I don’t know about you, but when I go to the supermarket I go to buy food - well, that, and to see what random stuff I can get from the middle aisle in Aldi, but that’s by the by. When I go to a bar, I go to get a drink. The cinema? Yep, it’s to go and see a film. When I go to play football, I expect to play, well… football. So it came as an almighty shock to see Neymar booked for literally doing just that.
Quite what was going through referee Jerome Brisard’s head when he pulled Neymar to one side and talked to him like he was a naughty boy who’d been caught sticking their hand in the cookie jar after the PSG player pulled off a pretty sexy rainbow flick is anyone's guess. The conversation quite rightly enraged Neymar, who was eventually booked for dissent after making his feelings clear.
He carried on during the game and after as well, making it clear he’s just ‘there to play football’ - which is, of course, true, unless said football game falls on either his birthday (which he’s been injured for during 2018, 2019 and 2020) or, of course, infamously his sister’s birthday. To chastise one of the best, if not thee best, player in Ligue 1 for basically showing off his skills beggars belief. What exactly does the official think we want to see in a game of football?
Time and time again, we’ve marvelled at the best players showing their skill in various forms - nutmegs, flicks, tricks and skill. If this is apparently now disrespectful to the opposition, where does it stop? Will Messi no longer be allowed to dribble past five players and score because that is humiliating at best? Will quick corners and inventive set-piece play like Liverpool’s short corner against Barcelona be banned because it’s embarrassing?
Are players no longer going to be sent for hotdogs through fear of making them feel a little bit ashamed? That, to quote the mighty Didier Drogba, would be a "f*cking disgrace". Of course, Brisard might have a few uncomfortable conversations with Ligue 1 chiefs after this.
The league wants to keep their best and brightest players - Neymar and Mbappe especially - and aren’t going to be able to do that if they feel trickery and skills aren’t going to be allowed. The crowd at the Nou Camp or the one at Anfield would relish such a move and it would make the highlights reel for months to come. Mike Dean would probably want to practice and pull it off himself.
Neymar talked himself into a yellow card after the referee warned him about showboating against 10-man Montpellier.
All of that aside, Neymar is one of the most fouled players in football, and it’s far healthier for a player to channel their frustration at being repeatedly kicked, and a lot of that going unpunished by the officials, by then pulling off a piece of skill that belongs on Pornhub, rather than going in two-footed or losing their rag.
It genuinely feels crazy to even be writing that this seems a dangerous road to be going down. We’ve all sat through games that have been, to put it politely, quite dull, and they don’t exactly inspire the next generation of kids to fall in love with the game. Tricks, flicks and skill are what people love to see - Brazilians more than any other nation know that and live for it.
Imagine trying to tell Ronaldinho he couldn’t do a flick or score that outrageous goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2004/05 because Carvalho was humiliated. What a joke. The point of football is to see goals, to see skills and to see flare, much like the point of a supermarket is to buy food.
If I get to the Aldi and find all the shelves empty, I’m going to consider it a very wasted trip and not bother going back. If I see a football game without any skill on show that’s had the life sucked out of it, I’d find something else to watch. The Neymar situation needs to be a one-off and something we learn from, not something we start to see creeping into the game more and more, or the shelves will all be empty and everyone will lose out.