Though Pele said that Neymar is better than Lionel Messi last year, he hasn't been averse to criticizing the 21-year-old Santos playmaker, either. Pele has also said that Neymar struggles against non-Brazilian defenders and now he's gone even further by criticizing form at the international level and his focus on fashion and hairdos over his football.
Pele told Brazilian newspaper O Estado do Sao Paulo (via Terra):
"On the national team he is a normal player. He has no international experience. He’s an excellent player, but with no experience outside. Whenever he plays outside Brazil he doesn’t do well. Everyone say he must solve his problems with the national team but he is not prepared for that. European soccer is different from Latin, " he explained.
O Rei continued to point out things Neymar is more worried about instead of focusing in playing soccer. "In Santos we say that he is the best in the world, but he cares more about appearing in the media than to play for the team. Neymar has a big responsibility. But his concern is to change his style, or his hair cut."
It's a blunt reality check from something of an unexpected source. Pele has been one of Neymar's biggest supporters. The Brazilian legend has developed a reputation for saying silly things in his old age, but it's hard to find anything but truth in these comments. Neymar does have 17 goals in just 27 international appearances, but he's disappeared in high-profile matches, like Brazil's friendly against England at Wembley. And it has been increasingly clear that Neymar is developing a love affair with the cameras and his ever-changing hair styles.
It would seem that Pele isn't just saying these things to be critical of Neymar, though. He clearly wants Neymar to continue to improve and fulfill his great potential. Maybe hearing comments like these will help him keep his focus. Or maybe he'll just dye his hair purple.
UPDATE: Pele's comments have reached Neymar's agent, Wagner Ribeiro, who isn't happy about them. From ESPN:
"Pele should look after his grandchildren instead of talking about Neymar. It is jealousy," Ribeiro told Globoesporte. "If Pele played nowadays, he would be inferior to Neymar. In his time, all the defenders were slow and the fitness levels were not the same."
So maybe Neymar should get to work on a time machine. Because a yes-man like Ribeiro, who says he's already better than Pele, isn't going to help his development as a footballer.
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