February 4, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

Maybe Brazil’s Neymar is just unlucky


NeymarPhoto: Getty Images

While this World Cup had its share of great stories, the overarching story that began long before the tournament was Lionel Messi. This is his tournament, whatever Argentina does. Either it’s his last big failure (it’s never his when it comes to Argentina). It’s always the case that the rest of the team doesn’t live up to their standard, which is mostly true, but also not really how a team should work. Or this World Cup will be his final endorsement, the only thing he needs to be officially called the greatest of all time. Which is pretty silly because Messi’s CV won’t really be that different if Argentina win two more games or not from the hundreds he has played.

Neymar is now a failure for most. Which is strange because Neymar finally had his moment. Strange as a sport like football is, we still apply basketball-esque pressures to where we want the best player to get the ball when it matters most (that crash you’re hearing is that all England fans fall over at the moment). Football doesn’t really work that way. You can’t put up a series of screens to get your man the ball, and even if he does, it’s still the hardest thing to score in sport considering how often it doesn’t happen.

And yet Neymar got the ball. And he produced one of the most beautiful goals at this tournament. The intricacy, the precision, the creativity, not only did it look like the most important goal of his career and the most important goal for Brazil in about 20 years, but it was a goal that only a select few could score. How many times have you seen a player go round a goaltender like this only to make the angle too tight and have to take another touch that closes the window? Or stick her finish in the side net? Making those two passes and getting two passes so smooth and controlled in such tight spaces is ridiculous.

It felt like THE moment. It was like Michael Jordan hitting that last shot in Utah, except it was a fadeaway three over a double team. This was basically the football version of Montana-to-Clark or Elway’s Drive. Not only dramatic and heroic, but a brilliant display of galactic prowess.

And now it’s just a bit of trivia. It’s Josh Allen’s drive against the Chiefs. And it will eventually be used against him, probably by people like me, and by that I mean me.

I’ve been in the “Maybe Neymar just isn’t that guy” crowd for a while. And we can use the last six seasons to prove that if we choose what we want. PSG have never won the Champions League and even beat Ligue Un once. Neymar was on the field for some of those choke jobs and sometimes he wasn’t, but even when he wasn’t it was a blow against him because being available is also a skill. Brazil won the Copa America without him, not with him.

Brazil’s tactics against Croatia didn’t help. Because Brazil’s manager Tite doesn’t push the full-backs forward much. Croatia found it fairly easy, at least until extra time, to double up against Raphina and Vinicius Jr. outside. Both want to cut from the distance into the middle, because Croatia had everything trapped. Neymar kept flicking wide on the left and then trying to dribble inside, which didn’t really work. Brazil needed someone to hit a cross-field ball to isolate one of their wingers. They kept trying to make their way through the middle. Which didn’t work until it obviously worked. Neymar prevailed as only Neymar can. That’s all people like me said he wouldn’t do.

Which gives the impression that Brazil’s plan always depends on Neymar. With him they looked great against Serbia and Korea. Without him, they looked pretty flat against Switzerland and Cameroon. Given that everything should return to the center, it should connect to it. But it’s Neymar and shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to get the best out of him? Or if you’re an asshole like me say he lets teams go through him much like ronaldo does it make sense at all times or not? It’s everything you want to see.

PSG have evidently moved away from being the center of it all to the point where new force of gravity, Kylian Mbappe, has been actively trying to kick him out of the club (allegedly). But Brazil don’t have Mbappe or Messi. They have a lot of really good players but none of them are at Neymar’s level.

And neither does Argentina when it comes to Messi. And they made every game a grind, even when they had games like the quarter-finals against the Netherlands on their hands. You haven’t wandered through anything. But they won a penalty shootout, Brazil didn’t and the memory will draw from Messi going through and Neymar not. Although Argentina gambled away a two-goal lead and Brazil just one. The coin toss went in favor of the Albiceleste, not the Selecao.

The funny thing is the pictures after each game Neymar hugs Ivan Perisic’s son while Messi talked shit to Louis van Gaal after her victory. That’s the complete opposite personality that we usually think of these two in. Full disclosure, I’m absolutely here for anyone who talks shit LvG who is a true miracle of existence that he made it to his 70s while spending five hours a day blowing himself off. Maybe that’s the secret.

Neymar says he could now retire from the Brazil team despite it having been said after the heartbreak. It’s hard to understand that four years must seem like the longest time on earth when you were expected and called upon to win right after being eliminated from a World Cup. Maybe with time we will realize that the previous Brazilian teams just weren’t at the level we thought, similar to the previous Argentina teams. Because even if, like me, you never thought Neymar was THE GUY, he was on Friday and everyone else made sure it didn’t matter. Maybe that was the story all along.