Maybe Brazil’s Neymar is unlucky
Although this World Cup had its share of great stories, the one that started long before the tournament was Lionel Messi. It’s his tournament, whatever Argentina does. Either it’s the last great failure of him (it’s never by him when it comes to Argentina). It’s always that the rest of the team haven’t lived up to their standards, which is generally true but also not really the way a team is supposed to operate. Or this World Cup is his last claim, the only thing he needs to be officially called the best of all time. Which is pretty silly, because Messi’s CV won’t be much different whether Argentina win two more games or not out of the hundreds he’s played.
Neymar is now, for the most part, a failure. Which is strange, because Neymar has finally had his moment. As weird as football is, we still have basketball-like pressure where we want the best player to win the ball when it matters most (that crash you hear is all England fans falling right now). Football doesn’t really work that way. You can’t set up a series of screens to get the ball to your man, and even if he does, scoring a goal is still the hardest thing to do in sport, given how often it doesn’t. ‘does not arrive.
And yet Neymar recovered the ball. And he produced one of the best goals in this tournament. The complexity, 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 around a keeper like that to make the angle too tight and have to take another touch that closes the window? Or put their finish in the side netting? Doing those two passes, and receiving two passes, smoothly and under control in such tight spaces, is ridiculous.
It felt like THE moment. It felt like Michael Jordan hit that last shot in Utah, except it was a three-on-a-double-team fadeaway. It was basically the football version of Montana-to-Clark or Elway’s Drive. Not only dramatic and heroic, but also a brilliant display of galactic skill.
And now, that’s just a little trivia. This is Josh Allen’s fight against the Chiefs. And it will end up being 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 it, if we choose what we want. PSG have never won the Champions League and even beat Ligue Un once. Neymar has been on the pitch for some of those chokeholds, and sometimes he hasn’t, but even when he hasn’t it has been a strike 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 the manager of Brazil, Tite, doesn’t push the backs forward much. Croatia found it quite easy, at least until extra time, to overtake Raphina and Vinicius Jr. away from home. They both want to cut mid-wide, and that’s where Croatia blocked everything. Neymar kept shooting wide to the left and then trying to dribble inside which didn’t really work. Brazil needed someone to hit a cross ball to isolate one of their wingers. They kept trying to make their way through the middle. Which didn’t work, until it worked, of course. Neymar has crossed, in a way that only Neymar can. That’s all people like me said he wouldn’t do.
Which gives the impression that Brazil’s plan still hinges on Neymar. They looked great against Serbia and Korea with him. They looked pretty flat against Switzerland and Cameroon without him. Since everything was supposed to come back to the middle, it was supposed to connect with him. But he’s Neymar, and shouldn’t you be doing everything you can to get the most out of him? Or if you’re an asshole like me, are you saying he runs teams through him, a bit like Ronaldo, whether it makes any sense at all times or not? That’s all you want to see.
PSG moved away from him being the center of everything obviously, to the point where new gravitational force Kylian Mbappe actively tried to get him kicked out of the club (apparently). But Brazil have neither Mbappe nor Messi. They have a lot of very good players, but none of them are at Neymar’s level.
And yet neither does Argentina when it comes to Messi. And they made every game a chore, even when they had games in hand like their quarter-final against the Dutch. They didn’t go through anything at all. But they won a penalty shootout, not Brazil, and the memory will remember that Messi went through and not Neymar. Even though Argentina lost a two-goal lead and Brazil only one. The draw benefited the Albiceleste, not the Selecao.
The funny thing is the pictures after each game Neymar kisses Ivan Perisic’s son while Messi was talking shit Louis van Gaal following their victory. Which is quite the opposite of the personalities we usually think of these two people. Full disclosure, I’m absolutely here for anyone talking LvG shit, which is a true wonder of existence that he hit his 70s while spending five hours a day sucking himself off. Maybe that’s the secret.
Neymar says he could retire from the Brazil squad now, although it was said in the wake of heartbreak. It’s hard to see that even though just after being knocked out of a World Cup you were expected, required to win, four years must seem like the longest amount of time on Earth. Maybe over time we will realize that the previous Brazilian teams were just not at the level we thought, just like the previous Argentinian teams. Because even if like me you never thought Neymar was THAT GUY, he was on Friday, and everyone made sure it didn’t matter. Maybe that’s the story from the start.