ronaldo. Here are Neymar’s stats in the Champions League over the past four campaigns.
He has created the fourth most chances in Europe over the last 5 years despite missing upwards of 50 games over those 5 years.
Look at this guys freaking radar since 2014, I mean it is absurd.
The stats are insane, and I could throw them at you all day, but I want to reiterate here that some people do not take these into account when judging him. They see that he plays in a league that is considered weak, they see that his team hasn’t made it past the RO16 in the Champions League for the two years he has been there and they see that he tried to force a move away from the club in the summer. These are all naive, uneducated people who judge players based on narrative and not statistical figures and their own eyes. I struggle to find an answer to why people disregard Neymar’s accomplishments when the stats are so easy to find.
This isn’t just about stats either, there is no one I would rather watch in football at the minute other than Neymar, except maybe Kylian Mbappe, and you can watch them play together so kill two birds with one stone. Neymar captures your imagination when he plays, he makes you think that all those skills you try in your garden could actually work in a game one day. An expert creator yes, but also a deadly goal scorer and a dangerously intelligent player.
The second leg against Dortmund is a major moment in Neymar’s career and it is his chance to silence all the critics and doubters, maybe not forever, but at least for now. The Brazilian scored in the first leg, but overall it was not his best performance. He has missed both previous second legs in the RO16 with PSG and without him, they have faltered. Here, he has a chance to erase all of the demons that he has helped to create. From the Barcelona Remondata to the Manchester Miracle last season, the Champions League has not been kind to PSG.
Neymar’s last iconic performance was in the remarkable comeback by Barcelona in 2016/17 where he was the best player on the pitch in their 6-1 win, but then Barca promptly lost in the Quarters and Neymar’s career at Barca was done. This may very well be his last season at PSG and although the fans have had their issues with him, he can be remembered as a legend if he brings them European glory and tonight is the first big obstacle towards that. The eyes of Europe will be on Neymar and he will prove his greatness.