COMMENTARY | The 2013 Confederations Cup was always destined to be the Neymar Show. The 21-year old YouTube sensation and Santos superstar confirmed his highly anticipated move to Spanish giants Barcelona in May, and he needed but three minutes in the Confederations Cup opening match to find the back of the net in Brazil's 3-0 victory over Japan, a result that set the wheels in motion for the player who would go on to win the competition's Golden Ball and the hosts who won a tournament surrounded by protests that continued even after the last Brazil player hoisted the trophy. Neymar, the latest (insert name of any all-time great here), is being labeled as the next big thing in world football, someone seemingly on his way to a plethora of titles and personal awards.
He's also being called a diver and a cheat.
Fans who watched Neymar come up through the Santos system would say that this is hardly a new story. Flops don't make for flattering highlight videos, and thus those of us who don't live and breathe Brazilian football have really only caught glimpses of Neymar minus the occasional international friendly or World Cup Qualifier. It was on the stage of the Confederations Cup that the world was able to come together and catch all of Neymar's greatness; and also the part of his game that will earn him a notorious reputation sooner than later.
It would be a disservice to all involved to mention Neymar without first spotlighting the commendable parts of his game that he displayed over the past several weeks. His finishes against Mexico and in the final versus Spain were top class, and his on-the-ball skill that set up Brazil's second goal against Mexico was a move straight out of FIFA 13. Neymar was the definition of "unplayable" throughout the competition, Kryptonite to the Superman that was, up until the final Sunday of June 2013, Spanish football.
That he was responsible for at least one incident per match that saw him either go to ground far too easily or make a meal out of even the slightest contact has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. Uruguay captain Diego Lugano mentioned the issue before his side faced off against Brazil, saying the following: "Neymar is very lightweight, he can drop to the ground and fool the referee. Neymar can feign a foul so, we must be watchful that nobody's fooled by his ability." A tumble from Neymar in that very match became the cause of Internet memes and viral videos that poked fun at the player.
Part of the problem regarding Neymar's growing reputation as a diver is that he plays in an era of high definition TV, one in which players, analysts and fans alike can view clear second-by-second replays of every spill. He's also not helped out by the fact that diving is a very hot topic all around the world. There are more than a few respected people in world football who believe that players deemed guilty of such offenses should face immediate suspension at both the club and international levels.
Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez are just two phenomenal players who were constantly criticized during the 2012-13 Premier League campaign for not keeping their feet. Neymar will have it a little easier than did those two players last season in that he'll be playing in Spain's La Liga, a league known for being a bit more sympathetic towards its stars when it comes to this particular matter. His playing for Barcelona and alongside Lionel Messi also probably won't hurt his cause.
Neymar is undeniably the real deal, an absolute joy to watch and perhaps the most talented 21-year old footballer on the planet. He may be "too good" for the theatrics that we saw far too often during the Confederations Cup, but he also has little incentive to stop throwing himself to the turf until he is sent a message by a manager/coach or referees. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I won't be holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
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