26-years-old, a father and a millionaire several times over – Neymar can no longer blame youth for his antics as he returns to PSG action says Fernando Duarte
It took 23 days for Neymar to look back on his World Cup campaign, marred not only by Brazil’s failure to clear the quarterfinals for the third time in four tournaments but also by the Brazilian striker’s questionable behaviour on the pitch.
By the looks of it, he should have taken a bit more time to plan what to say: unless you have been asleep last week, you’d have come across a discussion on Neymar’s literally sponsored apology – thanks to a reported $250k “incentive”, he agreed to read an act of contrition in a Gillette prime-time TV ad broadcasted in Brazil on Sunday, July 29th.
If sympathy was the aim, the piece couldn’t have backfired more, and not only because Neymar’s narration skills made David Beckham sound like Sir Lawrence Olivier. In the view of fans and media, the apology sounded insincere and even a bit presumptuous – in his closing statement, the PSG star asked fans to be on his side, saying that “when I’m standing, the whole of Brazil rises with me.”
Clearly, the idea to address the 205 million Brazilians over TV was not Neymar Jr’s sole idea. Like everything else in his career, the decision to use one of his personal sponsors as a partner for the “mea culpa” was taken by the various people surrounding him, especially Neymar Sr., his father and main adviser. The same man who offended a Brazilian journalist who called him to enquire about rumours of a party thrown by him in the team hotel, where Neymar Sr. was staying with the team in Kazan – where Brazil would suffer the heartbreaking defeat to Belgium – despite a ban on relatives and friends of other players.
“Yes, I had a party with your mother,” he dryly told Folha de S. Paulo’s Camilla Matoso over the phone.
Those recent events have made even more complicated the reputation management work Neymar urgently needs to this season. While his arrival at PSG’s training camp in China on Wednesday ahead of their Trophee des Champions game against Monaco generated pics of happy embraces with coach Thomas Tuchel and some of the teammates, such as Gigi Buffon, the atmosphere the Brazilian will face differs a lot from the last time he trained with his fellow professionals.
⚽️ @neymarjr back in training 💪
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) August 2, 2018
For a start, Neymar’s histrionics on the pitch in Russia turned him into one of the most criticised players around, and that will certainly increase the scrutiny over his performances in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. But the biggest challenge will be a new order at PSG triggered by France’s World Cup win and the role played by Kylian Mbappé in it.
PSG insiders claim the youngster was bullied by Neymar over last season – which included nicknaming him Donatello, after one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – which created some tensions in the dressing room. Contrary to the Brazilian, Mbappe’s star is on the rise and he is also a national hero in the country where PSG plies its trade.
And while nobody can imagine his name being left out of the next Brazil call-up, Neymar could not face a tougher crowd. Brazilians themselves were among his toughest critics and much of the resentment came from image management issues. More specifically the narrative calling Neymar “a boy” and mentioning the pressures of his life.
— Neymar Jr (@neymarjr) July 16, 2018
“He said in the commercial that he is only a boy. No, he is a 26-year-old man, a father and someone who has accumulated a fortune. The time for him to start behaving as an adult is already due,” wrote Brazilian columnist Tony Goes.
What seemed to irk everybody, nonetheless, is how Neymar was perceived to be monetising the occasion at a time he is not really struggling for money – as well as earning over $800,000 a week, his annual takings are estimated at $90 million by American business magazine Forbes.
In one hour, Neymar makes around $4.75k. That amount is nine times the average monthly wage in Brazil. It is understandable, then, that there is not much sympathy for statements based on the perceived hardships in elite sports.
It is quite possible that Neymar’s negative image influenced Fifa’s decision to leave him out of the shortlist for World Player of the Year, an omission that must have stung a player who dreams of that recognition. But this could be a blessing in disguise for Neymar. There are no distractions ahead in the mission to reestablish himself. The question is: does he really care about it?
In the last few days, parallels were traced between the Brazilian and one of his celebrity friends, British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, who famously sacked his father as an advisor before winning three of his four world titles. Neymar Sr. indeed needs plaudits for guiding Neymar towards stardom and keeping his son with feet on the ground in the early days, when money started pouring in. But papa might have outstayed his welcome and is now doing more damage than good to Junior.
Neymar will need to leave his comfort zone if he is to change things for the better. His awesome talent on the pitch, who should not be underestimated by the way, will not be enough to win hearts and minds. Not anymore.