The super player that hardly anyone sees

Neymar is the most unpopular world-class footballer of his time. The 30-year-old could therefore surprise some at the World Cup in Qatar.

In the spotlight: Neymar.

IMAGO/PanoramaC

It’s dangerous where Neymar comes from. “Social media…I think it does more harm than good,” the Brazil captain mused in a livestream last summer – who knows that better than he does?

Compilations of his dribbling on the YouTube platform had made the now 30-year-old world famous, “New Ronaldo” or “Next Messi” comments flooded the comment columns. The Neymar phenomenon was actually a new level somewhere, ten to twelve years ago.

While a whole generation of young soccer fans collectively dropped their jaws when this dribbling madman with thin legs and wild hairstyles put on his show, older semesters gave up provisionally for a long time. Just unprofitable art, just the Brazilian league, just YouTube. Neymar was the YouTube footballer, that’s how it all started.

The sporty moves into the background

It did more harm than good for an exceptional talent who excelled in winning the 2013 Confederations Cup, then moved to FC Barcelona and became both Champions League winner and top scorer there in just his second season. He also played a pretty strong home World Cup in 2014 until his injury in the quarter-finals against Colombia. He could really do something.

The fact that only very few were able to wring appropriate recognition outside of Brazil and Barcelona had something to do with social media – where Neymar’s football shows no longer dominated, but his acting shows. When your every misdeed is recorded and shared a thousand times over, it’s hard to stay like Ronaldinho.

Of course, Neymar is not blameless for a dubious reputation that goes hand in hand with the advance praise from the YouTube comments. No matter how often he gets kicked. An actually relatively harmless kick that he had to take on June 27, 2018 at the World Cup from Serbian Adem Ljajic finally broke the camel’s back. A multiple role on the sidelines virtually carved the role of the third best footballer of his time in stone. Social media could hardly keep up.

After that group game at the World Cup in Russia, many had concluded with Neymar, who had hardly made any new friends with his €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain a year earlier. From that moment at the latest, for them it was just the overpriced king of swallows, in their eyes it still rolls. It doesn’t matter what else he does.

Large parts of the football world successfully ignore the fact that the attacker’s performances, when he wasn’t thrown off course by injuries, remained in the upper world class. That in the current season – in 20 competitive games for PSG – he has already scored 15 goals and twelve assists; that he has also become valuable defensively as a team player; that for years there has hardly been a better national player (75 international goals) who is likely to replace the legendary Pelé (77 goals) as Brazil’s record goalscorer these days – many people don’t even notice it anymore. They don’t even want to know.

This is my last World Cup.

The truth, however, is that Neymar obliges advance praise. If he’s so great, why hasn’t he won the Champions League since leaving Barcelona – the reason he was brought to Paris in the first place? Why did Brazil celebrate the 2019 Copa America without him only to lose the final with him two years later? He still lacks the big title as the main character. And this is where the World Cup in Qatar comes into play.

Paqueta, Neymar, Raphinha

The new generation around Paqueta (left) and Raphinha obediently dance to Neymar’s beat.
IMAGO/PanoramaC

“I would give my life for it,” says a Neymar who is at least playfully mature about a World Cup that he announced last year as “my last”. For him, it’s not about polishing up his battered reputation – that would at most be a nice side effect. Neymar has other concerns. In the country of the record world champions, who have been waiting since 2002, nothing else is expected from their captain than the really big hit.

Ten and Leitwolf – start against Serbia

With question marks hanging over most of Europe’s football powerhouses and Brazil sending their best squad in a long time, the Seleçao have taken center stage in the uncertain circle of title contenders. As does Neymar in the Brazilian game – as a classic ten, maybe better than ever. Dribble-mad showmen are different now. Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo from Real Madrid or Raphinha from FC Barcelona, ​​who once sat open-mouthed in front of his YouTube videos – Neymar, the leader of the pack, has gathered them all around him. But he must lead, and he will.

When the magicians from Sugar Loaf start the tournament on Thursday (8 p.m., LIVE! at kicker), things could come full circle for Neymar. It’s against Serbia again. Adem Ljajic is no longer there, and for some this World Cup is enough reason to continue to look the other way. Because a lot has happened around this super player in the past four years, this time at least in his case it is worth taking a look.

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