Neymar: A Phoenix burnt to ashes
9th March, 2017. A day when history was to be created in Europe at the biggest stadium in the continent. A day when tremors were to be created due to the celebrations of a fan-base. A day when time seemed to stop. A football match comprises of 90 minutes only but that night at the Camp Nou must have been an eternity for the visiting Paris Saint Germain.
PSG stunned the football fraternity by demolishing Barcelona at home by a 4-0 margin. All doors to the quarter finals closed in a matter of 90 minutes. Barcelona’s trip back to Spain was accompanied by glum faces and angry minds. Before the second leg, no-one gave Barcelona a chance. UEFA gave Barcelona a 0% chance to advance. French experts were going over the moon, considering the tie already settled. PSG started working on a mini movie titled “How we defeated Barcelona”.
But the Camp Nou had hope. Not the hope that they would advance but the hope that they’ll do justice to their legacy on the pitch. Gerard Pique issued a clear warning to PSG by claiming that those whose don’t watch the game will miss the comeback. Luis Enrique went to the press conference and simply said, “If an opponent can score 4 goals against us, we can score six”. But above all of these statements one stood apart. One statement from a certain 25 year old Brazilian but it had a maturity of a 30 year old voice.
“As long as we have 1% chance, we will have 99% faith.”- Neymar on Instagram
Neymar was not a guy who won’t back his talk up. He ran all over the PSG defence at Camp Nou on the night. He wasn’t making it any easy for PSG to breathe, always coming forward to danger and slipping away from the defences. Barcelona did manage to get 3 goals at 46 minutes but Cavani’s 60th minute strike silenced the Camp Nou.
And as the match dragged on for another 30 minutes, the only people who still believed in Barcelona proceeding must have been none. The Camp Nou was willing Barcelona on, but even they wouldn’t have thought that it will be an unlikely hero who will save the day. With Lionel Messi dropping his guard, maybe with the thought of defeat creeping in, Gerard Pique being a lot less vocal on the pitch, the players had a sense of defeat.
But one man who made the statement, stayed true to his words. He had that 1% chance of converting a free-kick that Messi trusted him with, and he had 99% faith that it would go in.
“What has Neymar got up his sleeve here? He’s got something really special up his sleeve.”-PSG vs Barcelona commentary during Neymar's free kick
Neymar was the one who stepped up for the penalty. Staying calm under pressure where even the greatest of players can crumble. At that moment, the world supported Barcelona, from the experts to the four Englishmen in the BT Sport studio, every single football lover willed Barcelona on. Rio Ferdinand wouldn’t have been that nervous when he himself was on the pitch.
Neymar made the world believe in a matter of minutes. Neymar made the world believe that time can be stopped. And when Neymar took that ball onto his left foot everyone would have the same thought, “Why the weaker foot? Why?” But still, the weaker foot lobbed the ball straight over the wall, right into the path for Sergi Roberto to finish things off. Neymar stood with tears in his eyes, gazing the biggest heights of the Camp Nou, finding every person who willed him on for the night.
The experts in BT Sports studios went out of their mind. Gary Lineker, a former Barca player, understandably stood up in claps. Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand cried in joy as if the World Cup had come home. Michael Owen went on a round-about, all this caused by one man.
Rio Ferdinand was so impressed by him that he called him the best in the world in the studio itself and after the game in front of media as well.
“Oh Neymar, he is the best in the world, he is the heir to the throne” – Rio Ferdinand
From being at the top of the world to impressing the topmost experts, to claiming a place in Barcelona fans’ heart as the heir to Messi, Neymar has gone down a long way. The following summer he stunned the football fraternity by making a shift to Paris amidst much curiosity. Neymar was possibly at the peak of his career, at the best club he could be in. The next season was supposed to be his Ballon D Or year. But Neymar didn’t stay, despite Messi telling him that he would help him win Ballon D Or.
Gary Lineker posted a message on twitter with truth written all over it.
Neymar left the team that gave him everything. A UEFA Champions League trophy, a Ballon D Or nomination, some amazing friends, exposure to top class football and especially a chance to be a hero. Neymar asserted his place among the best in the world at Barcelona and he moved away, to a league which wasn’t as good in all respects.
He left Lionel Messi who helped in all matters with respect to his game. Lionel gave him countless penalties, even sacrificing his hat-trick of goals against Celta to let Neymar score. He left a man, who mentored him to play in Europe and got into an argument with Valencia fans when they threw a bottle at Neymar.
Neymar got what he wanted from PSG. He was their talisman, he got the attention that he so desperately craved for and he got Dani Alves to start up for his cause. But what Neymar missed was the standard of football, it was just too easy to beat defenses in Ligue 1 and fed up from the routine, Neymar turned cocky. He started a lot of showboating and when he lost control, he began play-acting, thus earning a reputation of that of a diver than a football star.
He got backlash from his own fans for fighting over free-kicks and penalties over team-mate Edinson Cavani. Cavani reportedly told him once that he wasn’t Messi. Moreover, during a game when PSG won a penalty, Neymar was on a hat-trick and he secured the ball and lined up to take it quickly. Cavani, however, was one goal away from his milestone 100th goal for PSG. Neymar although aware of the matter as everyone else in Stade De France, took the penalty himself, putting his ego over everything.
Neymar faced a huge backlash from PSG fans over the issue. Many might have thought at the back of their mind that Leo hasn’t influenced him a bit. Neymar’s cocky attitude for his age was a glaring contrast to Messi’s humble self.
Neymar would have hoped to make a statement at the FIFA World Cup, 2018. But ego and diving were visible more than good football from Neymar Jr. He once used to back up what he talked and now he was resting on the performances of others. Mbappe began to outperform him at PSG, Coutinho did it at the national camp. Neymar didn’t help Brazil’s title challenge in any way and moreover, his showboating was labeled a prime reason for their failure.
Four years back at Brazil, Neymar’s injury was termed as the end of Brazil’s title hopes and now Brazil hoped for Neymar to perform rather than dive. Neymar had more influence back in 2014 than he had in 2018. From being in the top 3, among Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Neymar was dropped from FIFA The Best Top 10 shortlist, and no-one seemed to care. Neymar lost his place in FIFPro 11 and agonizingly got 0 votes from 504 captains, 504 coaches, and 5000 journalists.
Neymar’s rise to prominence was an amazing story, his heroic performance which rescued Barcelona was perhaps the best individual performance. But still, history has little role in football and people have to see something to back up the cocky attitude on the pitch. Needless to say, even Kylian Mbappe has started to attempt some of the great diving and rolling that Neymar used to execute to perfection.
Conor McGregor is not loved by certain people but still, he is respected by everyone. Why? He backs up every bit of trash talk inside the octagon. Every one of his punches is a perfection and thus he earns his respect, he earns his license to talk trash and claim that he is the best.
Neymar has to take something out of Conor’s playbook and something out of Messi’s playbook as well. He should learn from Conor to go to business when he enters the pitch, putting all things aside. He has to learn from Messi to stay humble, no matter how good you are. He should force people to concede he is the best by performing and helping the team, then putting his ego over everything.
Neymar is skilled and he has the ability to decide a game on his own. Many people assert that Neymar’s downfall is due to the move away from Lionel Messi. Although it is true, it is not the football that is bringing the downfall of Neymar. Messi has helped him cope with pressure but Neymar is now good enough to handle pressure on his own. Neymar misses Messi not because he cannot score or assist without him. He misses him in the training where he could learn a thing or two from him. He misses the character that brought a sense of calm to him. He misses a good friend that he had. He misses his team-mates and the fun he had at Barcelona. It is clear that he misses his old life, as he has visited the Barcelona team a lot of times after his move to PSG.
2017-18 was an eye opener for Neymar and he has started to improvise. His early performances in 2018-19 have been good and the dives have reduced considerably. It is still early in the season and Neymar has to continue these performances. It is still early in Neymar’s career and he is entering his prime now. It would be good for Neymar if he moves to a better league and he can still be the difference for PSG under the watchful guidance of Thomas Tuchel.
Even the greatest mythological bird, the Phoenix has to rise from its own ashes. Neymar has been as magnificent as a phoenix, he has been burnt down to ashes. And now he has to rise again from his ashes. The mythological bird is a strong creature, its tears can cure wounds and Neymar has to become strong again so that his feet can cure the team on their own.
Put the ego away Neymar, you are the Phoenix waiting to rise from the ashes.
Note: Rio Ferdinand's quote on Neymar being the heir to the throne
Link to BT Sport Studio reactions to the 6-1 win
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