Once again, Paris Saint-Germain will be deprived of star man Neymar when they take to the Champions League knockout stages.
Since arriving in 2017, Neymar’s record of being fit for these big dates has been lamentable. He missed the second leg of the 2018 exit against Real Madrid due to a metatarsal injury, then both dates of the 2019 exit to Manchester United due to a similar injury.
Although he featured in the Final 8 in 2020, he did so shortly after picking up a problem and was not fit for the event.
Now, adductor problems will deprive PSG of the world’s most expensive player for at least the first leg of their 2021 dance with Barcelona after he picked up an issue against Ligue 2 side Caen in a cup match. If Neymar plays in the second leg, he will likely do so without any match action for a month.
“The sadness is great, the pain is immense and the crying is constant,” Neymar vented on Instagram after the fact.
“Once again, I will stop for a while doing what I love the most in life, which is playing football. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable because of my style of play, because I dribble and they constantly hit me."
“I don't know if the problem is me or what I do on the field. It saddens me a lot. It saddens me a lot to hear from a player, coach, commentator or whoever the hell it is, that ‘you really have to hit him’, ‘he falls’, ‘he cries’, ‘a child’, ‘spoiled’ etc."
“It honestly saddens me and I don't even know how much I can bear it. I just want to be happy playing football. NOTHING ELSE.”
While some insiders at PSG suggest that Neymar could help himself by leading a better lifestyle, what is undeniable is that he is not amply protected by referees.
“I don't want to take it out on the way the opponent played and the way Neymar played his game. But I just have the feeling that sometimes there is a lack of protection during matches from refereeing. But it's just a feeling,” head coach Mauricio Pochettino said after the match.
Neymar deserves more protection: The evidence
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Argentine, whose decision to field Neymar against such weak opposition should also come under scrutiny, is correct.
Take, for example, the recent Trophee des Champions match with Marseille. Neymar played the final 25 minutes of the match and still found time to be brutally fouled by OM defender Alvaro Gonzalez on three occasions. One of these involved a double-handed head grab that would have seen a dismissal even in rugby. The Argentine saw only one booking and completed the match.
Statistical evidence, too, shows how Neymar is treated. Despite the injury problems that have caused him to miss so many games, he has been in the top five fouled players in Europe’s Big 5 leagues in each of the three completed seasons he has been with PSG.
During each of these years, he has led Ligue 1 in terms of fouls suffered per minute on the field.
It is not just a problem in France, though. In the 2020-21 Champions League, according to Opta’s statistics, he has been fouled up to 25% more than any other player in the tournament.
Neymar has won 5.61 fouls for every 90 minutes he has played in the Champions League. Manchester United’s Anthony Martial is next in this regard, posting just 3.78 fouls per 90 minutes.
Indeed, it was the Champions League meeting with RB Leipzig that best displayed the rough treatment that Neymar receives. The Bundesliga side took turns in taking aim at the Brazilian, who suffered seven fouls that night – his team-mates combined for only four more.
Neymar’s issue is exacerbated by his image as a playactor who makes the most of each contact.
That is why figures like Caen boss Pascal Dupraz can so readily take aim at him.
“I'm not going to cry, I'll leave that to Neymar,” he said after the midweek match.
Such quotes are picked up and championed – even celebrated as a victory – by the sizeable anti-Neymar brigade.
For lovers of the game, though, they should be held up as an affront to football.
Sure, Neymar can frustrate with his histrionics after virtually every foul, but the magic and unpredictability he brings to the game should be hailed.
“F***… how much longer? We have spoken about this so much, we have underlined the excess of violence,” Neymar’s father complained on Instagram in December after watching his son suffer a brutal foul in a defeat against Lyon for which Thiago Mendes was sent off.
“Why not stop it at the beginning, with the first foul, why wait until the seventh, eighth, ninth foul?"
“We are not taking the necessary measures throughout the whole game, where Neymar suffered the usual rotation of fouls, and always violent ones."
“This encourages these types of players and attitudes. If this sort of thing is allowed to continue, football will really lose a lot."
“FOR HOW MUCH LONGER WILL THE VICTIM BE THE ONE AT FAULT?”
There are no signs of any action being taken against those who continually and successfully kick Neymar out of the game.
For football to lose such a player for so many big matches should be a cause for lamentation and consideration – and certainly not celebration.